Green Building Code Coming? (gasp!)

As recently announced by the International Code Council, the International Green Construction Code is due to be released in March 2010.  (ICC is the association responsible for developing the International Building Code, the code upon which the NC Building Code is based, as well as most of the other state building codes in the U.S.)  As released by the ICC, “This will be the first time code officials, owners and designers will have an integrated regulatory framework to put into practice that meets the foal of greening the construction and design of new and existing buildings, ” according to Code Council CEO Richard P. Weiland.  “Only a code that is useable, enforceable and adoptable will have the capability of impacting our built environment in dramatic ways.”

This may be a disturbing event for some, but I welcome the codification of environmentally friendly and sustainable buildings.  Gasp!

Some of you reading this may be outraged at the prospect of being required to implement green construction techniques into your privately funded project…

  • “This is something that should be purely voluntary, not required by law.”
  • “Green is too expensive.  The government will be requiring me to pay more for my building.”
  • “More government is bad government.”
  • “”Green” is just a fad.  What happens when it dies and I’m stuck with it?”

First, take a deep breath and relax.  The IGCC has not even been published for public review yet, let alone adopted by any jurisdiction.  And, as far as North Carolina goes, it will be many years before we see something similar here for private projects.  However, state and local municipalities are already requiring USGBC’s LEED certification for many public projects.  So, in essence, we already have one.  (Quick aside:  While I consider this a well-intentioned act by our local governments to require LEED certification, I’m not quite sure requiring LEED compliance is the proper route to take given its added expense and other issues associated with this one program.  I suspect that will change in the near future as code requirements and other programs come on-line.)

California recently enacted their own green building code, dubbed “CalGreen.”  Effective, January 2011, it requires builders to install plumbing that cuts indoor water use by as much as 20 percent, to divert 50 percent of construction waste from landfills to recycling, and to use low-pollutant paints, carpets, and floors. It also mandates inspection of energy systems to ensure that heaters, air conditioners, and other mechanical equipment are working efficiently.  Does that sound like a bad thing?  And, as is usually the case, trends start at the left coast and spread to the right coast.

For those against bigger government, and I count myself among you, consider the following…If it were not for codes, some buildings would still be built today with single-pane windows, minimal insulation, inaccessible restrooms, and too few fire exits.  The fact is, if left to the marketplace, building design would be unacceptable, discriminatory, and hazardous in many instances.  Codes were originally created, and have evolved over the years, out of necessity – out of an acknowledgement that the status quo sucked.

So too, in my opinion, is the reason for the inevitable adoption of a North Carolina Green Building Code, in one form or another……many years from now.  The real questions are what is “Green,” who’s the governing body, and how will it be enforced.  More to come on THAT….

Suffice to say that a green building code is not the end of the world.  It is, however, the only real way to effect change.

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