Changing the Code

Special Section - Growing Under Cover

How NGMA is ensuring greenhouses have a future

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October 5, 2012
Kristy J. O'Hara

Two years ago, members of the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association (NGMA) realized that changes were coming to the energy codes that could adversely affect the industry.

“If we don’t do something on the energy codes, then there won’t be anything specific to greenhouses, so then the code officials, architects and engineers would have to look at greenhouses like they’re regular buildings, which means things like the glazing or covering for greenhouses could become an issue,” said Matt Stuppy, president of Stuppy Inc. and NGMA president. “Because we have to let sunlight in for the plants to grow, greenhouses aren’t comparable on insulation values as regular buildings are.”

He said it could also pose problems with the lighting that’s used because they may not be as energy efficient.

“Because there isn’t any language specific to greenhouses, the bad thing that could happen is the greenhouses get lumped in with regular people buildings, so it puts a lot of jeopardy into everything from process equipment to heating and cooling and operation of a greenhouse,” Stuppy said.

And that can create regulations for things that don’t really apply and can cause problems for growers that could affect their businesses.

“Our objective is to make sure a greenhouse is treated as a greenhouse, which is more of a farm, an agricultural building,” said Craig Humphrey, vice president of engineering for Nexus Corp. and chair of the NGMA codes and standards committee. “Nobody wants anything bad to happen, but it’s not like a four-story building with customers or residential. It’s certainly less on the scale of potential problems that could happen when all you’ve got in there is plants and not people. The objective is always to make sure they’re not getting overly regulated.”

Seeing these changes and potential problems, the NGMA decided to be proactive in changing building codes so that greenhouses could continue to function. This year it started a three-year road to make sure greenhouses don’t get lumped with regular buildings.

First, it hired a company called InterCode Inc. (ICI) to help with the process. ICI specializes in modifying building codes and has the expertise and experience to help NGMA succeed in its efforts.

“By using them, we’re able to basically navigate the building code process appropriately so that our proposals and ideas have a better chance of being adopted by the building code,” Stuppy said.

The cost of hiring ICI should be between $150,000 and $170,000 for the three-year period, and the money will come through assessments to all member companies during that same time period.

“That’s impossible for one or two of us to put together, but as a group, we think that’s what a trade organization should be doing,” Humphrey said.

This year is all about making the first changes to the building code.

“The NGMA took on a task this year of ultimately getting greenhouses classified within their own section of the code,” Humphrey said.

The first stage of this was presenting a proposal to the building code body, the International Code Council in Dallas this spring, which accepted the proposed changes.

“It was probably easier than it should have been but it was a difficult process because of all the prior work we had to get done to get the proposal written and written in such a way that someone would understand and go along with our logic,” Humphrey said.

Now it goes on to a committee in October, and there it would need to get a two-third vote against it in order for it to not be adopted.

“Now it has to be, more or less, voted against,” Humphrey said. “It’s passed the technical committee, and now then there needs to be a two-thirds vote against it in the full membership. That’s not a usual happening. If we would have been voted down at the technical committee level, then we would need the two-thirds vote to actually get it passed, which would have been very difficult.” There will also be a public comment phase, in which people can bring up concerns. NGMA doesn’t anticipate any major obstacles in this regard. So far the only comments have been grammatical in nature.

“It’s just the way the language is written,” Stuppy said. “They get very particular about commas and things like that.”

But at this point, it’s likely to go through – the more challenging part was the committee in the spring. NGMA will have representatives at the meeting in October to make sure the organization can address anything that comes up and ensures it still goes through because this is the basis of the next two years’ efforts.

“Our first step here by changing and modifying the building code is to be able to provide a good foundation for doing what we really need to do, which is the green construction and energy codes,” Stuppy said.

Assuming it passes, then in 2013, the organization will start make its proposals for the energy conservation code, which will be more difficult and will all go through a similar process. If adopted, then in 2014, it will make proposed changes and recommendations for the green construction code, which will also be more difficult.

“Then once 2015 rolls around, then we’ll have our accomplishments in the building code, and over the course of the years after that, as states adopt the building codes, greenhouses will be properly treated in the building code,” Stuppy said.

Ultimately if the codes are all successful, it can help greenhouse businesses grow in the future.

“If the building official actually looked at what’s going on in that building, the setbacks could be a lot smaller because you don’t have fire issues that you would have if this was a 20-apartment building,” Humphrey said. “Then, if he could get the full square footage that his properly would allow, then that possibly allows him to have an expansion, expand his business and grow, which in the end is better for the community and the government – it’s a bigger tax base and another business that sells. It’s that balancing act of what’s safe and protects the public versus what’s good for the economy and the whole community.”
 

For more: National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association, www.ngma.com.
 

Kristy J. O’Hara is editor of Greenhouse Management; www.greenhousemanagementonline.com.