Building Green Series: Part 5

The Houston City Council will soon update construction standards for commercial buildings. Making the world more environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient is a personal passion of Mayor Bill White. Ed Mayberry has the last of our five-part series on building green.
"We're going to be updating our energy code in a way that's fairly dramatic in the next couple of months."

Mayor Bill White says he wants an ambitious but realistic new energy code that will lead to buildings consuming a lot less energy.

"This is basically your requirements, just like you've gotta have so much plumbing, you've gotta have insulation around your electricity so you won't burn the house down. Well, this energy code will deal with things such as lighting, windows, roofing, air conditioners--minimum standards that are reasonable on commercial buildings. But we will then go and update the residential code."

The mayor hopes that specifications in the new energy code will bring commercial buildings closer to LEED certification. That's the U.S. Green Building Council system for rating buildings based on certain standards of sustainable design and construction.

"Well, the LEED specifications are a voluntary certification mechanism, and they contain some energy and non-energy components such as you can get points for natural material and some recycled water. We believe it will result in a savings of about ten to 15 percent above the current commercial code."

There have been hurdles in convincing building owners to retrofit energy efficiencies, but they're finding that building green helps attract quality tenants.

"Transwestern would be a good example of a company. I know from their CEO Robert Duncan they have found that the costs for energy-efficiency retrofits are less than they estimated and the savings are greater. When you're going to lease some space, be asking about the utility bills."

Some 21 city buildings have been constructed to LEED standards since White became mayor in 2004. He says green building awareness is growing.

"Two different things converging. One is higher utility bills. But then there's also advances in our technology--energy-efficient light bulbs to energy-efficient windows to energy-efficient refrigerators and air conditioning. A lot of the research and development efforts in this nation have born fruit."

Mayor White says most council members seem supportive of upgrading building codes for better energy efficiency.

"Saving money and reducing utility costs should not be an ideological issue, and at least here, these green issues are bipartisan, and City Council's unanimously supported our building these city buildings to the highest energy-efficiency standards. It costs a little bit more, but we save money in the long-run, and we know that."

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.
Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...