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Public Comments Sought on International Green Construction Code First Draft

The Sustainable Building Technology Committee calls on the support of architects as it prepares to take the IGCC through the public hearing process

by Zach Mortice, Associate Editor

After seven months of intensive construction code development meetings, hundreds of conference calls, and thousands of e-mails, the Sustainable Building Technology Committee (SBTC) –headed by members of the AIA, the International Code Council (ICC), and the standards-writing organization ASTM International–will release a completed first public version of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC). The document will be available by March 15, 2010. Soon thereafter, AIA members will be able to submit comments on the document via a Web form hosted by the AIA.

Chris Green, AIA, who served as vice chair of the SBTC, took the opportunity afforded by last month’s 2010 Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference to encourage his fellow architects to lobby for the green code effort with their own state and local building code officials, elected leaders, and colleagues. Green explained that architects must advocate for adoption of the IGCC as it is revised by building officials during the next stages of the code development process.

“We cannot do this without you,” Green said. “We need your input. You are our advocates, but we also need you to go to your building officials and elected officials to take the temperature of your communities and tell the folks in your components that they need to do the same.”

While a part of the existing family of international codes developed by the ICC (the “I-Codes”), the IGCC for the first time provides cities and towns with the comprehensive tools to design sustainable buildings to legally-mandated national standards.

From the release of the first public version of the IGCC (March 15) through May 14, 2010, the public at large – including AIA members – will have the opportunity to offer comments on the content of the code. In mid-August, comments will be considered in public hearings, with a view toward the issuance of an updated version of the code in early November. A second round of hearings will be held in May, 2011 with the final action hearing occurring in the fall of 2011. The final version of the code will be published in 2012. The IGCC will then be incorporated into the subsequent code cycle which means that it will be up for further revision and improvement every three years subsequent (i.e., 2015, 2018).

Once the construction code enters the public hearing process, architects must work with building code officials and the AIA to maintain their professional contributions to it. “It’s out of our hands at that point,” said Green. “But what’s not out of our hands is the ability to influence, advocate, and work with those who will be voting on the public comments at the hearings, and to begin to partner with them.”

This level of advocacy is a must to catch up to the quickly-evolving public dialogue about sustainability, which is changing how construction codes are conceived and developed, said Michael Armstrong, the ICC’s vice president of marketing and communications. Armstrong, also a panelist at the IGCC forum, acknowledged that, typically, elected leaders ask code officials what codes municipalities should adopt and defer to them. But now, he noted, “It’s the politicians that are driving us.

“It’s the elected officials that are running on populist platforms around environmental issues who are saying, ‘I’m committed to making our community a greener place.’ They’re going to code officials saying, ‘Write me something.’ That’s a different dynamic from what the code official is used to.”

As a result, adoption of the IGCC requires a two-pronged approach, Armstrong contends: first, engaging excited and supportive elected officials; and second, helping to acclimate code officials and designers who might be wary of the potential changes a green construction code could bring.

After the certificate of occupancy

During its last face-to-face meeting in Austin, Tex., in late January, the SBTC came to consensus on critical issues – notably, post-occupancy building commissioning; site and regional climate customization; the role of existing buildings in the IGCC; and prescriptive versus performance-based metrics.

Traditionally, post-occupancy building commissioning has never been addressed by construction codes, but the SBTC made it a priority so they could ensure that buildings conforming to this code would truly function and perform sustainably months and years after the certificate of occupancy (C of O) is issued. The committee decided to handle this issue by requiring that a commissioning plan be submitted to building officials along with the project’s construction documents.

When the building is complete and the C of O is issued, building owners will be required to submit a commissioning report to the local code official within 18 to 24 months. This report will detail how the building has performed in terms of energy efficiency, building envelope performance, water use, lighting controls, etc. The report can be completed by the primary designing architect, or by a third party designated by the client or building owner. In either case, the local code official must approve the commissioning agent that completes the report. If a building does not meet its performance goals, the commissioning report will document why and prompt the parties involved in its design and construction to improve it.

Green said it is not the purview of the IGCC to blame and point fingers in the event of an under-performing building. He noted that there are many reasons buildings may not perform at as high a standard as their designers had intended that have nothing to do with construction or design defects, (e.g., changes in how buildings are used by their owners, and how the building is operated). Instead, the intent is to create a growing body of performance documentation that can be used as a tool to continually measure building performance to reliably raise performance standards.

“What we’re trying to do is change and adjust the standard of care to include a greater amount of work to get the building to perform to the point it was designed to,” Green said.

Sustainable flexibility

Unlike voluntary green building rating systems, the IGCC is written in mandatory, legally-enforceable language. However, it does feature flexible, elective criteria that tailors the code to regional climate patterns, as well as to site contexts and community sensibilities. The IGCC begins with uniformly mandatory energy efficiency criteria that require commercial buildings to be 30 percent more energy-efficient than buildings created under the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code.

From this baseline of efficiency, local municipalities have the option of selecting from a pool of jurisdictional requirements that will push performance and sustainability standards higher. Such measures, which will then become legally enforceable code criteria, include site issues, energy usage, and water usage. After states and municipalities mandate these code electives, they can then also require that designers and clients select from zero to 14 project electives to include in their building project. These electives can include any number of sustainability measures, including energy performance, materials, and indoor environmental quality. This set of electives only applies to one project at a time, but once they are selected and submitted, they become legally-enforceable for that project.

Both the baseline code and the elective criteria use performance-based metrics. However, buildings smaller than 25,000 square feet are allowed to use some simple, prescriptive sustainability measures.

The IGCC calculates energy usage with a metric the committee created called Total Annual Net Energy Use (TANEU). Ten electives are focused on improving buildings’ TANEU scores, placing a high priority on reducing overall energy consumption. TANEU tracks energy usage beyond the site to source energy, which accounts for the power required to generate the power used to operate a building, including transmission, and delivery losses.

This system will also address the stock of buildings completed before the code, at least in terms of renovations and repairs. All large-scale, re-designed additions and renovations must be completed in accordance with the IGCC. Smaller-scale upgrades must spend five percent of their total budget on measures that will work toward meeting the IGCC’s mandates.

The definition of green

When the first public version of the IGCC is made available, states and municipalities will be able to use the IGCC as a baseline for their own sustainable construction codes. Green says he’s seen significant interest from several states, including Pennsylvania and Florida.

Throughout the code development process, SBTC members struggled to turn the philosophical ideals of sustainability into mandatory, enforceable code language, which caused them to ask what the definition of sustainability itself was in terms of the code. Green came to a different conclusion. Eventually, this question will answer itself.

“This is it,” he said. “We don’t have to define the term sustainability. We have done so with this code.”

Recent Related:

International Green Construction Code Effort Tackles Building Commissioning and Adoptability

Work on International Green Construction Code Continues on Course

ICC, AIA, ASTM Begin Work on International Green Construction Code

AIA Partners with ICC to Create a Green Construction Code

AIA, NBI Partner on Energy Saving Code Revisions


Read the IGCC draft and make comments here.

Use the AIA’s Web site to make comments on the draft.

Visit the IGCC Web site.

Keep up with the AIA’s Government Advocacy initiaves, like the IGCC, at The Angle.

See what the Committee on the Environment Knowledge Community is up to.

Do you know the Architect’s Knowledge Resource?

The AIA’s resource knowledge base can connect you to podcast “Citizen Architect on the Move: Chris Green, AIA.”

See what else the Architects Knowledge Resource has to offer for your practice.


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