In addition to unprecedented growth in both the public and private sectors, the green building movement has seen the development of multiple rating systems, the introduction of legislation incentivizing or mandating energy efficiency measures, the creation of training and certification programs for individual project participants, the development of new insurance products and the emergence of new contract documents addressing allocation of responsibility for green building certification. Now, the movement is preparing for its next major paradigm shift: green building codes.
National standards and codes for individual components of green building projects are not new. For example, ASHRAE-90.1
and the International Energy Conservation Code
both relate to energy performance and efficiency. However, these individual standards and codes don’t address the whole project, leaving jurisdictions without a uniform way to holistically address the sustainable features to be incorporated into design, construction, maintenance and operation processes. Until recently, states and local governments largely have relied on third-party certification programs such as LEED, Green Globes
, and ENERGY STAR
to provide a “big picture” approach to sustainability and energy conservation.
Green building rating systems were not intended to become the minimum standard for all projects. LEED and other rating systems were meant to be above code—not necessarily the code itself. Green building codes help fill the gap between projects that simply meet code without specific attention to sustainability concepts and projects that go “above code” to achieve certification under a green building rating system. Green building codes do not replace rating systems, but rather raise the bar for projects that would not otherwise seek certification under a rating system.
The first green building code to gain major publicity was CALGreen
, which took effect in California on Jan. 1, 2011. Charged with developing a green building code with a broader scope, the International Code Council (ICC
) unveiled the first draft of its International Green Construction Code (IgCC
) in March 2010. After two years of public comment and hearings, the ICC released the final version of the IgCC on March 28, 2012.
The IgCC can be described in three ways.
- First, it is a “model” code, meaning it provides a roadmap for states and local governments interested in implementing a green construction code. As a model code, it is not mandatory or enforceable until a jurisdiction elects to actually adopt it in a particular area.
- Second, it is an “adaptable” code, meaning jurisdictions have the option of adopting some or all of the code, or even adopting the whole code and then applying jurisdiction-specific amendments. This gives jurisdictions flexibility to shape the IgCC to meet their specific needs.
- Third, it is an “overlay” code, meaning the IgCC cannot serve as a standalone green building code. Instead, it specifically relies on the existence of other codes and standards. For example, the IgCC provisions relating to energy conservation, efficiency and atmospheric quality specifically reference the International Energy Conservation Code. Because of the interrelation between the IgCC and other codes and standards, jurisdictions must undergo a comprehensive review process in order to determine how existing codes will be affected by the IgCC, as well as whether any amendments or changes to existing codes are necessary in order to fully implement the IgCC.
The IgCC addresses multiple aspects of the green building process. For example, it includes guidance for the local jurisdiction’s role in reviewing and approving project plans and specifications, permitting necessary requirements and inspections prior to issuance of a certificate of occupancy. This requires code officials to possess a certain level of experience and familiarity with green building processes, but the model code allows officials to seek assistance from outside consultants when deemed necessary.
The substantive sections of the IgCC are organized similarly to other standards and green building rating systems. The code is divided into the following general categories:
- site development and land use;
- material resource conservation and efficiency;
- energy conservation, efficiency and CO2 emission reduction;
- water resource conservation, quality and efficiency;
- indoor environmental quality and comfort; and
- commissioning, operation and maintenance.
The IgCC is not limited to new construction and includes provisions relating directly to renovations and retrofits of existing buildings.
As a model code, the IgCC is not intended to be one size fits all. It allows adopting jurisdictions to select which specific requirements within the IgCC will be adopted on an individual basis. Similar to how LEED has Regional Priority Credits, the IgCC has Jurisdictional Requirements that help states and local governments tailor the code to meet their specific needs. For example, jurisdictions can decide whether individual Jurisdictional Requirements apply to their projects. If selected by the adopting jurisdiction, these requirements become mandatory for all covered projects.
The IgCC also allows jurisdictions to determine whether projects will be required to pursue Project Electives that go beyond the code’s baseline provisions. If selected by an adopting jurisdiction, projects must incorporate a specific number of electives in addition to the Jurisdictional Requirements and baseline code requirements. Once a Project Elective is selected, it becomes mandatory for that project.
The IgCC also provides some flexibility for project participants by including alternate code compliance paths. Projects can achieve code compliance through the ASHRAE 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings; the ICC 700, National Green Building Standard for residential projects; a whole building life cycle assessment; and alternate performance-based and prescriptive-based compliance paths for energy conservation.
Widespread adoption of the IgCC may not happen immediately, but the emergence of this type of code presents yet another major development in the evolution of green building. The IgCC is not intended to replace LEED or other green building rating systems; in fact, projects that achieve certification through LEED likely will exceed the green building code requirements. However, the IgCC does raise the bar for projects that would not otherwise seek green building certification. It adds sustainable elements to the baseline standards for projects and attempts to incorporate sustainable features into the massive inventory of existing buildings and facilities.
Contractors and others involved in construction must familiarize themselves with the IgCC, ASHRAE 189.1, ICC 700, and other standards and codes that may be applicable to their work. Contractors also should carefully review project contracts to determine how standard contractual provisions may need to be modified to address green building code issues. By educating themselves now, contractors will be well situated to voice concerns, offer input and suggestions, and even provide expertise to jurisdictions that are considering adoption of the IgCC in some format.