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J.E. “Sam” Ryan, CBO

5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98226
Telephone: (360) 676-6907

Green Building / Policies


Whatcom County's First Steps

Whatcom County’s first steps into the realm of green building were taken in 2001 at the County Courthouse. They began with the removal of nearly half of the light bulbs in the Courthouse. While this may have seemed overzealous, research had shown buildings were substantially over-lit compared to the actual needs of the occupants. This was soon followed by reducing heating temperatures and employee monitoring of energy consumption in the use of lighting, computers, and personal appliances. These operational processes alone brought tremendous energy savings.

At the same time the County then began to further its conservation efforts in its other buildings by upgrading existing equipment. This included installation of variable-speed fans for the HVAC system, lighting upgrades, and a full re-commissioning of the County Courthouse and Jail. In some of the smaller facilities, high-efficiency furnaces and on-demand hot-water heaters were also installed for energy conservation. In total, these measures saved the County over $87,000 on utility bills in 2005 compared to 2000.

LEED by Example
In June of 2005, Whatcom County Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for all future County building projects to be built to LEED ‘Silver’ standard. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a national program for the rating and certification of green buildings. This meant that for all projects begun after that date, the concepts of sustainable design, energy and water conservation, indoor environmental quality, and waste reduction would be incorporated from the earliest planning stages of all county buildings. The first new building being designed under this policy is a new facility for Parks and Recreation with construction expected to start in 2010.

Greening of the Courthouse
The first County building to meet this resolution turned out to be an existing building, the Whatcom County Courthouse. In March of 2008 it was awarded a LEED certification, an award for high-performance, green operational strategies, by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The Courthouse is only the third one in the nation to be certified through LEED in the Existing Buildings category, and only the sixth existing building of any kind to be certified in Washington State.

A major highlight of the project is the energy efficiency of the Courthouse. According to measurements through Energy Star, the building is more energy-efficient than 86 percent of comparable buildings in the United States. The reduction in energy consumption and conservation measures has resulted in a savings of more than $160,000 annually in the courthouse alone.

PDE green power logo

Green Power
Another highlight is the County’s purchase of 100% green power, in addition to the achievement of a 55% recycling rate at the Courthouse. The building’s proximity to bus access plus its bicycle storage and showers for commuting employees helped to meet the strict criteria for certification. Additionally, the County’s purchase of green cleaning supplies and low-toxicity paints and sealants also were contributing factors.

Additional information on Whatcom County’s conservation actions can be found at:

Fast Track Permit Processing for Green Buildings
The Building Services Division started a “fast-track” plan check review for green building projects in 2006. The intent is to encourage green building throughout Whatcom County. Residential and commercial projects that will be constructed under the requirements of a nationally recognized green building certification program such as LEED or Built Green are eligible. Once the permit application file has been approved by all other departments, it will be routed to the plan check department. If it’s complete and ready for review, the file will be placed at the front of the file review line and reviewed as soon as possible. Refer to the W.C. handout Fast Track Permit Processing for Green Buildings for more detailed information.

wind mill

Wind Energy Systems
In 2008 Whatcom County adopted an ordinance providing guidelines for installation of Wind Energy Systems (WES). A building permit is required to construct a WES on private property. Requirements for installation of a WES are based on the rated output, height, number per parcel and property zoning. Other requirements include those for setbacks, sound and safety.

To encourage installation of WES’s, a simple approval process was developed for small wind energy systems (SWES). For a single tower with rated output not exceeding 100kW and not exceeding 100’ in height, only a building permit is required.

Additional permit approvals are required for Wind Energy Systems that exceed these limits. For complete requirements, refer to the handout Requirements for Installation of Wind Energy Systems and contact Planning and Development Services.