Ed: OGBL has previously posted on the subject of the insurance industry evolving to meet the challenges and opportunities associated with green building. Today we welcome a guest post by Carrie Van Brunt-Wiley, Editor of the HomeInsurance.com blog, on the subject of green building materials, techniques and systems that could potentially mitigate homeowners’ risk and premiums.
Insurance experts have new insights into about how LEED and other types of sustainable-building certification help lower the risk of insurance claims for green homeowners. It starts with the materials.
The U.S. Green Building Council awards Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design points for homes built from long-lasting, durable materials. A green building that lasts twice as long as a conventional building means you get twice as much bang for your buck. Additionally, a homeowner who lives in a more durable home mitigates his risk of getting tangled up in costly home insurance claims for fire, storms and other covered perils.
One example of a durable, sustainable building material is aluminum roofing. Aluminum is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet and is extremely effective at maintaining cool temperatures even during hot summer months. It also has a remarkable ability to withstand heavy rains, strong winds, hail and other severe weather hazards, significantly reducing a homeowner’s risk of suffering weather-related damage. Here’s why it matters: The average amount of a home insurance claim in the U.S. for weather-related damage is $6,000.
Another LEED requirement that mitigates homeowners’ risk of costly damage is the higher standard for energy efficiency. Typically, in order to earn points towards green certification, homeowners turn away from outdated electrical, plumbing and heating and cooling systems in favor of more modern devices. Here are a few ways these upgrades help reduce the possibility of damage to a home:
- A large portion of the total yearly damages attributed to electrical fires are a result of faulty appliances, old fuse boxes, ungrounded power outlets and other out-of-date electrical systems. Green homes typically utilize modern electrical systems and energy efficient appliances built for high standards for sustainability and safety.
- New LEED requirements call for homes and businesses to utilize plumbing fixtures that offer 20% water savings. Upgrades that comply with this requirement are also typically much safer than older systems and greatly reduce the chances of burst pipes, water leakage and other water damage that costs an average of $7,000 per claim in the U.S.
- According to the National Fire Protection Association, faulty heating and cooling systems contribute to 2,500 home fires every year. Updated HVAC systems earn big points towards LEED certification and are significantly less likely to contribute to fires as well as freezing pipes in the winter.
Green building materials, techniques and systems significantly cut the risk of homeowners suffering damaging events that would result in claims against home insurance. Consequently, home insurance providers generally assign lower premiums to such homes.
In addition to promoting a healthier, safer lifestyle for green homeowners, the risk-mitigating features of LEED certification offer even larger implications for all homeowners and insurance policyholders: Consider the impact green homeowners could have on insurance rates across the board by lowering the number of claims filed per year. The lower the number of claims filed, the lower the amount that insurers have to pay out every year. The lower their payouts, the less they’ll have to charge for home insurance premiums. Therefore, as the number of safer, greener homes grows in the U.S., homeowners and policyholders across the board may start to see some relief in insurance rates and other costs.
This article was contributed by Carrie Van Brunt-Wiley, Editor of the HomeInsurance.com blog. Carrie has been writing insurance news and consumer information for HomeInsurance.com since 2008. She graduated from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington in 2005 with a B.A. in Professional Writing and Journalism.
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Congratulations to Lisa Laney and the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission for earning more national acclaim for their leadership in high-performance green school facilities. As mentioned in a recent article authored by Chris Pyke, USGBC Vice President of Research, OFCC was honored this past week for its completion of 50 LEED certified buildings, with over 300 currently registered projects ongoing.
Ohio should be proud to be the national leader in transforming our students’ leaning environments to be more healthy, prosperous, and sustainable.
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Yesterday I presented on a panel at DesignColumbus 2013, Ohio’s premier building educational event and tradeshow, co-hosted by USGBC – Central Ohio Chapter and the Construction Specifications Institute Columbus Chapter. My fellow presenters, whom I thank for doing a spectacular job, were Dan Barringer, (architect at MS Consultants and member of Upper Arlington Board of Zoning and Planning), Brian Szuch, (architect at MS Consultants and member of Westerville Planning Commission), and Michael Jones (realtor for Coldwell Banker and member of Columbus Board of Zoning Adjustment). Our presentation, “What Green Means to Zoning Boards,” discussed barriers and incentives that zoning codes present for green building.
“Green zoning” is a vague concept, and its definition varies depending on whom you ask. But one commonality between all the efforts to zone green appears to be a desire to add flexibility for developers/owners to incorporate sustainable design into their construction.
Zoning is a critical way for communities to shape their development. Thoughtful, cohesive zoning codes make it easier for communities to implement their vision. But codes are out of date or too rigid can abstruct or even preclude sustainable development.
For example, the standard zoning practice in the second half of the 20th century was to separate uses into different districts – residential, commercial, retail, etc. This rigid separation conflicts with the desire of many communities today to create vibrant and walkable mixed-use neighborhoods.
Outdated codes also impose restrictions that do not consider recently-developed sustainable materials and/or sustainable design techniques, presenting obstacles for developers to build green.
But there are a number of communities that have used their codes to incentivize green building (e.g., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Arlington, and Seatle). In general, the incentive is some type of density or building height bonus given if a project achieves various levels of LEED Certification. In some cities, there is a sliding bonus scale as a project achieves a higher and higher level of LEED Certification. While this is certainly a proactive way to encourage green building in these communities, these types of codes do present legal issues. For example, there could be adverse consequences (e.g., denial of a an occupancy permit) for a building that has already been built with a density bonus that fails to achieve a required LEED Certification. In areas that reward LEED certification with a tax abatement or credit, the failure to achieve a LEED Certification leads to a purely monetary loss (failure to claim the credit).
As sustainable design continues its inexorable march toward the mainstream, zoning boards will need to consider how best to harmonize green building techniques and materials with their unique development priorities.
Posted in City, Codes and Regulations, Green Building Incentives, Green building litigation, Ohio, State | Tagged Design Columbus, Land Use, smartgrowth, USGBC, Zoning | Leave a Comment »
A recent legal decision from Pennsylvania suggests that pursuing LEED certification could help overcome zoning challenges.
Much has been written and discussed about how zoning rules sometimes have the unintended consequence of stifling green building techniques. For example, Seattle’s Bullitt Center (called the “Greenest Office Building in the World“) had to overcome restrictions on rainwater harvesting, and New York City had to update its zoning regulations to facilitate energy efficiency and renewable energy innovations.
But last month the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania suggests in its opinion Gregory Campbell v. Doylestown Borough Zoning Hearing Board that pursuit of LEED certification could be a factor in helping secure a zoning variance. After suffering the rejection of an initial variance application, the property owner (Applicant) re-submitted a revised variance request that included a self-imposed mandate to obtain LEED Silver certification. The zoning board granted the variance, and the board was affirmed through two subsequent appeals.
The LEED mandate was just one of a host of factors cited in upholding the variance, as the application also lowered the building height, decreased existing lot and impervious surface coverage,decreased building mass, provided for a more attractive exterior appearance, was less objectionable regarding noise, dust, waste disposal, and storage, reduced on-street parking, and reduced traffic. But it is notable that LEED is mentioned as a positive contributor to the project fulfilling the zoning code’s stated purpose of “promotion of health, safety and general welfare.”
What is also interesting about this decision is that it highlights the collaborative process of securing a zoning variance. More specifically, it serves as an example of how Zoning Boards can suggest to an applicant that securing a LEED certification could add significantly to how favorably the application is viewed. The Doylestown Zoning Board previously denied the Applicant’s request for a variance. In an effort to improve one of the Doylestown central residential districts, the Board requested that the buildings obtain a LEED Silver rating. The building owner could have certainly fought the request by the board. Instead, the building owner likely realized that it was in his best interest, as well as the interest of the surrounding area to agree to secure a LEED Silver certification on any new/renovated buildings.
Posted in City, Codes and Regulations, LEED, National | Tagged Land Use, LEED, LEED AP, Leedigation, Variance, Zoning, Zoning and Planning | Leave a Comment »
This month’s Engineering News Record’s article “Green Guarantees Vex Firms With Added Risk” (password required unless you’re an ENR subscriber) posits that ”many contractors and designers are passing on work that includes long-term performance warranties for sustainable building systems.”
The article also quotes a lawyer who tells clients that “it’s better to walk away than to make uninsurable warranties.”
No doubt different companies, in different markets, facing different economic conditions, might have different reasons for declining work. No debating that the insurance industry has some catching up to do with respect to identifying and helping manage certain novelties associated with certain aspects of sustainable design and construction.
But OGBL is interested to know how many owners/developers have demanded unreasonable “green guarantees,” and how many AEC firms have turned down work because they were unable to reach a meeting of the minds on green building objectives.
There are plenty of strategies available to balance owner/developer green goals with AEC business realities. But some lawyers (particularly in the green building realm) use scare tactics and “fear of the unknown” to justify their existence. The right attorney will understand your business needs and your bigger-picture goals, and help create solutions rather than impediments.
So the enquiring minds at OGBL want to know: Are you an owner/developer who demands green guarantees? Are you an AEC firm who has received such a demand? Have you ever turned down work because of such a demand? Why couldn’t you work it out (with or without the need to engage legal counsel)?
Posted in Central Ohio, Green building litigation, LEED, National, Northern Ohio, Ohio, Southern Ohio | Leave a Comment »
‘Tis the season to look back and look ahead. OGBL will let our archive of posts speak for what was, and this post will contemplate what will be in 2013.
To paraphrase Harvey Keitel as The Wolf in Pulp Fiction, if self-preservation is an instinct that we as a species possess, we have to act now to be more efficient and less wasteful in all of our activities. Transforming the design and construction of buildings where we live, work and play is a great place to start.
This author will continue outreach, education, and advocacy on behalf of the USGBC-Central Ohio Chapter (USGBC-COH, working to transform Central Ohio’s built environment to be more healthy, prosperous, and sustainable). USGBC-COH recently won a significant grant from USGBC (national) to identify & retain a consultant to build relationships between the various USGBC Chapters in Ohio, USGBC National Members, and other regional stakeholders.
This author will also contribute to the American Bar Association’s seminal Green Building Law treatise (green building litigation, aka “LEEDigation,” subsection). Thankfully for this attorney’s clients, the predicted/feared maelstrom of litigation surrounding green buildings hasn’t materialized. But there are some noteworthy examples to be evaluated and risk management lessons to be learned.
Whether or not LEED is a worthwhile mechanism to effect market transformation will be the subject of an ongoing research project in 2013. Teaming with Battelle, and thanks to grant funding from USGBC, USGBC-COH is developing the ”Green Schools Compendium,” a scientific evaluation of data from Ohio’s approximately 300 LEED certified or registered schools to determine if there is any statistically significant deviation between traditionally constructed schools and LEED schools. Green schools are (duh) just green buildings, so the results of this study could change the game for, or against, LEED.
But change is hard. We’re creatures of habit, and doing things differently is contrary to human nature, so it’s easy for the short-sighted and the entrenched interests to dominate. The Grateful Dead sing that ”some folks trust in reason/others trust in might/I don’t trust to nothing/but I know it come out right.” We shall see.
Posted in Central Ohio, Green building litigation, LEED, Leedigation, Northern Ohio, Ohio, Southern Ohio | Leave a Comment »
You know you’ve made it when you have haters, so if nothing else the recent series of articles by the USA Today (aka “the Blue Dot”) about LEED only reinforces that the sustainable building rating system has arrived.
But the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC), which is responsible for Ohio’s nation-leading array of LEED schools, throws a red flag on the Blue Dot for sloppy journalism. Lisa Laney, the OFCC Sustainability Administrator who is quoted in the latest installment of the series, notes that the reporter quite simply “doesn’t understand the funding for sustainability efforts on [OFCC] projects.”
OGBL respects that the OFCC and Ms. Laney give the reporter the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he simply didn’t understand the data. Maybe he wasn’t just weaving a diatribe of sensationalist drivel in a transparent effort to stir controversy. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that conflict & dissent sell more newspapers than would a thoughtful, reasoned, and objective discussion of the yet-to-be-determined cost/benefit of green schools (or any green building).
None of these possibilities explain why, as Ms. Laney points out, “the information that [OFCC] provided to [the reporter] was not used in the context it was given to him.” We don’t know why the reporter failed to note the OFCC’s ongoing efforts to “develop performance metrics to potentially enhance the [green schools] program.” We don’t know why the reporter failed to mention the OFCC’s support of the USGBC-Central Ohio Chapter’s ongoing collaboration with research giant Battelle (with grant funding from USGBC) to develop the ”Green Schools Compendium,” a scientific evaluation of data from Ohio’s approximately 300 LEED certified or registered schools to determine if there is any statistically significant deviation between traditionally constructed schools and LEED schools.
But we do know that the OFCC specifically mentioned the Compendium to the reporter, and Ms. Laney went so far as to offer to “share this data with [USA Today] once the grant period is complete and the data is published.” OFCC is still waiting to be taken up on this gracious offer.
Perhaps that data will justify the cost/benefit of LEED schools, or perhaps it won’t, or perhaps it will be inconclusive. All we know for certain is that the evaluation of the data will be objective, thoughtful, and well-reasoned … perhaps the USA Today will learn something from the effort.
Posted in Central Ohio, LEED, National, Northern Ohio, Ohio, Southern Ohio | 1 Comment »