Code Adoption Steered by Costs

April 27, 2012
State and local policymakers push for affordable regulations.

In recent years, state and local governments have taken on a more active role in shaping and adopting building codes through legislative and regulatory processes.

Initially, they centered on effective ways to reduce energy consumption. Policymakers across the U.S. are now examining a broad array of code issues that require grassroots advocates to increase their participation.

Pennsylvania, for example, has become a bellwether state on code issues. In January, Pennsylvania’s Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council recommended that the state legislature reject the 2012 International Code Council (ICC) codes except for the provisions relating to accessibility, which would help keep the state in compliance with federal regulations. If the recommendations are adopted, the 2009 codes will remain in place until at least the next code evaluation cycle in 2015.

The council also requested to extend the revision cycle for the Pennsylvania Construction Code from three years – consistent with the ICC update schedule – to six years. Enacting both proposals would keep the 2009 codes in place until at least 2018. The cost of adopting new code versions for local jurisdictions was a major factor, as were provisions included in the 2012 editions, such as more stringent energy requirements for all buildings.

The cost of implementation influences other states as well. Believing that the energy provisions in the 2012 International Green Construction Code (IGCC) were too expensive, several states opted to forgo this version.

But while some states are pulling back from green codes, others are moving forward and even going beyond. Hawaii’s legislature recently considered updating its building codes to include the 2012 IGCC, including the water efficiency provisions. Illinois debated adopting the latest edition of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) every three years as the minimum standard for commercial buildings.

Minnesota, however, is taking a different tack. A coalition of real estate interests and building code officials supported a pair of bills that would change the Minnesota State Plumbing Board into an advisory role instead of its current authoritative one. The legislation would require the board to oversee issues affecting Minnesota’s plumbing trade, including code adoption, but would transfer the ultimate responsibility for adopting, amending, and interpreting the code to the Department of Labor and Industry.

The department’s commissioner would also have to adopt a performance-based state plumbing code consistent with the state’s other model codes, as opposed to the current board’s 2011 decision to replace its homegrown code with a model one that’s inconsistent with other Minnesota codes.

The roles that state policymakers play in the development process caught the attention of the ICC, which recently created the Code Development Process Access Steering Committee (CDP) to develop recommendations on addressing these challenges. BOMA’s code consultant Ron Burton, who chairs the ICC Industry Advisory Committee, is one of two industry members on this committee, which will first focus on how to increase participation in deliberations and balloting on proposals to modify ICC model codes.

The ICC’s governmental voting members face increasing pressures to reduce travel and limit time away from their duties, not only as a result of the current economic downturn, but also the demands on state and local governments to streamline their operations over the past couple of decades.

As a result, officials’ participation at code development hearings has not increased significantly since the ICC code family was first introduced in 2000. Due to this lack of crucial participation, the ICC aims to increase participation through the use of the Internet, video, and other technologies that will allow participation from members who can’t attend hearings in person.

Of course, such changes could dramatically alter the way interest groups will need to interact with regulatory officials as future ICC codes are developed. The committee plans to hold a series of web conferences and face-to-face meetings throughout 2012.

Interim reports were presented at the ICC code development hearings in April, with additional reports planned for the ICC Annual Conference. Final action hearings are set for this fall.

This increased interest from policymakers adds a new dimension to codes development that could potentially impact the affordability of building regulations. Commercial real estate and its advocates are ramping up their efforts to respond to this paradigm shift.

James Cox is the director of State & Local Affairs and Ron Burton is the codes consultant for the Building Owners and Manager Association (BOMA) International. Learn more at www.boma.org.

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