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When Building Green, Location Matters

Mountain View's new green building code makes general plan policies stronger.

The Mountain View City Council this week adopted the city’s first green building code, which sets environmentally friendly standards for new building construction and additions.

For new construction, it’s a solid commitment to reducing energy and water consumption, because the requirements exceed California’s green building code, CalGreen, for all but the smallest projects. In addition, non-residential projects that exceed 5,000 square feet and residential projects greater than five units must meet LEED certification and elements of the Green Point Rating system. 

These new standards are welcome complements to the increased intensities proposed in the general plan update. With the majority of Mountain View’s large-scale new construction in high-intensity zoning areas, the developers will likely surpass the minimum threshold for implementing the new green building standards. The image of high-intensity buildings may clash with the standard bucolic image of green living, but density and green building design are not mutually exclusive. 

According to a recent EPA report, single-family detached homes in suburban environments built to standards similar to the Mountain View green building code consume 158 percent more energy than transit-oriented, multifamily projects built to the same standards. Even if multifamily units are built using conventional methods, the green, single-family home still consumes 70 percent more energy than conventional transit-oriented, multifamily construction 

While the EPA report is a generalization of the entire nation’s housing, the conclusions are clear: Location and the type of development matters when building green. Simple installations of energy-efficient appliances, modern insulation and driving a hybrid vehicle in a low-density suburban environment doesn’t equal the energy savings of multifamily, transit-oriented development. The combination of shared walls and walkable neighborhoods are key to building more environmentally sustainable neighborhoods.  

Fortunately for Mountain View, the city is far ahead of other cities when it comes to building green. Already 56 percent of the housing stock is multifamily, so the city has been building green for decades. Even though some of the city’s multifamily housing is not transit oriented, it still reaps the benefits of reduced energy consumption.

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