For several years, those who design and construct buildings have been working with numerous sustainable rating systems, energy efficiency standards and competing claims of “green” products and systems. The overall approach to building has changed worldwide and continues to evolve. As we get better at building efficient, sustainable structures, the next phase is to move green practices from optional rating systems to codified standards and requirements. The International Green Construction Code intends to be the first step in a direction that would solidify the building industry’s best practices as standard practices.
Originated by the Washington, D.C.-based International Code Council in collaboration with numerous organizations, including the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council, Washington-based American Institute of Architects, West Conshohocken, Pa.-based ASTM International and Atlanta-based American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Inc., the IGCC represents many things to many people. To some it is a series of benchmarks that will encourage improvements in efficiency and technique and drive a sustainable construction revolution. Others fear it could become an onerous set of regulations that will make business tougher and more expensive. As often is the case, reality likely will not match either extreme as the code seeks to occupy the space between.
IGCC is about three-quarters of the way through its development cycle, having recently undergone a third set of hearings to discuss changes to the draft known as Public Version 2. The green code is on the horizon, but what exactly is it and what does it mean? In Part 2 of Metalmag’s “Tech” series about codes, we will take a look at where the IGCC came from, what it hopes to be and how it may affect the metal and construction industries as a whole.
Usable and Adaptable
Development of the IGCC began in 2009. With numerous competing sustainability certification programs in the market, the idea was to create consistency and to approach green building using prescriptive, rather than aspirational, language.
“I think the real impetus of IGCC was that there were other rating systems and standards that didn’t appear to be well-coordinated with the language used in the I-Codes. That makes them difficult for our members to enforce and apply,” recalls Allan Bilka, senior staff architect with ICC and one of the secretariats for the IGCC. “Code officials and inspectors already are in the field and are familiar with construction documents. Once they’re familiar with green requirements, if they’re well written and coordinated with the requirements of the I-Codes, it should be much more effective to have building officials review plans and do inspections in the field. Coordinating with other I-Codes can help reduce some of the administrative costs involved with green building.”
The basic intent of IGCC is to create a standard framework for designing, building and operating sustainable structures. It is not a rating system, but instead establishes higher performance and material thresholds and incorporates the concept of project electives to offer incentives for owners and designers to exceed the minimum environmental and energy requirements.
“The only way to affect widespread change is through mandatory requirements,” Bilka says. “You can create some iconic examples of green building, but those may not be within the economic reach of every owner. However, if we make green reasonable and raise the floor without being excessive, we can bring about real change. The trick is having something that is usable and adaptable by jurisdictions. IGCC has some flexibility that other documents don’t have. It is much more customizable because green is not a one-size-fits-all strategy.”
Comments and Hearings
Like any proposed model code, IGCC must undergo a series of drafts, public comment periods and hearings to gather input, suggestions and concerns. Public Version 1 of IGCC was released in March 2010, with hearings that year in June and August. Public Version 2 was posted in November 2010 and a public hearing was held in May. A report from that hearing will be posted later this month. Further public comments will be accepted until August, with a final hearing in November. The completed model code is expected to be published in March 2012.
A code dealing with something as broad and potentially controversial as green building was bound to draw comments from a wide range of sources, ranging from manufacturers and trade associations to architects, contractors and building officials. Based on those comments, notable changes were made between Public Version 1 and Public Version 2 of IGCC, and it’s anticipated that still more changes will come following the recent comment period. The May hearing dealt with 1,400 change proposals.
Involvement in the code development process does pay dividends. In fact, the metal industry saw some helpful changes enacted between Public Versions 1 and 2. “One of the things we expressed concern over was the definition of regional content,” explains Bob Zabcik, technical director with Houston-based NCI.
In Version 1, manufacturing and natural resource extraction had to occur within a 500-mile radius of the project. This is very prohibitive for metal, because iron ore is extracted only in certain places and recycled material can be difficult to trace. “In part because of industry discussions, the wording in Version 2 states that either the manufacturing or extraction process has to happen within 500 miles, but not necessarily both,” Zabcik continues. “In the metal industry, we do a good job of manufacturing components within 500 miles.”
Requirements and Electives
Like USGBC’s LEED, IGCC is broken down into a series of sections, covering different aspects of design, construction and operation. The required sections are: site development and land use; material resource conservation and efficiency; energy conservation, efficiency and atmospheric quality; water resource conservation and efficiency; indoor environmental quality and comfort; and commissioning, operations and maintenance.
Along with requirements in those areas, the model code also contains what are called jurisdictional requirements and project electives. Jurisdictional requirements are strategies that may make sense in one area and not another. For example, a metropolitan area that adopts IGCC could decide to add on a jurisdictional requirement that buildings be constructed in close proximity to public transit while a more rural area that adopts the code would choose not to simply because there isn’t available access to public transit.
Project electives are strategies that are more ambitious and would not be appropriate as mandatory requirements. For example, a project may receive a project elective point for building on a brownfield site. It wouldn’t make sense to require that all buildings be built on brownfields; however, remediating polluted land and bringing it back to positive use should be encouraged, so an elective credit is designed to provide incentive.
A common question surrounding IGCC is how it will impact or possibly compete with green certification programs like LEED or Green Globes from the Jessup, Md.-based Green Building Institute. In fact, sustainable certification organizations like USGBC and GBI have been actively involved in IGCC’s development. “One might think USGBC would feel threatened by this kind of activity, but the opposite is true,” Bilka explains. “They’re fully in support and see it as a push/pull arrangement. USGBC tries to keep ahead of the codes and when the codes start to catch up and even surpass some of the requirements in LEED for various criteria, the next edition of LEED will take another leap forward.”
Work in Progress
ICC’s aim is to create a usable sustainability code, but questions linger about whether the final document will be realistic and adoptable by states and localities nationwide. Many wonder whether it will work and if it is enforceable. “First of all, IGCC is an overlay code. This is not a code that can stand up on its own,” explains Scott Kriner, technical director of the Glenview, Ill.-based Metal Construction Association. “You can’t use this instead of the building code, but it is an overlay to the existing building code. I think a lot of states that are currently adopting different versions of the International Energy Conservation Code will treat IGCC as another I-Code and make it their local or state green construction code.”
“I think Version 2 is better than Version 1, but it’s still not as clear as it needs to be,” Zabcik says. “It’s tough because it spells out mandatory requirements about achieving higher performance levels, but those levels are determined primarily by non-mandatory things. It’s a little hard to follow and apply. A lot of our comments have been about trying to get some clarity in the code. If they can adopt some clearer language in the final version, it’ll be fine.”
Impacts of the code will vary, and there are a number of potential positives for metal as a building material. “The urban heat island issue is going to affect the metal roofing industry because of the requirements for solar reflectance and emittance. Another area that could be positive for metal roofing is related to water efficiency because of metal’s ability to serve as rainwater harvesting support,” Kriner explains. Other advantages include the recycled content and recyclability inherent with the material, as well as the fact that metal serves as an ideal platform for photovoltaics and other renewable energy systems.
There are, however, potential challenges as well. Along with the regional and transportation issues, there are other possible pitfalls. “One area I’m concerned about is a possible option for a life-cycle assessment approach to some of the material aspects of the code,” Kriner says. “I don’t think whole building LCA is ready for primetime yet. The science hasn’t been completely developed and we’re not yet at the point where LCA is mainstream knowledge.”
One of the largest impacts of IGCC for building professionals of all kinds may be the extra tracking, filing and paperwork involved. Documentation requirements will increase for designers and builders. Manufacturers also will need to provide more complete data about their components. “There is a lot we’re asking of architects in this code,” Bilka admits. “A plan for service life has to be provided and there’s a required plan for building operation and maintenance. We have to look at the effort versus the environmental returns we’ll get for those efforts and determine which practices are effective.”
As a relatively new set of codes undertaking an ambitious and wide-ranging set of issues, IGCC remains a work in progress. “We wanted to keep things as simple as possible, and yet be effective and offer direction,” Bilka says. “We still need help. We still need users to make sure the document itself is usable. What technical abilities and technologies are available that we can implement? We can’t afford to just dream about technology saving us; we have to face what we can really do and what we can implement. We need users to look critically at this code and propose changes where they feel the language may be too conceptual or difficult to interpret and enforce. IGCC is interested in things that are effective and real.”