The city of Austin, already host to the granddaddy of all green building programs, is stepping it up further: They are looking into “adopting a series of code changes that will make all new single-family homes built in the City’s building code jurisdiction ‘Zero-Energy Capable Homes’ by the year 2015.”

Go Austin!

From a related article:

Unsatisfied with being the official Capital of Texas and unofficial Live Music Capital of the World, the City of Austin now says it wants to be the “Clean Energy Capital” of the world.

Proposed code changes would require that new construction be “zero-energy capable”.

Zero-Energy Capable means that a home will be energy efficient enough to be a net-zero energy home with the addition of on-site energy generation, such as solar photovoltaics. This level of energy efficiency is approximately 60% more efficient than homes built to code today.

Every city should recognize the essential role building codes play in development of green building practices. Building construction is a conservative industry, so there needs to be structure to support the kinds of innovative practices necessary for effective green building. While green building is thriving in parts of the country, and you can read glowing articles about how it’s already mainstreamed, the truth is there are many areas where not much green building is going on at all, and there’s still a long way to go even in progressive cities like Austin.

I think more cities should be as forward-thinking about the value of optimizing the environmental performance of their residential building stock. Energy-efficient buildings put money into resident’s pockets and that strengthens the community as a whole. Further conservation may be the cheapest energy source available. As Mayor Will Wynn points out:

The cleanest of all energy, of course, is the energy that doesn’t need to be produced…This bold step will be another example of Austin’s continuing leadership role in national energy policy.

Amen to that.

It is always interesting to me that such leadership comes from relatively small cities like Austin (and Portland too). I wonder how much “national energy policy” is even informed by what’s happening in these cities. Or is the mayor implicitly referring to a national energy un-policy; the aggregation of countless uncoordinated local and state policies?