A Green Building Team Approach

Your project’s success starts with knowing all the rules. 

Whether you are an architect, engineer, contractor, or homeowner/building owner, knowing what is allowed and not allowed on a specific lot, in the specific community in which a project is being built, is of paramount importance.

At the beginning of any project, it may not always be clear what building rules and requirements will be applied — what will be allowed or restricted. You may be working in a less-familiar location. There are three very good reasons to know clearly what the rules and regulations will be, when your project will be reviewed.

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Reason 1: Nothing is worse than being involved in a project and making certain assumptions about what can be done on a specific parcel, only to discover that you cannot do something that you planned. The project must be re-designed, and this can result in a significant time delay, possible cost increases, and even a final product that doesn’t reflect what was originally wanted.

Reason 2: Conversely, discovering too late that you could have done something that others deemed impossible is equally frustrating. This is a compelling reason for fully understanding any regulations that will be applied to a project before beginning.

Reason 3: Another factor is understanding what rules and regulations might be “in the pipeline,” or under consideration by the regulatory agency that oversees your project. These impending new rules may affect your project — and not always in a good way — by the time you submit for review. This can be a surprise worth avoiding.

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To avoid neighborhood-wide and city-wide issues, extensive research needs to be done before any new construction or remodeling project begins. Credit: iStock/slobo 

Whose Responsibility Is It? The Team Approach.

With these reasons for clarity in mind, many homeowners and building owners approach their projects in need of guidance. Offering clients that guidance requires an early analysis to identify the appropriate responsibilities for every project’s team.

This responsibility can fall, by default, to the general contractor/builder or to the architect/designer. Being able to accept such a responsibility emphasizes the importance of a good green building team, one that informs or asks the builder about rules and regulations related to the project.

I know of a case where a “designer” designed a house, not knowing that the property was in a county that required a septic field. The builder’s design did not allow for the septic field and 100 percent expansion. Having a local contractor involved on the team early in the design process and meeting with the local review agency can avoid such a disaster. The homeowners were shocked and upset at finding themselves in such a situation, and at the costs already incurred for a project that could not be built.

Counseling building owners to build a team that will serve them well in their project is the responsibility of each member of the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) sector for all building projects. The more AEC members collaborate from the beginning of any project, the better the outcomes will be.

Example of Rules “In the Pipeline” That Can Affect Your Project. 

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Carefully planned multi-family housing will become easier to build in California with the activation of SB10, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. Credit: iStock/ewg3D 

An issue currently in the California pipeline—one projected to impact well over 100,000 single-family homes throughout the state—is the recent passage of the state’s SB 9 and SB 10. These bills make it easier for Californians to build more than one housing unit on many properties that for decades have been reserved for single-family homes, and will give cities greater flexibility to place small apartment complexes in neighborhoods near public transit. 

The effects of these zoning changes on the community level have yet to be determined, but they could be far-reaching. I mention this because rules like this may not be limited to California in the future. The movement to change single-family zoning has already happened in Calgary, Canada, and other locations in North America.

It could soon be routine for two or more houses to be built in R-1 zones that have previously been limited to one house per lot. Some large lots may even be allowed as many as four houses in R-1 zones. The places most likely to experience legislation like the new bills in California are those with housing shortages. 

Check with local governments to see what the plans are in your prospective project locations. Remember that many new homes you plan to build can be green building projects, and many communities will look more favorably on those projects and are more likely to allow them — if they can review them. Savvy green builders who know of a pending zoning change can be of great value to property owners looking to understand the potential of their property. 

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