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IgCC: A New Baseline for Green Design

With the International Green Construction Code, architects are leading the design and construction industry into nationwide code-mandatory sustainable building.

By Sara Fernández Cendón

Building codes are regulatory vehicles to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants. With the March 28 publication of a new green model building code, the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), the building design and construction industry now has a set of uniform requirements that include green construction and are coordinated with International Code Council (ICC) documents currently adopted and used throughout the United States.

The ICC, working with AIA, ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers), IES (Illuminating Engineering Society), and USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council), produced the document. AIA’s sustainability policies and initiatives toward carbon neutral buildings by 2030 contributed to establishing a direction and purpose for the groups working toward this new code.

The IgCC, which is part of the ICC family of codes (the I-Codes), is not purely an “energy code,” though it does have an energy chapter. “It’s not at all just about MEP systems,” says Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA, sustainable design director at HOK and co-chair of the 2012 AIA IgCC Task Force. “It does touch on all aspects of design, and it involves fundamental decisions, from site (even where the building can be located) to water-related issues and material selection.”

The IgCC is a national model overlay code to cover minimum sustainable design provisions for commercial buildings and some residential buildings. It will apply to new construction as well as existing building alterations and additions, and will become law in jurisdictions (local municipalities and states) that adopt it. Its mandatory provisions are expected to push the commercial building sector towards a broader degree of sustainability unattainable through voluntary measures alone.

Since 2009, and in cooperation with ASTM International and the ICC, the AIA has been closely involved in the IgCC’s development. Like the rest of the I-Codes, the IgCC was developed through the ICC’s governmental consensus process. The document was initially drafted by the ICC’s Sustainable Building Technology Committee (SBTC), and then passed through two public comment periods, including public hearings that provided opportunities for participation and input from a variety of stakeholders. The AIA took an active role, with volunteer members serving on committees in addition to dedicated AIA staff and members who represent the interests of AIA members.

As an overlay code, the IgCC is not meant to replace the provisions of base codes such as the International Building Code (IBC) or the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Rather, it’s meant to add an extra level of stringency on top of other complementary I-Codes. The IgCC is organized into 11 chapters and optional appendices covering site development and land use, material resource conservation, energy- and water-use–efficiency, indoor environmental quality, commissioning and building operations, and other sustainable design concepts.

Details of implementation

Some of the provisions of the IgCC won’t be entirely new to architects familiar with green standards and rating systems. Still, with a few exceptions (most notably the California Green Building Standards Code, the first mandatory green building code in the United States), the IgCC’s provisions have never existed in mandatory language before, so many designers might be encountering them for the first time.

One of the most significant changes for architects is in the areas of energy conservation and efficiency. With energy, the IgCC allows two paths to compliance—one prescriptive and one based on performance. The prescriptive path details requirements for code compliance, with specific envelope and systems requirements, and less flexibility for design. The performance-based path allows designers greater freedom as long as they demonstrate through energy modeling and commissioning that their design achieves the desired measures of energy efficiency. Buildings using the performance-based modeling path will be required to be equipped with measuring, monitoring, and reporting equipment or features to facilitate those capabilities. The code doesn’t require specific performance outcomes, but it does require the building to be equipped to measure and report performance so that the owner and design team can better understand the true performance of the building and its site.

Maurya McClintock, Assoc. AIA, chair of the energy working group of the 2012 AIA IgCC Task Force, calls the code “a design performance code, and a step further in the direction of better design, because it is requiring more metering and more monitoring, making the performance of the building more accessible to owners and the design team.” The task force was formed by 2011 AIA President Clark Manus, FAIA, to study both design and practice issues in the IgCC, and to produce the “AIA Guide to the IgCC,” which will be available just prior to the AIA 2012 Convention in May.

Currently, no code requirements exist at the national level for overall building commissioning, which the IgCC requires. The IgCC allows a jurisdiction to go beyond the certificate of occupancy into a degree of post-occupancy evaluation; individual jurisdictions may even require periodic reporting on continued building performance. The new code’s commissioning requirements extend beyond energy systems to include items related to site, materials, and water as well as an operations, maintenance and education element.

Unlike LEED, which requires a third party to deliver commissioning services, the new code will allow (though not require) the architect responsible for the project to be involved in the commissioning process. McClintock says involving members of the design team in this process can be very useful, as they can provide valuable information about how the building was initially intended to operate. She also thinks it’s important for architects to stay connected to their work and to their clients after tenants move in.

“Being part of a commissioning process from the beginning of a project and continuing after occupancy, more architects are going to gain the knowledge of how the designed performance links up with the actual performance,” McClintock says.

With increased involvement and responsibility, however, comes the fear of greater risk and liability. Ken Cobleigh, managing director and counsel for the AIA’s Contract Documents department, says that while making the scope of work in contracts as clear and precise as possible is always important, it will be particularly important in the early stages of the code’s adoption and implementation. He says architects will also have to educate owners about the requirements associated with the new code, especially if the project will require additional consulting (energy modeling services, for example) and, therefore, additional costs.

“It’s going to be very important for architects to establish exactly who is responsible for what phase for the project, and to articulate that in contracts, in their negotiations with the client, and in communications with the jurisdiction,” says Jessyca Henderson, AIA, managing director of policy and community relations at the AIA. At the same time, she says, along with increased responsibility comes the opportunity to offer clients greater value. Once a basic level of sustainability becomes mandatory, architects will be ideally positioned to guide clients through a process that, though complex, promises to deliver a product of much higher quality using a process that puts the architect at the center of the conversations about building performance.

Reasons for adoption

Henderson says the AIA is satisfied with the provisions in the new code, but cautions that it’s now in its first published version, and that code development is an iterative process intended to improve model codes over time, often several years. From a technical perspective, she says, IgCC requirements will raise energy efficiency at least 30 percent above the 2006 edition of the IECC, which aligns with the AIA’s expectations. And from a policy perspective, the AIA praises the code’s flexibility.

“This code is not one-size-fits-all,” says Henderson. “It’s customizable, so the states and individual jurisdictions can modify it to suit their needs. That’s a good thing for AIA components, especially in jurisdictions that have a very challenging climate, whether environmental or political.” AIA components and members have an opportunity to be a part of the dialogue on the IgCC early, and influence when and how the code is adopted in their jurisdiction. The bottom line is that architects should play a key role in any adoption activities around the IgCC.

During adoption, individual jurisdictions will determine which “jurisdictional electives” are appropriate, and only those selected will become mandatory within each jurisdiction. Examples could include additional emphasis on water conservation in desert climates, and higher insulation values in cold climates. The IgCC allows jurisdictions to require enhanced building performance in areas of regional concern (such as stormwater runoff, urban sprawl, etc.).

Another customizable feature is “project electives.” Upon adoption of Appendix A Project Electives, each jurisdiction will determine how many project electives will be required of all projects within the jurisdiction, but it will be up to the building owner or design professional to select which ones to implement within a specific project. This feature is meant to encourage the implementation of desirable sustainable strategies, such as building reuse or proximity to diverse uses. Even though the code does allow these measures of flexibility to become code in the adopting jurisdiction, the majority of its provisions are minimum mandatory requirements. The code does not mandate site strategies, such as building orientation on the site, but it does require that walkways and bicycle paths connect streets to the building’s main entrance.

The IgCC also supports the AIA 2030 Commitment goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. Henderson says the new code is the kind of regulatory step required to meet that goal because a mandatory provision has the power to reach even those who would opt out of voluntary programs. Unlike LEED, Green Globes, and other voluntary rating systems, the IgCC will become mandatory to anyone practicing in jurisdictions that adopt it. As such, the IgCC is not meant to replace green rating systems; rather, the new code will give them new meaning by elevating the baseline for green design.

Henderson says the AIA is not pushing for blind, wholesale adoption of the IgCC, but rather for each jurisdiction to decide, after careful consideration, the most appropriate way to implement its provisions at the local or state level.

“Some may be ready to say, ‘Sign us up, let’s go for it,’ and choose all the jurisdictional electives and take on the entire code as it stands in the 2012 version. And that’s great,” Henderson says. “Others may not be ready for that, or it might not be an appropriate action, and it is important that each jurisdiction or state consider the entire code and make the right choice for them.”

Most importantly, the AIA encourages its members to get involved in making the code better for architects in the long run. One primary reason the AIA got involved in the development of the IgCC was because it was going to happen with or without the AIA and architects—and as they say in Washington, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” And how does the AIA define success for this code initiative? A successful code not only heightens the level of sustainable design through a regulatory tool, but also preserves vital practice safeguards in the best interests of architects. “It’s not a fight between sustainability and practice,” says Henderson, “it’s a marriage of the two—the best of both worlds.”

For more information:

A dedicated department within the Government and Community Relations team at AIA National addresses codes advocacy. Working with the AIA Codes and Standards Committee and key AIA volunteers, the AIA has prepared some preliminary materials on the IgCC, including talking points and an issue brief available at The AIA is also working on the “AIA Guide to the IgCC,” which will introduce the IgCC to architects and will include both an overview of design and practice implementation issues and a toolkit of advocacy resources. The document will be available around the time of the AIA National Convention in May.

In addition to online resources, the AIA will offer 11 hours of online education through AIA Virtual Convention, and its on-demand learning website. Three educational sessions on the IgCC offered at the convention—including an eight-hour design preconvention workshop—will be available through Virtual Convention as well later in the summer.

IgCC Continuing Education at AIA 2012 Convention

Wed., May 16, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. WE204–International Green Construction Code (IgCC) Design Workshop (7.50 LU|HSW|SD) Speakers: Christopher Green, AIA, LEED AP; Steve Winkel, FAIA, PE, CASp.

Thurs., May 17, 2:00–3:30 p.m. TH214– IgCC Effects on Practice, Part 1: Development, Adoption, and Education (1.50 LU) Speakers: Dennis Andrejko, FAIA; David Collins, FAIA; Maurya McClintock, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP; and Joseph Simonetta.

Thurs., May 17, 4:00–5:30pm TH313–IgCC Effects on Practice, Part 2: Managing Risk, Liability, and Legal Issues (1.50 LU) Speakers: Don Brown, FAIA; Cara Shimkus Hall, FAIA; Timothy Twomey, AIA, LEED AP; and Bill Wilson, FAIA.


Recent Related:

ARCHITECT Magazine: Ready or Not—A new green code is about the change the way we build

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


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