International Green Construction Code

International Green Construction Code

I just reviewed the entire proposed IGCC-PV-2.o, which stands for International Green Construction Code, Public Version 2, dated November 3, 2010.   It has 221 (or 243 pages according to Word).

Page 1, paragraph 101.2 Scope, sub-paragraph 1. indicates that this code shall not apply to detached 1 and 2 family dwellings, and multiple single family dwellings (townhouses) not more than 3 stories above grade plane …

Sub-paragraph 2. indicates that equipment or systems used primarily for industrial or manufacturing processes are also exempt.

Each jurisdiction (State) has the option of adopting this code or not.  Those that do can further customize their enforcement by allowing individual building departments in various cities and counties to prescribe certain “electives” for energy conservation and clean air and other aspects of the code.

This code will be effective in mid-2012, according to the the ICC’s schedule.  That does not necessarily mean that all States will immediately adopt it.  My guess is that heavily industrialized areas along the northeastern seaboard like New York probably will, perhaps Chicago and other locations where people are vocal about energy conservation, clean air and sustainability.  I further guess that the IGCC will probably be adopted in most USA jurisdictions within just a few years.  European countries may follow along.

Being “green” is a hot topic and everyone wants it, although what it means to be truly “green” is subject to debate.  For those brave souls that want to slog through 220+ pages of highly technical requirements and engineering analysis, be my guest.  This will be the legal determinate of what is green, at least for commercial buildings, as each jurisdiction having authority over construction adopts it as law.  So, being green will become enforced for public facilities very soon.

The stated purpose of the IGCC is to “Safeguard the environment, public health, safety and general welfare through the establishment of requirements to reduce the negative potential impacts and increase the positive potential impacts of the built environment on the natural environment and building occupants, by means of minimum requirements related to: conservation of natural resources, materials and energy, the employment of renewable energy technologies, indoor and outdoor air quality, and building operations and maintenance.”

After reading through this code book, I am sure that is the intent.  Like any significant commercial building, no one person would be capable of understanding everything necessary to comply with all building codes.  That is why there are engineers, architects and contractors.  It will take a team of highly skilled and intelligent professionals to apply all of the requirements contained in the International Green Construction Code.

There are many overlaps with other ICC code books, such as the Energy Conservation Code.  That is to be expected.  The IGCC is sort of like the new Homeland Security agency taking under its umbrella the CIA, FBI and other organizations that existed before it did.

Some homeowners or people considering building a home may think: “Say, we want a green home too, why isn’t this code being enforced for homes?”  Well, my guess is that the people at the ICC have the experience and wisdom of creating building codes and that they understand that making homes and buildings Green, per the stated code requirements will not be free.  It will cost money.  Someone will have to pay the engineers and architects to conduct and administer the various analyses that will have to be conducted to model the energy performance of a building, along with a host of other requirements.

I believe that some potential homeowners may think that when they say: “Oh yeah, make my new home green, will ya?”  That they think there is some button that is pushed for free that makes their home magically green.  And for no extra cost.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There are degrees of Green.  Just how environmentally conscious do you want to be?  How much of your new home budget are you willing to set aside for that?  5%?  10%  15%.  It could be that, and more, depending on how Green you really want to become.

How about energy efficiency?  How much of your capital or first cost are you willing to spend on better insulation?  Even if you know that you will have reduced utility energy bills each month, at what point will you have a payback for that initial investment?  As an architect, I would have to suggest that you Do invest in better insulation and reduced greenhouse emissions and similar global-impacting choices.  The question is, what will you, as a new dream house owner be willing to allocate for such things?

It can be frustrating to know that someone wants to be responsible to the Earth and have lower bills.  However, many of these choices are “invisible”.  Invisible in that they are not seen by the homeowner when they drive up to their house and walk around inside it.  “Say, just where is my reduced greenhouse emissions choices that I paid an extra $10,000 for?”  Kind of laughable, isn’t it.  Those are things you really can’t see.    But also, not funny at all, when we think about the national and global implications of global warming.  So, in the end, each potential new house owner will need to conduct their own investigations and make their own choices as to what they can afford and how much of that goes to making their home greener, whether they can see it or not.  In the meanwhile, commercial buildings will be getting a new green code that compels more efficient, more responsible buildings.