by Steven D. Johnson
(Page 2 of 4)
Go "Green" In Your New Workshop
Of all the reader feedback and communication, nothing in the last few months has generated more, or
more enthusiastic, mail than my ruminations on the conversion of my two-car garage to a new home for
the Down To Earth Woodworking shop. The sheer number of folks that are remodeling, adding to, or
building new shops from scratch is exciting and indicative of the vibrancy of our hobby.
Across the country, woodworkers are rearranging, adding space, changing out their heat sources,
putting in new floors, and adding lighting, windows, doors, second floors, bathrooms, and more to
their shops. Some are taking things away, too. Dust collection and vacuum systems are getting
moved outside and/or to enclosed spaces in the shop to cut down on noise. A couple of readers had
bathrooms in their shops and are taking them out to make room for more tools (oh, to what ends we
will resort to get a new power tool!).
With all this construction going on, remember that checking with your local building department or
code enforcement agency and obtaining any required permits is critical… and it might be wise to
hurry up that process, since new codes and regulations are coming soon.
The latest is the International Green Construction Code, which is slated for availability in early
Spring, meaning it could be adopted by your local governing agency soon thereafter (or not at all).
If adopted and enforced locally, you can expect big changes in how buildings are designed and built.
I have read most of the code and it is nothing short of daunting. Some might say "repressive." No
matter where you fall on the whole man-made global warming controversy, you might be shocked to
learn some of the things that may eventually find their way into your workshop design or your next
If you want a few incandescent lights, as I did, you can forget about it. If you want to choose
your heat source based on your personal needs or preferences, forget that, too. In fact, you can
even forget about doing all your own decorating, since there is a specification for plants… yes,
that is correct… plants. The specification calls for a minimum number of plants per square footage
and even specifies that 70% of the plant species must be chosen from a list of fourteen "approved"
Like most code and regulation, the language itself can be almost incomprehensible, even for the most
learned. Consider this one small excerpt:
602.2.4 Energy use intensity (EUI). The building shall be designed and constructed to deliver an
energy use intensity (EUI) that would place the building in the top 10 percent of existing buildings
in terms of energy performance. For building types eligible to receive a score in EPA's Target
Finder (www.energy .gov/targetfinder), the building EUI shall be less than or equal to the source
energy use intensity necessary for the building to achieve a score of 90 in Target Finder. For
those building types not eligible for a score in Target Finder, the building shall be designed and
constructed to deliver an EUI that is at least 50% lower than the average source EUI for similar
space types in CBECS, found at…
The new code runs some 243 pages, and includes things like timers and motion switches (presumably to
assure you don't forget and leave the lights on when you run out for a minute), energy metering
devices (to assure that you do not use too much), and a requirement that when replacing a heating
source that there be certification and proof that the new heat source consumes less energy than the
one it is replacing.
If you choose fluorescent lighting, the ballast and bulbs will soon have to be inspected to assure
they are of the correct type; sound levels will be measured inside and out and corrective measures
must be taken if ambient sound is above prescribed levels; air samples will be taken to assure that
indoor air quality meets standards; and, perhaps most daunting, not less than 50% of the total floor
area may have to be a defined daylit area. A definition of "daylit area" is contained in a separate
document, but you better start planning for the skylights and window walls now. The floor mats at
entrance areas are covered, as well as specifications for the size and filtration capability of
Remember, there are 243 pages, so I am only relaying a few snippets. There will be additional record
keeping required. As an example, you will be pleased to learn that under these new codes, you must
develop a watering and maintenance schedule for those plants you have to buy, test the soil pH
regularly, file documents listing the nutrients (fertilizer) you will use, and a written plan for
the replacement of any plants that die must be on file.
You could infer from the preceding that I am opposed to building codes and regulations, but that
would be an inaccurate assumption. The building codes currently in place help keep us safe from
unsavory contractors, shoddy workmanship, and inferior quality materials. The code is the primary
reason that buildings do not fall down in magnitude 6.0 earthquakes like they do in many other
countries. Code has made our lives healthier by helping to eliminate mold. Code compliance has
prevented many fires and helped save lives when fires do occur. But the building codes in place now
were built up over generations of architects and builders competing to build a better structure, to
set themselves apart, to command higher prices for better design and craftsmanship. The current
code was, for the most part, not a revolution but rather an evolution, borne of free enterprise and
natural market forces.
Right now the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) is targeted to commercial structures, and
some exceptions are granted. You can forgo the 50% daylight requirement if you are building a
photographic darkroom (gee, thanks!). But make no mistake, the "green" code will filter quickly
into residential construction. Zealous local bureaucrats will not be able to resist the temptation
to not only adopt the IGCC, but to adapt portions of it for residential purposes.
So, for all you fellow woodworkers that are building, renovating, converting, or adding to your
shop, get busy… it might be best get it done and get "grandfathered" in.
(Page 2 of 4)
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