Going Green Through Code

It was only a matter of time before green became codified. This spring, the International Code Council (ICC) officially will roll out its International Green Construction Code (IgCC). This “overlay” also contains ASHRAE’s 189.1 green building standard introduced in 2009 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

The effort to promote better built, healthier and environmentally friendly buildings took serious hold through prescriptive certification programs such as Energy Star, the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Green Globes, the National Green Building Standard and others. Progressive communities and states then took the next step by establishing green building standards. New York City’s Green Codes Task Force and the California’s CALGreen (Green Buildings Standard Code) are just two major efforts. Now code bodies have stepped in to offer clarity and direction.

For electrical contractors, getting up to speed on IgCC will be a way to better navigate within projects that use it. The document is a comprehensive collection of agreed-upon sustainable standards set to code language. It addresses any number of efforts within the construction or remodel of a building. The environmentally specific point categories of LEED and related certification programs set the stage for what is addressed in IgCC. Those categories include material and resources, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental quality, and water efficiency.

“The ICC decided there was a need to provide a green construction code in language that could be easily adoptable,” said Christopher E. Chwedyk, AIA, CSI, and director of The Code Group, a subsidiary of Burnham Nationwide, Chicago. “The IgCC is flexible as it recognizes the differences of municipalities who have their own issues, needs and their own ranking of what they want to tackle first, be it energy conservation, water, usage of power and so on.”

Allan Bilka, R.A., senior staff architect in the ICC’s Chicago district office, shared the evolution of the IgCC.

“ICC first developed energy codes (e.g., IECC), which have played a significant role in achieving building sustainability. At the request of National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), we worked closely with that organization to create green guidelines for the construction of residential single-family homes. That work evolved into the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. From there, we got to thinking how to similarly address larger residential (three-story or more) and commercial/-industrial buildings. That led to our IgCC green code, which makes some standards, found in energy or mechanical codes more rigorous.”

While green building certification programs have helped inform the IgCC as to what it targets, its approach is fundamentally different.

“In essence, certification programs gave us a road map as we developed a way to bring sustainability into code,” Bilka said. “The IgCC takes green prescriptive measures and makes the majority of them mandatory where rating programs use mostly electives, with a few mandatory prerequisites.

“The IgCC does have 14 electives that planners or building teams could choose from,” he said. “For instance, there is an elective for lighting systems that requires interior lighting efficiency to better (by 10 percent) a requirement in the Energy Conservation Code 505.5. For the most part, IgCC codes are presented as mandatory and implementable if the practice is reasonable to that community.”

Performance-based codes
“Raising the bar” is another way to look at the IgCC as it allows you to go above and beyond existing building codes.

“It takes green building to the next step,” Chwedyk said.

Part of that next step is the shift to a more performance-based standard.

“Many countries, notably in Europe, are more performance--based rather than prescriptive in their building codes,” Chwedyk said. “Green codes emerging in this country—as they apply to building safety, fire and efficiency—are an entry point to performance mandates. I feel this could have a positive effect on our construction industry.”

Chwedyk recognized that any time you introduce something new, like the IgCC, it might initially be confusing. From the perspective of the electrical contractor (EC), he noted, “The ECs are in good stead by virtue of being up to speed on electrical Code. From a commissioning and maintenance standpoint, green codes may simply offer some things that need to be done differently.”

“Whether electrical contractors are part of the building design process or simply run wire to meet the power needs of the design, IgCC does impact them. It may not be electrical Code, but it is requiring the specifying of higher performing equipment, lighting, energy-efficiency tactics (such as lighting or climate sensors), and so forth. There is certainly more work involved as sustainability and saving money over the life of the building are key goals.” Bilka said.

In reviewing the IgCC, ECs will discover what is directly related or connected to their work in part by simply seeing what association’s standards are included in this new green code document. UL, NAHB’s National Green Building Standard, NEMA, IESNA, DOE’s Energy Star, ASHRAE and ASAE are all cited.

Existing green codes and policies
Any confusion regarding the IgCC code seems likely to lie with states and municipalities that created their own green codes prior to IgCC.

“In California, they have their own mandatory green code,” Bilka said. “When we started to put together the IgCC, we looked in part to what California had done (now CALGreen). I think it can play a role in states and communities that forged ahead with their own green codes. The challenge will be not duplicating codes between these progressive homegrown efforts and what’s in IgCC. The bottom line is most municipalities in the United States will be relying on their local building department to implement green codes. Right off the bat, the IgCC will offer sustainable actions in recognizable code language. It is also a very comprehensive document.

“We created the IgCC in order to provide green build guidance, a code language framework and green code consistency. It isn’t meant to supersede but rather exist alongside green building rating systems, standards and other green codes. Together they promote building sustainability and work to raise the bar.”

IgCC 2.0
In March 2012, the IgCC will be officially available as Version 2.0. Why 2.0? It will be a revision of Version 1.0, which is currently being used in several communities. Version 2.0 will be 291 pages, with a second 119-page section containing ASHRAE 189.1.

“Being aware of code compliance in energy code—mechanical or green—will benefit electrical contractors, making them an even stronger adviser to their clients,” Bilka said. “The more they [ECs] work with complex systems dictated by green code, the more they build their experience and reputation with owners, town officials and the building community.”

The ICC offers IgCC training courses as well as an overview webinar, “Green Building Codes 101: Navigating the Standards, Codes, and Rating Systems.” Information is available at www.iccsafe.org/cs/IGCC.

GAVIN is the owner of Gavo Communications, a marketing services firm serving the construction, landscaping and related design industries. He can be reached at gavocomm@comcast.net.

About the Author

Jeff Gavin

Freelance Writer
Jeff Gavin, LEED Green Associate, is the owner of Gavo Communications, a sustainability-focused marketing services firm serving the energy and construction industries. He can be reached at gavo7@comcast.net .

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