The 2012 International Green Construction Code: What Is the Impact on Building Owners?

Feb. 21, 2012

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:

  1. Energy conservation – up to a 30% reduction over base energy codes;
  2. Water conservation – significant reductions in water usage for bathrooms, HVAC systems, and landscape maintenance;
  3. Materials and resources conservation – stringent recycling and materials reclamation requirements not included in previous building codes;
  4. Site development and land use – provisions covering existing sites and restrictions on development of building sites previously covered by local zoning regulations;
  5. Indoor environmental quality – stringent air filtering and construction zone separation provisions, limits on common cleaning products, and extensive sound transmission requirements; and
  6. 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.

Ongoing Concerns

Outline of Green Codes and Standards

ASHRAE Standard 90.1
ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings is an American National Standard developed by ASHRAE and jointly sponsored by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). It provides minimum requirements for energy-efficient commercial buildings, but does not cover low-rise residential buildings. Like the IECC, Standard 90.1 applies to new buildings and to additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs to existing buildings. It addresses building envelopes, HVAC, lighting, water heating, and power usage for appliances and building systems.

ASHRAE Standard 189.1
ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings is an American National Standard developed by ASHRAE and co-sponsored by IES and USGBC. The standard provides minimum requirements for high-performance green commercial buildings, but like Standard 90.1, it does not cover low-rise residential buildings. Standard 189.1 provides minimum criteria applying to new buildings and their systems, new portions of buildings and their systems, and new systems and equipment in existing buildings. It addresses site sustainability, water and energy efficiency, renewable energy systems, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and impact on the atmosphere, materials, and resources.

International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)
Developed by the International Code Council, the IECC is a model code that regulates minimum requirements for design and construction. It contains separate provisions for commercial and low-rise residential buildings, and applies to new buildings as well as to additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs to existing buildings. The IECC addresses building envelopes, HVAC, lighting, water heating, and power usage for appliances and building systems.

International Green Construction Code (IGCC)
The IGCC is developed by the International Code Council and its partners, the American Institute of Architects and the American Society for Testing and Materials International. It is a model green building code, with ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings as an alternate path of compliance. The IGCC provides a vehicle for the regulation of green building design, construction, and performance in new and renovated buildings in a manner that is integrated with existing codes.

The code includes requirements from both the IGCC and Standard 189.1 and contains criteria for water use efficiency, indoor environmental quality, energy efficiency, renewable energy systems, materials and resource use, and the building’s impact on its site and community.

National Green Building Standard (NGBS)
ANSI/ICC Standard 700, National Green Building Standard is an American National Standard developed by the ICC and the National Association of Homebuilders. Standard 700 contains provisions for green practices that can be incorporated into hotels and motels, high-rise multifamily buildings, single-family homes and home sites, and home remodeling and additions.

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.

Future Impacts
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 [email protected].

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Building Better Schools

Download this digital resource to better understand the challenges and opportunities in designing and operating educational facilities for safety, sustainability, and performance...

Tips to Keep Facility Management on Track

How do you plan to fill the knowledge gap as seasoned facility managers retire or leave for new opportunities? Learn about the latest strategies including FM tech innovations ...

The Beauty & Benefits of Biophilic Design in the Built Environment

Biophilic design is a hot trend in design, but what is it and how can building professionals incorporate these strategies for the benefits of occupants? This eHandbook offers ...

The Benefits of Migrating from Analog to DMR Two-Way Radios

Are you still using analog two-way radios? Download this white paper and discover the simple and cost-effective migration path to digital DMR radios that deliver improved audio...