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Green Building Certification Gets Underway

Nov. 16, 2007 — With the environment currently a big focus, St. John's Island Green Building Association has come up with a certification program that will rate buildings according to their greenness.
"It gives people a structure and actual things they can do," said Island Green Building member Barry Devine.
If the building meets 90 percent of the items on a checklist, the building gets five stars. An 80-percent compliance rate nets four stars, and buildings with 70 percent of the items on a checklist get three stars.
The organization hopes to change mindsets when it comes to building homes, said architect Doug White, who works on St. John and St. Thomas and is a Island Green Building member.
"So they're more in balance and harmony with the environment," he said. The certification program will encourage wise use of natural resources like water and power, as well as materials that are recycled and non-toxic.
Builders will have the satisfaction of knowing they're doing the right thing for the environment, White said. Additionally, he hopes that a niche market for green building will develop on St. John and builders can be part of that market.
Dave Carlson, a St. John builder who also belongs to Island Green Building, said everyone constructing homes should do their best to go green. Installing timers or sensors on air conditioners, which is a green building practice, would eliminate the waste that comes when vacation villa guests open the windows and doors while the air conditioner is running or go out and leave the air conditioner on.
David Holzman, owner of Innovative Builders on St. John, is not a member of the organization. He was unaware of the certification program, but said it's a good idea. However, he pointed out that building green may increase construction costs.
"But you're going to save so much on energy costs you'll save money in the long run," he said.
Andrew Barlas, a St. John builder and another non-member, said the guidelines are good because they make people aware of the environment when they build. However, a lot of the items called for in the certification program — such as permeable surfaces used to filter runoff into the ground — are already used by many builders to prevent houses from flooding in heavy rains, he said.
Building on slopes is one of the biggest environmental problems on St. John because it sends runoff into the ocean, Barlas said.
Jim Casey, who serves as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's coordinator, said that the certification program "bodes well."
The program costs $700, which goes for inspection by a professional building inspector and administrative costs. But if people don't want to pay for the certification, they can still use the checklist when it comes to making choices for their buildings, White said.
Barlas said he'd have to think about spending the $700 for certification because he doesn't see the benefit of a piece of paper.
The checklist covers site planning and design, building structure, water management, energy conservation and management, use of air conditioning and swimming pools, waste minimization and recycling, light pollution and visual impacts. Additionally, it covers landscaping, green belts and native/natural vegetation.
Builders or homeowners who demonstration innovation in advanced green building design and/or technology receive bonus points.
The certification program is the offshoot of a brochure developed by Island Green Building several years ago, White said. While the members looked at similar certification programs developed on the mainland and by the U.S. Green Building Council, none of them applied to building in the tropics.
No one returned two calls made Wednesday and Thursday to the Green Building Council. But the council's website indicates that it has more than 11,500 member organizations around the country.
Building green also makes economic sense, because it can save money in the future, White said.
"We could certainly use a program like that to promote the seller's property," said Diana Beam, who owns Re/Max Island Paradise Realty on St. John.
While the certification program is currently geared up for St. John, the organization could easily extend it to St. Thomas if anyone was interested, White said. And he said that Island Green Building has had inquiries from St. Croix, where a chapter may form.
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