Climate Change and Environmental Protections

Climate change aka climate crisis is on our minds lately, especially with the never-ending heatwave we have had here in the Western part of the Country this Summer. Most of us are concerned about the future of our planet and the legacy we our leaving behind for our children. I do feel some hope though, especially with the recent urgent call to action (especially in the White House). Policies are being put in place to help combat climate change -measures that will protect both citizens and the planet as a whole. California is on the leading edge of such environmental regulations – and I see that the rest of the Country is taking note.

Not only is the policy focus on the transportation, farming, and manufacturing industries to lower carbon emissions and toxic pollutants in our environment, but so is the building industry. In California, we have building codes, California Green Codes, energy codes and Wildland-Urban Interface requirements that all address climate change. California Green Codes require efficient water use, waste management (including recycling requirements), and minimal use of toxic materials in building projects. Energy codes mean that the mechanical system in your house is efficient and that it is well-insulated. Taxpayers also receive energy credits for adherence to energy code prescriptions. More and more, heating and cooling systems are going ductless and electrical – which is great for both the consumer and the environment in the long run. Wildland- Urban Interface (WUI) requirements for buildings outside of an urban area mean that your building will be built in a more restrictive way to aid in wildfire mitigation. More fire resistant materials are utilized and the method of construction helps to restrict fire intrusion. A defensible space or a fire break is also required at the perimeter of a all projects. Moreover, California requires that all new homes install sprinklers for fire mitigation and solar panels for energy conservation.

As a result of these requirements, the upfront cost for consumers for constructing a new building in California is a lot higher than many other regions in the country. However, this cost is offset by taxpayer credits and long-term energy savings. Other benefits include: cleaner air, safeguarding of water resources, less waste in landfills, more fire-resistant structures, among others. These provisions may feel restrictive, but in my view, anticipatory for potentially safe-guarding the one planet we have.

Sustainable and Green Solutions

Registered architects are obligated to inform clients of sustainable and/ or green materials and means of construction their building projects. In California, there are many Green Building Codes in place that ensure not only the safety of the consumer, and the installer but also that of the affected physical environment in which the material is placed. Materials that are found in nature or developed without a high level of processing can typically be considered sustainable.

Vinyl (though often chosen for it’s affordability) is not considered a green product. Not only is the manufacturing process extremely toxic, but phthalates plasticizers can leach or migrate into the environment. Humans are exposed to the dangers of vinyl migration through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal exposure.

In the housing market, vinyl windows ubiquitous. However, there are considerable alternatives on the market that are fairly competitive in price such as fiberglass or metal windows. In the long run, these alternates will add significant value and quality to your building project.

There are of course many green alternatives to vinyl flooring as well. Cork, linoleum tile and wood (preferably recycled or sustainably harvested such as bamboo) are a great alternative to plastic materials. Not only will the tactile quality and visceral ambiance of your home be enhanced, but so will your mental, physical and emotional health. As consumers, we vote for with our dollars. Let’s all choose greener materials when building to help, if nothing else, help reduce the affects of climate change.