The Santa Cruz Green Building Program (GBP) presented three awards this year to local homeowners, commending their above-and-beyond green building practices.

At last Tuesday’s city council meeting, three homeowners and the builders of their residences received Green Building Awards for innovation, air quality improvement, reuse of materials, and other waste reduction techniques.

Local homeowner Jono Stevens received an award for the second-story remodel on his house. In addition to comprehensive deconstruction, Stevens designed his house to generate energy almost exclusively through solar power.

 “I’m very proud of what we did with the amount of green building, and receiving this award,” Stevens said. “It makes me feel good to participate. I benefit from it, the community will benefit, and the value of the home will benefit.”

The building practices promoted by GBP aim to help long-term energy and resource sustainability within the city, as well as reduce harmful chemical byproducts of construction work.

“[GBP] was [created] specifically to save energy, reduce natural resource depletion, and provide for a healthier living and working environment, which in turn provides for a better community,” said GBP coordinator John Ancic.

The Santa Cruz GBP is a leading program in California for waste reduction in commercial and residential buildings. Any new or remodeled building that satisfies the minimum square footage requirement is obligated to participate in the program to receive a building permit.

Participants receive a checklist of different green features they can implement during construction. Each feature is awarded a point, and the summation of enough points — which ranges depending on the size of the project — can earn participants a Green Building Award.

 “It’s really pretty easy,” Stevens said. “In my opinion, there are a lot of choices in order to get points. It’s very user-friendly in that sense.”

Stevens said he wished the program was harder. He said more points should be required to encourage a higher level of green building.

“[GBP] really is a good program,” Ancic said. “It does need to be updated, but we’ve been working diligently to do that, and that’s going to be coming real soon.”

Jennifer Werner, green building and environmental specialist for the city of Santa Cruz, said flexibility within the program is a nice incentive for participants.

“There is a common misconception that building green is a lot more expensive,” Werner said. “There are a lot of options within our program that are not at an additional cost at all, and over the lifetime of the building, you are actually saving money in your utility bills and water bills.”

However, only about 5 percent of all Green Building Program participants have won an award, suggesting the awards are not the main motivator for homeowners to build green.

“This is a choice that the homeowner makes on their own, generally, not so they can garner recognition and a plaque from the City of Santa Cruz,” said Marc Susskind, a contractor who works with the GBP. “Perhaps there are greater incentives that could be offered that would entice more homeowners to fully participate in the program.”

A decade ago, the GBP began its commitment to waste reduction and resource efficiency, as the Green Building Working Group. The group succeeded in generating a set of guidelines for the program by 2005. These were approved by City Council and went into effect in January 2006. Similar programs have been adopted in Capitola, Watsonville and Scotts Valley, all of which produced similar results as the GBP in Santa Cruz.

In January 2011, California’s green building program, CALGreen, implemented a statewide set of green building regulations, compelling the Santa Cruz GBP to adapt to those regulations.

Werner said the GBP would soon be recognizing CALGreen within the updated [GBP] program as a response to the state’s raised expectations.

Susskind has worked on the residential homes of three Santa Cruz Green Building Award winners.

“Generally the homeowners see the value,” Susskind said. “In a lot of ways it’s saving them money by not disposing debris into landfills. A lot of the products are energy-efficient. It is good for their health, for the environment, for their pocket books — it just makes sense.”

Stevens said that participating in GBP was the right decision for him.

“The long-term benefit is there,” Stevens said. “It might have cost me more up-front to do all these things that I did. But the flip side is that over five, 10, 20 years, my energy costs are really minimal.”

Save for objections that the program could penetrate the Santa Cruz community more significantly and that it needs to be updated, Susskind supports the green practices GBP, building owners and builders utilize.

“I think it is good to set guidelines,” Susskind said. “New ways of doing things. A lot of times as builders you end up doing the same thing over and over again. It’s like furthering your education. That’s what the Green Building Program does.”