After a few false starts, the International Code Council (the code writing body for the U.S.) finally prevailed with the new International Green Construction Code, to be available in Spring 2012. Already there is media spin about the wonderful leadership shown by the U.S. in setting the example by providing such a code. Hoorah for the U.S.! I think…
It often baffles Europeans how it is possible to have a code which is not enforceable as a law until the governing code bodies, either statewide or by individual jurisdiction, vote that code into law. Of course this is after they made modifications in the codes to suit them. And… the local AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) is still lord of his or her own domain.
Do we really need a new code?
Is it really appropriate to set “green construction” out as yet another “code,” when we already have the IECC (energy code) and IRC/IBC (building code)? The ICC body was assembled in 2000 to simplify and consolidate the three existing regional building codes. The scope was originally “life safety,” but already in the 2003 version, the purpose was enlarged to also include the public health and general welfare, through various attributes, including energy conservation.
Are Energy Codes Working?New Air Sealing Requirements in the International Residential CodeAn Overview of the 2012 Energy CodeAre We Really Better Off With Building Codes?
Wouldn’t green building fall under the category of the public’s general welfare? Isn’t the creation of yet another code the opposite of the original effort to consolidate the codes? On the other hand, I support the effort as the most expedient way for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and ASHRAE to push the more progressive 2030 Carbon Neutral Goal ahead of the slower IRC/IBC code cycle. Now if we could just get local AHJs to adopt and enforce it…
Communism, plain and simple
What caught my attention were the comments that some readers posted concerning this seeming imposition of building green: “This is communism, plain and simple. Our Freedom is history.” At least this gentleman enjoyed his freedom of speech.
For the sake of discussion, let’s consider the impact of communism on the built environment. Communist Russia produced very poorly crafted buildings, which were almost immediately in disrepair and certainly not energy-efficient. Also, for the sake of discussion, let’s not forget that this code must still be voted in by the local AHJs, who are hired by the free citizens of the municipality or state. So the IGCC is definitely not communism.
Based on this gentleman’s last name, he appears to be of German origin. Had his forefathers not emigrated, he could be living in one of the growing number of communities throughout Germany which have mandated very aggressive energy-efficiency standards. Indeed, many of the new requirements in the IGCC have long been enforced codes in much of Europe. For example, there is a requirement for the dew point to fall outside the building envelope, for a given climate and wall construction. Material toxicity is much further evolved and drives innovation in insulation, paints, mastics, and fabrics.
The U.S. has some catching up to do
In fact, our communist-averse commentator might notice that many of the greenest of “green” programs have not come from the U.S., but from overseas (for example, Passivhaus and the Carbon Trust). He might be surprised that the USGBC LEED’s highest ranking of Platinum would only score “very good” (second highest) on the BREEAM system used in the U.K., and that Life Cycle Analysis databases and software are much further developed in Europe and the old British Empire than in the U.S.
And, for the sake of our previous discussion, all of these initiatives have been the result of individuals — people who have pushed their own building codes to a higher level of performance standard. Besides, his forefathers and other immigrants came to America because this was the land of opportunity, a land which was once known as being ahead of the curve, a land of people who embraced changed, who took risks. What has happened to this spirit?
I mention all this not to degrade in any way the hard work of the AIA, ASHRAE and the ICC. In fact, I commiserate with the political realities they faced when trying to push forth this initiative that is truly a benefit to the public welfare. But this as a reminder that the U.S. has some catching up to do in this particular domain, and I urge us all to encourage our local AHJs to adopt this new Green Code.
I count on the experience gained in building science since the 1970s and seasoned energy efficient builders to lead the way. For when 100% of the U.S. is actively engaged in trying to meet this green goal in both new construction and remodel, then we will have the grounds on which to stand to be proud of our leadership.
Vera Novak writes the Eco Build Trends blog and is currently earning her PhD in Construction from Virginia Tech.