Following a series of public hearings in 2011, the International Code Council (ICC) recently released the 2012 International Green Construction Code (IGCC). The new code applies to all buildings except low-rise residential, as do ASHRAE Standard 189.1 and ASHRAE Standard 90.1 for energy efficiency. ICC’s National Green Building Standard (NGBS) applies to all residential buildings, including low-rise and high-rise.
The IGCC is not a guide or rating system. It is written in code mandatory language intended for adoption and enforcement at the local and state level, as well as for projects under federal regulatory control. Nevertheless, it is not intended to replace the minimum health and safety construction codes, but rather to work in tandem with them. A provision in the IGCC states that the code is not the basis on which a building permit should be issued. Jurisdictions may decide to use the IGCC as an overlay on the minimum health and safety codes, but they should not implement it as a standalone minimum code. IGCC’s provisions are far more stringent than minimum mandatory energy, mechanical, plumbing, and building codes. It is critical for building owners to recognize the difference.
The IGCC covers the same six sustainability areas found in the NGBS and ASHRAE Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings:
- Energy conservation – up to a 30% reduction over base energy codes;
- Water conservation – significant reductions in water usage for bathrooms, HVAC systems, and landscape maintenance;
- Materials and resources conservation – stringent recycling and materials reclamation requirements not included in previous building codes;
- Site development and land use – provisions covering existing sites and restrictions on development of building sites previously covered by local zoning regulations;
- Indoor environmental quality – stringent air filtering and construction zone separation provisions, limits on common cleaning products, and extensive sound transmission requirements; and
- Operation and maintenance – preparation of extensive O&M schedules and mandatory plans for HVAC system and whole building post-occupancy commissioning.
BOMA and other industry groups worked together to make the IGCC more user-friendly and less burdensome for the commercial real estate industry. Simple compliance paths and more flexible performance options were included, and the code allows the use of ASHRAE Standard 189.1 as an optional compliance path. This is important because it gives building owners and their design teams much more design flexibility, in the same way that ASHRAE Standard 90.1 is an alternative to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
The IGCC represents a new focus in the development of building regulations and reaches beyond long-accepted minimum health and safety codes. This new code also covers areas not commonly found in current local and state building codes, and building owners would be wise to ensure they are represented wherever the IGCC is considered for adoption.
During the 2011 hearings on the IGCC, numerous proposals with serious impacts on building owners and facility managers were rejected. However, many of these proposals may resurface in the ongoing IGCC revision process, requiring the commercial real estate industry to be vigilant. Proposals that may need to be addressed again include:
- Enforcement of post-occupancy building and HVAC system commissioning through a special 5% performance bond and 10% property tax with utility rate penalties one year after occupancy;
- Retroactive code compliance inspections one year following the sale or acquisition of a building;
- Mandatory 14-day whole building interior air flush-out prior to occupancy in new and renovated spaces;
- Mandates for more efficient portable tenant appliances and devices, such as computers and printers;
- Maintenance of O&M records onsite throughout the life of the building;
- Mandatory radon mitigation systems;
- Mandatory renewable energy credit purchases;
- Requirements for multiple entry floor mat systems at all building entrances;
- Installation of significant additional roof insulation when performing roofing repairs;
- Limits for on-site diesel engine emissions;
- Chemical use reduction requirements for all interior spaces; and
- Interior acoustical mandates requiring much more extensive sound control measures.
A joint proposal by BOMA, AIA, and the New Buildings Institute to introduce an outcome-based compliance option was also disapproved. This compliance path would provide building owners and their management teams the opportunity to demonstrate code compliance with actual operational data based on energy usage, indoor environment, and other green factors, thereby offering the most robust range of design options. BOMA and its partner organizations will continue to pursue this option during the next code development cycle in 2013.
Adopting the IGCC or any green building code poses challenges for both the commercial real estate industry and jurisdictions. Many local governments will want to consider adoption, but this step will require confronting several critical questions. What green building regulations are already mandated by the state? Which buildings might be subject to these new regulations? What impact will adoption of the IGCC have on construction activity and the still fragile economic recovery? Should economic impact analysis be required when green regulations are considered?
The IGCC’s goals include achieving significant reductions in energy usage, supporting the installation of extensive renewable energy systems, addressing site development and land use, and improving post-occupancy building performance. These are lofty and admirable goals, but they are also areas where traditional building code regulations have seldom if ever been applied. Municipalities will need to determine if the resources to effectively implement such requirements are available and at what cost. As mentioned earlier, the overlay provisions ensure that the IGCC is designed to work in tandem with other building regulations rather than serve as the baseline code. It is therefore critical that state and local governments do not consider replacing their current energy, building, mechanical, and other codes with the IGCC.
It is also incumbent on local and state officials to request that any green building code under consideration be subject to a cost/benefit analysis, which was not provided during the development of the IGCC and ASHRAE Standard 189.1. Without such analysis, it will be impossible to know or predict the impact that compliance would have on construction activity, lease rates, future development, economic growth, and the tax base.
It is clear that implementing the IGCC for all construction projects would have far-reaching negative impacts that most communities would want to avoid. Voluntary green building programs currently involve approximately 30% of the built environment. It may be preferable to limit green building regulations only to that portion of the environment and possibly to government-owned properties. Applying green regulations to tenant improvement, remodeling, and renovation projects would also require careful consideration of the impacts.
Many commercial real estate professionals support the introduction of green construction practices. However, accelerating the effort through the use of regulations rather than voluntary, market-based programs is a step that requires thoughtful consideration.
Ron Burton is president of PTW Advisors, LLC and the former vice president of Codes, Standards, and Regulatory Affairs for BOMA International. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.