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Regulating High-Performance Design

Photo by Paul Bardagjy courtesy Page Southerland Page 

Texas lawmakers have so far failed to mandate sustainable design standards for state-owned buildings While Texas’ five largest cities have adopted policies mandating sustainable design standards for their new public buildings, the Texas Legislature has yet to pass any similar laws governing state-owned facilities. That omission places Texas among the minority of states in the U.S. without measures aimed at reducing overall energy consumption and protecting our natural resources through high-performance architectural design. (When describing design as either “sustainable,” “green,” or “high-performance,” the terms are generally interchangeable. But the definitions of “sustainable” and “green” are somewhat vague, while “high-performance” typically refers to architectural design standards that can be proven effective during postoccupancy operation.) To date, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, a total of 31 states have laws or regulations intended to improve the energy efficiency of state-owned buildings and minimize waste

during their constr uction. Many of those states, however, only recommend rather than require a measurable standard. But 18 states do set standards. A recent review of the USGBC’s data indicates that those 18 states have enacted measures that require new state-owned buildings to achieve a minimum standard for highperformance design and construction. Most require LEED Silver or a comparable standard by another rating system. California adopted its requirement for LEED Silver in 2004. Lawmakers in that state took a much greater leap earlier this year when they passed the California Green Building Standards Code, which targets all new construction, public and private, to reduce water and energy use through landscaping, appliance efficiency, building design, and the use of recycled materials. Initially a volunteer program, the code becomes mandatory in 2010. Efforts in Texas so far have failed to bring our state into the sustainable design fold. In early

2007, a high-performance buildings bill (SB 445) passed the Texas Senate but never made it out of committee for a vote on the House floor. SB 445 required state buildings and facilities for higher education to be designed and constructed to achieve high-performance building standards. The obstacle in the House committee was the bill’s expected cost to taxpayers, with the committee focused solely on initial costs instead of savings over the project’s lifecycle. The Texas Society of Architects tried to educate legislators to assuage concerns, but as the 80th Regular Session stumbled to adjournment TSA’s lobbyists set their sights on the 81st. During the interim between sessions, TSA has worked with Senator Rodney Ellis’ Senate Government Organization Committee as the panel’s staff prepares a report that will bolster arguments in favor of a new version of SB 445. “We are heavily involved in interim hearings and the development of interim reports that will include data projecting the long-term savings analysis for high-performance building standards,” says Yvonne Castillo, a TSA staff lobbyist. She credits TSA’s Sustainable Environment Committee (especially Brian Malarkey, AIA, of Houston, and Bob Harris, FAIA, of San Antonio) for providing significant information to be used in writing that report, which is expected to be issued before the end of this year. A second bill geared toward sustainable design is planned as part of TSA’s overall strategy for the session that convenes in January. The bill would enact a tax rebate incentive on re-use and preservation of existing commercial buildings – the ultimate sustainable practice – which currently penalizes owners with a sales tax on labor to renovate commercial property versus no sales tax on labor to build new commercial projects. TSA is working with Representative Joe Strauss to help draft the measure that is expected to use the federal Energy Star program as the required standard for energy efficiency. S t e p h e n

The Robert E. Johnson, Sr. Legislative Office Building in Austin represents one bright spot for high-performance design of state projects. Designed by Page Southerland Page and completed in 2000, it was the result of an initiative sponsored by the Texas State Energy Conservation Office.

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Data used above is available at A searchable database is in the Government Resources section under “Public Policy Search.”

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Texas Architect Nov/Dec 2008: High-Preformance Design