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IgCC: Not Just Another Code

By Robert Ivy, FAIA

The AIA’s EVP/Chief Executive Officer explains why you’ll want to pay attention to the newly published International Green Construction Code.

At many architecture firms, building codes often become someone else’s problem. For architects rightly consumed with meeting payroll or winning the next big job, understanding codes can seem like a low priority. You can hear the prevaricating: “Sure, I know that the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) is launching this year, but I’m not the code guy in my firm.” Or “I’m a LEED professional, and we make sure that our projects are LEED certified. Why should I care about the IgCC?”

In reality, we all are affected by codes and, in particular, we all should care about the IgCC. Since 2009, the AIA has been one of the leaders behind its creation. We’ve been there to protect the architectural profession’s future and relevance.

With the IgCC now published in final form just a couple of days ago, architects and others in design and construction are facing major changes—and significant opportunities. Because buildings still contribute nearly 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, building performance matters more than ever, and architects have the tools and the knowledge to make improvements. We know that we can design buildings that require less energy with relatively little (sometimes no) additional cost. At the same time, for us to achieve measurable progress, we need proof that can come about only through a regulatory framework. In other words, from a code.

Enter the IgCC. As adopted by local municipalities, this major change to our building codes will allow communities to adopt a standard crafted by the world’s leading code organization, the International Code Council (ICC). And architects have been instrumental in its formulation. This includes an AIA-sponsored taskforce of volunteer leadership and staff members. After many hundreds of hours of slogging through the provisions, we have agreed on its principles. Additionally, the voices of engineers, code officials, contractors, building owners, and other experts helped shape the result. We should feel confident in their efforts.

The IgCC will be read and administered like other codes. Like them, it should use the same logistical procedures—distribution, training, permitting, and enforcement—already in place. So we should face no big surprises in its execution.

We usually think of codes as straightjackets, but this code is flexible. Easily customized by local municipalities and states, it can be outfitted to reflect local and regional climates and desires. Using the “model code” approach, the IgCC will work as an overlay to existing codes.

What will the IgCC mean for you? In addition to making you more valuable and marketable as architects, it also confers new obligations and responsibilities. To achieve the energy savings the code accurately promises, landlords, building owners, and tenants also must abide by the operational practices the IgCC preaches. That means architects must have a bigger role in the post-construction phase of commercial buildings than ever before.

Several other things will change. Project costs may vary, depending on the type. Contract documents will need to be adapted, and the AIA developed D503 “Guide for Sustainable Projects” in anticipation of the IgCC being released. Once adopted, the IgCC becomes mandatory, subject to enforcement by a jurisdiction, where it will have the weight of law.

Some states are ahead of the pack. In Wisconsin, when signed into law Senate Bill 616 will establish the IgCC as an energy conservation option for the design and construction of public buildings and places of employment. Rhode Island, which passed a Green Buildings Act, identifies the IgCC as an equivalent to LEED certification. So steps are being taken.

The AIA has been working at all levels to develop resources to help members navigate this new era. AIA’s IgCC Task Force, for example, is putting the final touches on a comprehensive IgCC practice guide (available online in early May) that will fully outline the new code’s provisions and provide answers to your specific questions. In this issue of AIArchitect, the article IgCC: A New Baseline for Green Design provides a preliminary look at how IgCC will affect your practice. At the upcoming AIA 2012 Convention in Washington, D.C., in May, continuing education sessions, including an all-day workshop on May 16, will be devoted to aspects of the new code, as will future online courses through AIA Virtual Convention. Look for these AIA resources and more as the IgCC rolls out across the country, state by state, during the years ahead.

In the meantime, we must act together as a profession and devote the time necessary to understanding the IgCC. It has major implications for architects and architectural practice. Don’t be left behind as one of the biggest game-changers arrives on the scene.


Robert Ivy, FAIA

Photography by Noah Kalina


Back to AIArchitect March 30, 2012

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