First National Green Building Code Approved!

For the first time, the US has a national green building code.

The International Green Construction Code (IgCC), approved last week after two years of development, applies to all new and renovated commercial buildings and residential buildings over three stories high.

The historic code sets mandatory baseline standards for all aspects of building design and construction, including energy and water efficiency, site impacts, building waste, and materials.

Although the final code won’t be published until March 2012, many local and state governments have begun to officially adopt it.

"It represents a change in the standard of construction," says Jessyca Henderson Director of Sustainability Advocacy at the American Institute of Architects. "It will effect everyone that touches buildings…it will be a big leap."

How it Differs From LEED

The new code creates a mandatory "floor" – enforceable minimum standards on every aspect of building design and construction that now must be reached. 

LEED certification, on the other hand, is voluntary. Although many buildings now strive for it, there are more that don’t. The new code will thus raise the standards for ALL buildings.

Also to qualify for LEED, designers choose from a menu of options. They may choose to address certain aspects of energy efficiency, such as lighting, for example, while leaving others out.

Setting a "floor" through the code, creates the opportunity for LEED-certifications to push toward higher "ceilings," where buildings are awarded for truly reaching greater levels of performance, rather than receiving awards for what are increasingly expected standards.

Mandatory Requirements:

Site Development, Land Use: it pretty much eliminates development on greenfields (undeveloped land), although there are exceptions based on existing infrastructure. It includes clear guidelines for site disturbance, irrigation, erosion control, transportation, heat island mitigation, graywater systems, habitat protection, and site restoration.

Materials:  A minimum of 50% of construction waste must be diverted from landfills, and at least 55% of building materials must be salvaged, recycled-content, recyclable, biobased, or indigenous. Buildings must be designed for at least 60 years of life, and must have a service plan that justifies that.

Energy Efficiency:  total efficiency must be "51% of the energy allowable in the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code" (IECC), and building envelope performance must exceed that by 10%. It sets minimum standards for lighting and mechanical systems, and requires certain levels of submetering and demand-response automation.

Water Efficiency: it establishes maximum consumption of  fixtures and appliances and sets standards for rainwater storage and graywater systems.

Indoor Air Quality: It addresses radon, asbestos, VOCs, sound transmission, and daylighting.

Commissioning, Operations: it requires extensive pre- and post-occupancy commissioning and education of building owners and maintenance employees.

Every project is also required to choose an additional "elective," which pushes the envelope for the developer further. Once they choose it, it’s enforceable. There’s a long menu of elective choices, including whole-building life-cycle assessment to more stringent recycled-content. 

Local governments and states have the choice of adopting the code, but once they do, it’s enforceable. They can add their own requirements on top of the code that address local concerns such as stormwater management or lighting pollution control.

To help implement the code, IgCC includes a "cookbook" approach for smaller buildings to follow and a more flexible approach for large buildings. 

To develop the code, the International Code Council worked with many stakeholders, with the American Institute of Architects, US Green Building Council, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), foremost among them.  

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Comments on “First National Green Building Code Approved!”

  1. David Katz

    This is great news as it provides a foundation for the next version of the CABA Building Intelligence Quotient program. The new Green Building Code includes many requirements such as energy performance, commissioning and operational training of the facility systems that are to be part of our Bright Green Building program. We welcome those that would like to join CABA and get a FREE BiQ and work on the next BiQ version 2.0.

  2. Dan Katz

    Sense the Local governing agencies have the choice to accept this or not, will the feds reduce federal contributions to operating budgets?

  3. Milton

    Those unidentified jurisdictions approving the green code I hope are also indicating when they expect this code to be followed by also amending their ordinances approving the residential or building code.

  4. Cliff Cooper

    Communism? Stupid. Problem is buildings are not meeting existing code requirements. When’s the last time ventilation requirements under ASHRAE Standard 62 or energy performance under 90.1 and IMC were verified before a CO is given? This new code includes both explicit performance requirements and 3rd party verification and these protect the Owner by adding assurance that his objectives for his building are met in design and construction. Because buildings consume so much of our energy resources, and because energy consumption in buidlings is an ever increasing portion of the operating budget, building performance metrics are increasingly being used in valuation of buildings. Compliance will help assure that the building maintains relevancy and value over time.

  5. Enrique Garcia

    this is great news, I hope my country gets this news in order to improve construction and Project management proceduress because we really needs it>

  6. Thom Bohlen

    The approval of an International Green Code such as the IgCC is long over due, but still greatly needed. Many countries, as well as hundreds if not thousands of State and Municipalities in the US, have adopted the family of ICC codes for building construction, and many of these will most likely adopt the new IgCC as well. Although this will be a change for many in the building industries, it will be a stimulus in the long run and ensure that our built environment is as efficient as possible for everyone’s future.

  7. Mike Collignon

    The IgCC does NOT cover all buildings. It covers all commercial buildings and some residential buildings. However, it does not cover any single-family dwellings. None.

    This is an enormous oversight, as residential buildings annually consume about 3-4% MORE energy than commercial buildings.

    This new green code is a great first step, but it also fell well short of what it could have been.

  8. 5th Amendment

    The code seems to be overreaching, especially with the restrictions on greenfield development. The code will surely be tried in the courts as a 5th amendment violation — the taking of land without just compensation!!!!

  9. 30+years A-E

    If we are ever going to address sustainability and climate change on a larger scale the IgCC has the most promise to extend and expand the effort.

  10. Aaron Carson

    Wow the whackos came out on this one. I’m pretty sure China and North Korea don’t have building codes. Neither does most of the middle east. So I think the communism link is a stretch made possible by paranoia. It is the governments job to protect it’s citizens and these increased standards do just that. Increased enviornmental health, decreased operational expense that helps job creation,increased protection from contractors padding their wallets with payment for work they didn’t do, and less energy dependence on foreign provided fossil fuels. God bless America and the forward thinking individuals that make it great.

  11. Wasted time

    Most of the LEED projects I have seen involved mostly a lot of wasted time on recording where our waste was deposited and other “useless” record keeping. This new code will simply remove the owner’s freedom to choose how they want to invest their own resources (money) and force them into whatever the code people have determined is “good” for us all. Not very helpful when trying to compete in World markets and you are forced to spend significant amounts of money to comply with rules that you may not agree with. I guess we’ll just move all of our remaining U.S. facilities to China, Taiwan, and other places without such unreasonable restrictions……

  12. Rational American

    In a free market economy, Codes should be a minimum level that provides for safety. These Codes are out of control and will reduce the amount of building by raising costs to the point that appraisals will not allow any buildings to be built. LEED and other standards should remain guidelines for pushing the envelope and not be turned into misguided mandates by a bunch of self righteous regulators.

  13. pinak

    Great.This is a lesson developing countries need to learn in order to make future life of our next generation livable.

  14. Susiecarol

    Congratulations America, it’s nice to hear that all is not lost on the sustainability front.I understand your objections to a building code as inevitably there will be perverse outcomes. Here in England we too have had our struggles with increasing governmental regulation in our building codes and even have the ambition to build all buildings to emit zero carbon by 2018 (residential 2016). And far from becoming Communists we actually elected a right-wing Government last year.
    Surely it makes sense to use less energy and other resources in our buildings? I believe even the Founding Fathers believed in thrift?
    Even if you don’t believe in Climate Change (?!)surely making the resources we have on this finite planet last longer makes sense. Also,tighter regulation and higher standards which use new technologies does create jobs.
    Lets hope the next step is to include the residential market…

  15. Susan Gitlin

    This article states that the model code “pretty much eliminates development on greenfields (undeveloped land), although there are exceptions based on existing infrastructure.” This statement reflects a lack of understanding of how the code works. The parameters on greenfield development are “jurisdictional requirements,” which means that a community has the option to select those requirements if they feel that those requirements are appropriate for their particular jurisdiction. The greenfield requirements are NOT mandatory, as this article suggests.

  16. Thomas Jefferson

    This new code is a crock of —-; more control for government entities, interpreted by rigid, dogmatic, uneducated little inspector-cretins who do not know enough about construction to understand anything but the ivory-tower dictates of plans and codes cut-and-pasted together by an absentee overlord whose basic motive is the fee structures for derivation of his commission.

  17. Rona Fried

    Susan, in writing the article, I took the information from the people who approved the code. It’s up to every town, city and state whether they adopt the code, and they can make modifications to it to fit their situation. For the others who have commented that this is federal over-reach, please understand the code is not a Federal government code, it was developed by the independent International Code Council. It is not rigid or dogmatic, it is “best practice” that will make buildings much more energy efficient (using less energy means getting off oil without any sacrifice, as well as spending much less to power buildings), they won’t make people sick because they’ll use non-toxic materials, etc. Green buildings are high performing buildings.

  18. Warner Jones

    I copied the first papargraph under “Mandatory Requirements”
    Mandatory Requirements:
    “Site Development, Land Use: it pretty much eliminates development on greenfields (undeveloped land), although there are exceptions based on existing infrastructure. It includes clear guidelines for site disturbance, irrigation, erosion control, transportation, heat island mitigation, graywater systems, habitat protection, and site restoration.”
    This one paragraph alone will cause stagnation to the building industry. At a time when the jobless rate nationally is 9% who can justify supporting a code that will raise costs, extend permitting time, invite environmental issues and lawsuits.
    As with all other well intentioned environmental solutions jobs, money, talent, will flow out of America to countries that do not have such onorous codes, regulations,and taxes.
    America pats herself on the back for being environmentlaly friendly while importing goods and commodities from countries that do not care about such issues. So the net effect is negative to the world environment.
    We are straightening chairs on the Titanic.
    As America spirals down economically the world environment will suffer.

  19. Mike Collignon

    Nice quote. I’m “pretty sure” you won’t find the phrase “pretty much” in any draft of the IgCC.

    Given that the final draft of this code won’t be published until March, I’d hold off on making any firm judgments or proclamations on what this code will or will not do to America’s future.

  20. Patriot

    The IgCC is good for a struggling economy. But then again, isn’t all about collasping this country. The IgCC will require additional resources by cities and business at a time available resources are dwindling.


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