What is the code for sustainable homes?

If you're building a green home, it's hard to know where to even start when it comes to codes. See more home construction pictures.

While there are classes in English as a Second Language and Spanish as a Second Language, there may as well be courses in Building Codes as a Second Language, especially when it comes to sustainable homes. If you're building a green home it's hard to know where to even start when it comes to codes. That's because there are no general guidelines that are widely accepted across the country. And just like standard building codes, the codes are based on the regions where the building occurs.

Full-scale efforts are underway to bring sustainable building codes and practices within national and even international standards, but with planned projects undergoing discussions, amendments and revisions, time will tell how much in the area of green building will become mandatory. Local and regional green initiatives are moving forward throughout the United States and the world, but in the history of green building, it has taken a lot of innovation and more than a little persuasion to push things through the proper channels -- the code inspectors and zoning authorities.

Many green methods and materials are specific to climates and environmental conditions, so even though it would be easier to reach for a single volume to access building requirements, building green often means building in context, and widespread efforts may only go so far, but will eventually be a welcome addition -- rather than a restriction -- to local building practices. Ideally, a common sustainable code might just speed developments because the "rules" won't have to be as subjective or tweaked from traditional building code rules. They will be specific to green materials and methods, increasing safety and broadening usage of successful tools and tips in the trades.

In sifting through the rules and costs and options for sustainable home building, it sounds appealing to walk into a bookstore and ask for "The Code," but there isn't one.

So how can we meet codes for sustainable homes? Let's look at some big moves in the green direction and then narrow them down.