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Q & A with the Regional Green Building Hotline

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Ever wondered about simple ways to make your home more energy efficient or wanted guidance navigating legislation and permits? Our Regional Green Building Hotline staff are standing by with answers. Check out a few of our most frequently asked questions below.

Have a question for the Regional Green Building Hotline? Call 503-823-5431 or e-mail us.

This is a free service for the City of Portland, Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties.

Q: Can you tell me about the new light bulb legislation starting in January 2012?

A: Lighting FactsThis new federal legislation increases the efficiency of all bulbs by at least 25 percent. Incandescent bulbs will still be available. Home lighting makes up around 11 percent of a home’s total monthly energy bill. Higher bulb efficiencies will begin phasing in 2012 to 2014, increasing again in 2020. Specialty bulbs such as plant bulbs, three-way, appliance, colored bulbs are excluded. With the legislation, new product labeling allows customers to shop for bulbs based on visible light (lumens) rather than watts (power). CFL Label CreditMore efficient bulbs mean that homeowners will replace bulbs less often, save on their energy bills, and generate more light with less heat from bulbs. For most, light bulbs are an easy change with a big impact – no large investment or planning is required, bulbs can be replaced one-by-one or room-by-room.

Compact fluorescents (CFLs) offer consumers a range of color temperature - from warm white (like incandescents) to cool white (similar to many office/school fluorescents) to daylight color temperature (blue hue). With new CFLs and light emitting diodes (LEDs) the bulbs light up to full brightness quickly, stay cool to the touch and last much longer than incandescents (offsetting higher up-front costs). A few dimmable CFLs and LEDs are currently on the market. Burned out and broken CFLs must be disposed of properly as they contain a small amount of mercury and cannot go into the trash (neither incandescents nor LEDs contain mercury). Look for ENERGY STAR labeled products.

Q: I want to build a granny flat in my back yard, so where do I start?

A: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Space Efficient Dwellings are recognized by the City of Portland as providing an affordable, low impact solution to increase density. The City of Portland, City Council implemented a resolution to suspend System Development Charges until July 1, 2013. This could equal a savings of $7,000 - $12,000 in SDC fees. Accessorydwellings.org is a great local site to start your research.

Space-efficient dwellings and ADU’s can provide rental income and allow for changes in household sizes over time. These dwellings have a low impact on existing city infrastructure, are affordable to operate and maintain and are constructed using few building materials. Check the City of Portland Sustainability Calendar for upcoming ADU classes.

Q: Can I use graywater to irrigate my garden?


Grey Water Reuse Credit

A: Yes, now you can. In Oregon, graywater is drain water from utility, bath and kitchen sinks (not the garbage disposal), showers/tubs and clothes washers. Drain water from dishwashers and toilets (black water) is not included. The Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will start accepting permit applications for graywater garden irrigation in Spring 2012.

There are three permit tiers. Most residential systems will fall under Tier I – less than 300 gallons/day with a physical filtering process and sub-surface irrigation only. The permit will cost $90.00. The next two tiers are for larger gray water volumes and include chemical and disinfectant processes and fees are significantly higher. Local jurisdiction plumbing permits are required. This PDF has more Q&A.

Q: How can I find out more about green building and sustainability, leading to a job?

A: The City of Portland Sustainability Calendar is full of City and community trainings, tours, workshops, conferences, open houses and events – many of which are free. Postings are accepted from many organizations in addition to City events.

The non-profit Center for Earth Leadership has a stimulating free six week course called Agent of Change In Your Circle of Influence where you can meet fellow sustainability enthusiasts, listen to guest speakers and get involved with community projects. A useful local guide available specifically for our region is the Portland Green Guide to Networking and Jobs. Written by career counselors, it lists local organizations in environmental and sustainability-related fields, resume and interview do’s and don’ts, how to research job opportunities, what employers are looking for, targeted volunteering and profiles of successful candidates.

The long-standing local networking group Portland Green Drinks meets the first Tuesday evening of every month at Ecotrust,721 NW Ninth Avenue, Portland. Listen to diverse guest presenters and mingle in a relaxed atmosphere. Contact anyone you know in the industry for a short informational interview. Many professionals are amenable to sharing some time to meet with you. When you meet, ask the contact for more referrals.