This opinion article was submitted by Jeffrey T. Janes, M.S., C.B.O.
The story behind alternate materials and methods (AMM) in the building code go back to when I first needed to understand them as an apprentice architect and then later as a government official charged with approving or denying such applications. What I have seen over the years, are many good and well thought out ‘green’ products and sustainable materials that were sound in concept but lacked the correct process flow to step through our modern day building codes. Does this mean unless you have lots of money and access to a fancy research laboratory you should not even bother? No. But it does mean you need to understand what a code official is looking for when evaluating AMM of construction to be sure the minimum code standards are met.
Are all materials approved in the building code or through alternative methods safe for the environment? Certainly not. In fact, an argument can be made that many of the currently ‘approved’ materials can be more toxic and harmful to people and the environment than not. So how can this be? If the job of the code official for each city or county is to protect people, how do these materials get approved in the first place? Yes, you may not like the answer, but big business, profits, and cheap processes do play a role in this decision making process through approval. So what is the point? The point is, as responsible ecological designers, we need to figure out the AMM approval process in the local jurisdictions where we do business so we can have smarter and healthier materials approved for use in the built environment.
In the end, once an AMM product is approved within a jurisdiction by a building official, that approval is like a gold standard that can be used to start the dialogue about that product within other jurisdictions. I believe this is one strategy in bringing forth smarter and healthier materials for use in the built environment.