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Green Building Program Puts Frisco on the Cutting Edge

 

(Photo: Warren Paul Harris | City of Frisco)

By Bill Sullivan

Anyone living in Frisco 20 years ago remembers a sprawling community of about 6,000 residents, with largely-undeveloped land producing livestock feed and wheat.

Suffice it to say, things have changed a bit.

Exponential growth calls for enlightened thinking, and Frisco has been up to the task. The trick: To balance a healthy economic climate with the need to be good stewards to the environment. Part of the solution: The Frisco Green Building Program.

In May, 2001, Frisco became the first U.S. city to mandate “Energy Star” standards for new home construction. The City has continued in a leadership role ever since.

Frisco currently administers separate programs for Commercial and Residential structures. Separate ordinances have been passed at different times, but both programs were amended in October, 2006. Environmental restrictions are addressed in addition to energy efficiency requirements.

Residential

The original residential green building program required that all single-family residential structures platted after May, 2001 qualify for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star designation. In 2006, the ordinance was amended with additional requirements for building permits filed after June 30, 2007. The latter are required to meet Energy Star specifications with a score of 83 or lower on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index. (An Energy Star designation requires a HERS score of 85 or lower.)

New standards included:

  • Every home must be tested by an accredited Residential Energy Services Network HERS inspector, who must register annually with the city.
  • Every story of every home must have at least one programmable thermostat.
  • Air distribution system joints must be sealed with duct mastic.
  • Pressure differential between closed-off rooms and the location of the central air return must not exceed +/- 3 Pa.
  • All structures must meet ASHRAE Standard 62.2 and other indoor air quality standards.
  • Compliance with the city landscape ordinance (water conservation).
  • Construction waste recycling.

Commercial

The commercial green building program, which began in May, 2004, required that all non-single family developments of greater than 10,000 square feet complete the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) checklist. At the start, there were no compulsory building requirements; the law simply required the checklist data be submitted to city planners for one year (beginning Sept. 2004) in order to determine the effect of such a program on private development.

In October, 2006, this ordinance was repealed in favor of a new one defining design requirements for all non-residential and multifamily dwellings sited on or after Nov. 27, 2006. The new ordinance requires that 100% of all roof areas comply with the EPA Energy Star Cool Roof Program as it exists or may be amended, and that buildings fulfill specific heat island mitigation, water conservation, and construction waste recycling standards.

Once City staff realized the need for a comprehensive program, input was sought from parties likely to be affected by the change.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Frisco. But, with more than 100,000 residents today, the City clearly has found a way to balance good business with good environmental stewardship.

Jeff Witt, Comprehensive and Environmental Administrator for the City of Frisco, was a leader in the initial effort toward green building and currently oversees the division. He responded by e-mail to a series of questions from Frisco Green Living about the program’s early days and where things stand today.

FGL: Obviously, this was a big change for builders who were working in the area at the time. How did the City balance their interests with the need for a more sustainable policy?

JW: The City was experiencing tremendous growth and wanted to insulate (no pun intended) our residents from rising energy costs but did not know exactly how to go about it. So we created a committee made up of home builders and told them what we wanted to do and asked them what would be the best way to go about it. We suggested a voluntary program but the Committee felt that a mandatory program would be best because it placed everyone on “a level playing field”. The Committee also suggested that we go with a “performance type program” in which we set the goals and leave it up to the builder to determine how best to reach it. When we researched the EPA’s Energy Star Program, it was a perfect fit!

FGL: How did the City go about educating home builders to convince them that this was a viable option?

JW: When the Committee first met, everyone felt that they were already building energy efficient homes so we asked if we could test some of their new homes for energy efficiency. All the builders on the Committee agreed that would be a good idea and we set up the tests. Unfortunately, not a single home passed. It was an eye opening experience for the builders and City staff so at the next Committee meeting the work of creating a Green Building Program took on a new urgency.

FGL: Buyers, for the most part, are looking at the bottom line. How did you go about educating them about the virtues of going green, even if the costs were a bit higher?

JW: It’s pretty simple really. We all know there is a difference between price and cost, right? Well even though you might pay more upfront for the more efficient house, it is going to cost you less in the long run in reduced utility bills. I tell people to remember that their mortgage interest is deductable on their taxes, utility bills are not.

FGL: What statistical measurements do you use to underscore the success of the program? In other words, how do the green homes stack up in terms of energy consumption, pollution, etc.?

JW: Based on our calculations since the program began in 2001 to November 2009, we have achieved the following:
• CO2 Avoided = 30,580.11 tons
• NOX Avoided = 87.48 tons
• SO2 Avoided = 95.00 tons
• Average kWh savings = 4,650 per house per year
• Utility savings per year per home = $436 or more
• 12,903 Green Homes/Energy Star Homes built since May 2001

FGL: Has the attitude of homebuilders toward the program changed over the years?

JW: I think it has. Change is hard for all of us but once we get used to something it isn’t so scary…that’s what I think happened to their attitude. I think that they see the program as a positive influence on their product because it differentiates them from builders in surrounding communities.

FGL: How about the buyers?
JW: The buyers love the lower utility bills! I have met with many citizens who tell me how surprised they were with how much lower their bills were compared with their former home. I have even had people tell me that they see how “low they can go” by also modifying their behavior (cutting out lights, programming thermostats for lower/higher temperatures, etc.). While most of the feedback we get is on the energy efficiency portion of the program, I received a call in the early years of the program from a young mother who had just moved into a green home. She told me she had a small child with severe asthma and that since moving into the home his attacks had less frequent and less severe. Her voice cracked as she told me this and how she was so thankful that the City had passed the ordinance. That is what it is all about, improving the quality of life for our citizens.

FGL: Is there anything new in the works?

JW: There is always something in the works! But seriously, we have been looking at innovative ways to incorporate alternative energy and additional water conservation measures into the program but have not settled on anything yet.