International Green Construction Code: Codified sustainability a good thing?


The International Code Council (ICC) has released the International Green Construction Code (IGCC).  Some jurisdictions are already adopting the IGCC for use.  Some folks are applauding it’s creation, while others are crying foul.  All hell is breaking loose!  (Well, that last one’s a bit of an overstatement.)

The ICC (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.)  has now released the IGCC for public comment, and public comments are coming fast and furious.  However, I venture to guess that most Owners and Contractors, along with an embarrassingly large number of designers, are not even aware that this document exists!

For those that don’t, the IGCC is a Code, that is intended to be adopted by jurisdictions as mandatory (law), and is filled with both mandatory and voluntary language.  It is actually up to the jurisdiction enforcing the Code to decide what’s important and what’s not.

(That makes sense since what’s environmentally important elsewhere may not be as important in North Carolina.  For example, we’ve suffered through many recent droughts in North Carolina lately.  Water conservation may be something we’d be a bit more interested in than another state that has clean, fresh water coming out of their ears.)

A few highlights.  The IGCC:

  • Applies to New AND Existing buildings.
  • Is NOT a rating system (in contrast to LEED and other similar “checklist” systems.  Instead, it incorporates “electives” to allow designers and owners to pick and choose certain strategies while encouraging them to go “above and beyond” the minimum, stringent requirements of this Code.
  • Provides an opportunity for jurisdiction to specify enhanced building performance in many specific areas of local concern.
  • Is composed of mostly mandatory requirements, a number of which are set by the local jurisdiction.  LEED and other systems are mostly voluntary.
  • Should be formally available in 2012.

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.”

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

First, take a deep breath and relax.  As far as North Carolina goes, it will be a few 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 a mandatory “Code” for certain projects.  I personally believe that the IGCC is a better avenue for sustainability than LEED (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.)

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.  Just because a building owner or tenant can afford to waste massive amounts of energy and water doesn’t mean that they should.  In fact, it’s our duty to protect the environment from ourselves.

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.

You can read more about the IGCC by going to http://www.iccsafe.org/cs/igcc/pages/default.aspx

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