Home builders would be much more likely to adopt low-impact or more sustainable stormwater management practices if local jurisdictions offered fast-track permitting or other incentives for installing them.
But first these jurisdictions must have a working knowledge of green infrastructure practices and how they work. Many don’t, according to a recent NAHB poll of home builders, green building verifiers and others interested in sustainable land development practices.
Low-impact development includes conservation methods such as installing rain gardens, permeable pavements and any other features that make it easier for rainwater carrying pollutants to be reabsorbed into soil rather than funneled into a storm sewer, potentially causing health and safety problems downstream for treatment.
While 17% percent of respondents with experience installing green infrastructure say that technical issues are the biggest impediment to going green on a particular project, 68% say the issue has more to do with administrative or regulatory constraints. Because it isn’t widely implemented, the average regulator doesn’t have the necessary experience or knowledge of installation of green practices to know what works and what doesn’t, respondents say.
And because these regulators are much more familiar with traditional stormwater management solutions such as dry detention basins, some cities require that the developer install both — a redundancy that costs more money and defeats the purpose.
“I think some of this is rooted in the fear of the unknown,” said Martha Rose, principal of Martha Rose Construction in Seattle. Rose discussed the results of the survey with members of the NAHB Environmental Issues Committee’s education and research subcommittee during the International Builders’ Show.
“While many jurisdictions are getting up to speed, there is a learning curve both with people who administer the rules and those who install the systems. But it’s not rocket science,” she said.
Some of the jurisdictions where Rose builds her homes offer incentives, such increasing the number of allowable lots in a project, to encourage the use of low-impact development techniques. Any additional costs are offset by the increased density.
Depending on the location, topography and soil type, low-impact techniques can be less expensive that traditional curb-and-gutter development and large stormwater drainage ponds. Sometimes, a series of solutions work better than a single way to accomplish stormwater management — which is why more flexibility is important. “The way the rules are set up doesn’t acknowledge the wide diversity of sites — it’s all black and white,” she said.
Ninety-two respondents from more than 30 states participated in the poll, which was sent in late November 2016. They included home builders, developers, environmental consultants and National Green Building Standard verifiers.