Know These Risks Before Going Green
Growing use of 'green roofs' could give rise to lawsuits, construction group warns
By Brian Morton, Vancouver Sun, March 5, 2012
Green building practices are a great idea, but carry risks and potential liabilities that could lead to lawsuits reminiscent of B.C.’s leaky condo crisis, according to a B.C. Construction Association report.
“This is not a statement opposed to sustainable building,” said BCCA president Manley McLachlan, whose association represents about 2,000 construction companies.
“But there’s a need for clarity. We’re aware that in the U.S. there is legal action around the performance of these buildings.
“For example, you get points [with LEED certification] for using trees that grow and are replaced quickly. But they’re prone to mould growth.”
He also believes non-toxic, or low-VOC paints, require more testing because of evidence their exterior finishes don’t stand up to the weather as well as traditional paints.
McLachlan said that the BCCA is very supportive of sustainable construction, but that it’s essential members who embrace new concepts investigate the broader implications.
The research paper, entitled A Study on the Risks and Liabilities of Green Building, looks at the issues starting to emerge in the U.S. as a result of green building practices and requirements.
In B.C., the trend toward green building is accelerating, with office towers, municipal buildings and homes incorporating sustainable features.
As well, green building and design contributed $1.5 billion in direct GDP contributions to B.C.’s economy in 2008, according to a report by Globe Advisors, which provides consulting services in the environmental business sector and is a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Globe Foundation, a non-profit organization.
The BCCA report said green building initiatives include B.C.’s 2008 Climate Action Plan, the Energy Efficient Building Strategy and Vancouver’s goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020, which includes mandatory LEED Gold certification on municipal buildings and retrofits.
“As the Canadian and B.C. experience with sustainable building is relatively new, we looked into the U.S. experience as an indicator of future experience in Canada,” added McLachlan.
One area of concern is green roofs, which have been used for decades in Europe, and have more recently caught on in Vancouver, including at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
“The widespread use of green roofs may give rise to class action lawsuits reminiscent of B.C.’s leaky condo crisis due to the complexity and need for proper maintenance of these roofing systems.
“Alterations to existing building envelope design may have unintended consequences in the future. As a result, the use of these systems should be well understood by installers and subsequent operators.”
Roger Bayley was the design manager for the Millennium Water development of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village, which is on the cutting edge of sustainable construction.
The report raises some good issues, Bayley said. He’s aware of performance problems in the U.S., but isn’t aware of similar problems developing in Metro Vancouver.
“There’s no reason why, with current technology, you can’t deliver a roof with the same longevity and performance as non-green roofs,” he said.
“One issue is there are costs associated with green roofs [and] developers are anxious to avoid those costs,” added Bayley, who believes comparing potential problems with the leaky condo crisis is an overstatement.
He also said a new city building code for sustainable development – expected this year – is important.
The report said new building materials are being developed to meet the demand for green building, partly due to credits under LEED for using recycled or healthier materials.
While laudable, it said, “the use of novel, less harmful building material or new construction techniques may give rise to liability due to: contractor inexperience with installation; lack of long-term evaluation of green materials; lack of understanding of how new building materials may impact existing traditional building systems; or warranties provided unintentionally about the durability or effectiveness of unproven materials or techniques.”
The report said contractors should be insured, and that a coordinated plan involving all participants is critical.
Gil Yaron, senior business and policy adviser for Light House, a not-for-profit company that provides advice on green building practices, said he’s aware of the U.S. litigation and feels the BCCA report raised some valid issues.
However, he added: “There are risks and liabilities associated with any type of new technology.”
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