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The Evolving Standards of Green Building Codes

Jennifer Easton, Web Marketing Associate, U.S. Green Building Council

Green building has become a staple in shaping modern building strategies. However, a relatively recent development is the way in which the LEED green building rating system and green building techniques as a whole, have informed building codes within governing jurisdictions in the U.S. and around the world. By August 2010, a wave of public policy action resulted in more than 200 local jurisdictions, 34 state governments and 12 federal bodies adopting LEED as a benchmarking system to instate higher performance green building practices.

Green building techniques are making their way into building codes and policy provisions across the globe. Building and construction codes have long since regulated safety measures in our built environment, and green buildings promote safety for occupants by limiting toxins in construction materials and regulating indoor air quality. They also preserve resources, cut down on energy usage and protect the environment, ensuring that environmental safety is taken into consideration as well. For these reasons, it makes sense that green building methods would become a stronghold in construction codes. Not only do buildings account for 72 percent of electricity consumption in the U.S., they also consume 40 percent of raw materials globally. These staggering statistics have helped alert project teams, building occupants, government officials and professionals across a variety of industry sectors that green building methods must be incorporated in our building codes. With the louder and more tangible call for green buildings in the past decade, building codes have begun to incorporate sustainable measures.

As green building codes are adopted across the country and the world, the requirements for green buildings increase, encouraging project teams and building professionals to become more familiar with green techniques and sustainable building methods. Today, building professionals are adapting their skill set to the green building movement. The most modern example of new green building codes is found in the IGCC (International Green Construction Code) Public Version 1.0, launched in March 2010 by the International Code Council (ICC). The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), along with fellow industry organizations, helped sponsor and formulate the codes, strengthening the relationship and synergy between LEED and building codes.

“The emergence of green building codes and standards is an important next step for the green building movement, establishing a much-needed set of baseline regulations for green buildings that is adoptable, usable and enforceable by jurisdictions,” said ICC Chief Executive Officer Richard P. Weiland. “The IGCC provides a vehicle for jurisdictions to regulate green for the design and performance of new and renovated buildings in a manner that is integrated with existing codes as an overlay, allowing all new buildings to reap the rewards of improved design and construction practices.”

The IGCC represents an all-encompassing building code that governing jurisdictions may adopt, to ensure that they are constructing and renovating environmentally sound and healthy buildings. IGCC Public Version 1.0 was developed in a consensus-based process, seeking input from architects, code officials, contractors and other groups within the building industry.

“The U.S. Green Building Council’s mission is market transformation and we’ve long recognized the need to reach beyond the market leaders served by LEED to accomplish this goal,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council. “Broadening the scope of the codes and establishing a higher floor allows us to continue to raise the ceiling, a critical factor in how the building industry is working to mitigate climate change. We are thrilled to see this set of complementary green building codes and standards; our organizations working collaboratively will advance green building nationwide in a way that was never before possible. “

The key components of the code will affect building practices of project teams where the IGCC is adopted, promoting healthier environments, greener construction strategies and safer buildings. Several of the highlights of IGCC Public Version 1.0 include:

Preservation of Natural Resources: This section of the code requires that buildings limit the impact on natural resources for both health and environmental reasons. In floodplains, buildings must provide a freeboard of no less than one foot above the design flood elevation determined by the jurisdiction. This protects both natural features and building occupants. Other provisions within the code state that park land as well as agricultural zones must remain undisturbed, and that no site disturbance can take place within 50 feet of a conservation area.

Material and Waste Management: IGCC Public Version 1.0 states that no less than 35 percent of waste should be diverted from landfills. The code also stipulates that certain measures must be taken involving post-construction waste recycling, including providing bins and services for building inhabitants to recycle materials. Materials selection in compliance with green building guidelines is emphasized in a variety of ways: building materials made from recycled content must contain at least 25 percent combined post-consumer and pre-consumer recovered material, and bio-based content must consist of 50 percent or more of bio-based materials.

Energy Use and Atmosphere Impacts: Here, the code maps out how to properly calculate and track annual energy use. Additionally, minimum standards for energy use are discussed. For one, the proposed design must have a peak energy demand that is no greater than 0.9 times that of the standard reference design. Also, buildings must be designed to deliver a total annual net energy use (TANEU) no greater than 70 for point of entry. The code elaborates greatly on methods to track greenhouse gas emissions, including several reference documents.

Specific Water Conservation Measures: Water meters are required, since monitoring resource consumption is a key part to keeping usage numbers down. Potable and reclaimed sources must be metered separately, and meters must be capable of communicating water consumption data remotely. Provisions in this section deal with everything from insect and vermin control (preventing their entrance in to storage tanks and piping systems) to trenching requirements. Materials are taken in to consideration in this section: one example is that gutters and downspouts should be constructed of materials approved for drinking water applications, as well as those compatible with the rainwater quality and collection surface.

In an on-going effort to keep building codes as cutting edge as possible, updates to the IGCC codes will be released this November, based on consensus body revision and public comment. Another set of refinements is on track for early 2012.

To learn more about how LEED, green building, and building codes continue to influence one another, as well as the building industry as a whole, consult the white paper “Greening the Codes,” recently released by USGBC. Visit www.usgbc.org/government to download the white paper.

For more information on IGCC, visit: http://www.iccsafe.org/.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Green Building Council http://www.usgbc.org is the nation’s leading coalition for the advancement of buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy places to live and work. Established in 1993, the Council offers various products and services to include the LEED Green Building Rating System, an annual International Green Building Conference and Exposition, membership summits, information exchange, education, and policy advocacy.

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