September 25, 2009
Work on International Green Construction Code Continues on Course

Summary: Following a month of intense teleconference meetings among those participating in the workgroups, the second meeting of the ICC Sustainable Building Technology Committee (SBTC) took place August 27-29 in Denver. The following report, submitted by the International Code Council (ICC), details SBTC progress made toward developing the draft International Green Construction Code (IGCC).

After calling the meeting to order, Chairman Ravi Shah, Assoc. AIA, welcomed R. K. Stewart, FAIA, the 2007 AIA president, and invited him to address the committee. As a concerned individual, as well as a representative of one of the cooperating sponsors of the green code effort, Stewart expressed his belief that this project and the committee’s work are critically important to AIA, the public, and the planet. He exhorted the committee members to keep their focus on performance, stating that to date there has been too much public and policy focus on green building design rather than on actual building performance. These very on-topic comments helped set the tone for the three days of work in Denver.

The presentations by the various workgroups demonstrated progress toward the next iteration of the draft document in providing recommendations fully captured in legislative format for consideration by the full committee. As work progresses, the challenges of producing a code that is above all adoptable, enforceable, and usable, while at the same time one that will prove effective in terms of green and sustainable outcomes, continue to occupy center stage. Included are a small number of significant, and in a few cases, overarching issues that will require movement toward consensus in order to provide consistent direction in the formulation of individual code provisions.

The committee, at Chairman Shah’s direction, set aside time for a lengthy discussion regarding the merits of a mandatory commissioning process. This would involve documentation to enable verification that a building and all of its systems are designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained in such a way as to ensure that the building indeed performs as intended over time as occupied and used. The issue of enforceability was raised by various committee members, should the mandated commissioning process be extended beyond the issuance of a certificate of occupancy.

Regional flexibility
There appears to be a sense of agreement that “one size fits all” mandated language across all code provisions would not result in an adoptable, enforceable, and most of all usable code document. Clean and renewable energy resources are not universally available, communities in regions that lack sufficient water resources face different conservation challenges and priorities than communities dealing with the management of an over-abundance of site-specific water accumulation, and availability levels of locally harvestable or renewable building materials vary widely as well. These are just a few of the many regional differences cited by both committee members and public attendees. An additional and somewhat related issue to regionalism is that of site location as it applies to natural resource conservation and responsible land use. It was stated that open space requirements must take into account some measure of reasonability as they relate to development in densely compacted inner-city sites versus suburban and rural locations.

The current structure of the draft document provides one means by which flexibility may be ensured. The establishment of threshold mandates and above-threshold tiers in the draft code would allow adopting jurisdictions to set their own minimum thresholds from among the tiers on an issue- or topic-specific basis according to their own unique circumstances, with an eye toward maximizing green and sustainable outcomes within their respective jurisdictions. However, there are specific areas where flexibility may be built into the mandatory threshold language itself, necessitating language that provides the proper balance between consistency and flexibility.

Existing buildings
The discussion of existing buildings has identified three categories of existing buildings to be evaluated. The first category includes all buildings constructed under this code, which become by definition existing buildings following issuance of a certificate of occupancy. The second category includes buildings constructed prior to the adoption of this code that would come partially or fully under the code by virtue of subsequent alteration or expansion. And the third category would encompass all remaining existing buildings.

Progress and plans
The members of the SBTC and participants are all dedicating significant time and effort toward the goal of delivering a final draft on schedule (April 2010) and remain confident they will succeed. In keeping with ICC Deputy Senior V.P. Mike Pfeiffer’s precautionary note in ending the initial SBTC meeting in Chicago, the Denver meeting demonstrated that all parties have “rolled up their sleeves and fully engaged themselves in the task at hand.” The committee heard, discussed, and provided feedback on the detailed, provision-by-provision reports and recommendations presented by each of the workgroups over the first two days of the meeting. In a slight departure from the agenda, and in the interests of increasing the pace of legislative language production, time was provided on Saturday for each of the workgroups to engage in face-to-face discussions, sift through the committee feedback, and return to the full committee with commitments on specific deliverables for the next meeting. It was decided that future SBTC meetings would include such work group breakout sessions as part of the SBTC agenda for future SBTC meetings. Progress on the draft code document, including results of the Denver meeting, are posted and available on the ICC Web site for public review.

Next meeting
The next meeting of the SBTC will be in Philadelphia on October 8-10 at the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia Downtown (1800 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19103).

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