The Journey Toward Publication of the IgCC

By Dave Walls, Executive Director, Sustainability Programs, ICC

In 2009, the International Code Council (ICC) launched development of a model code to address green building design and performance. The International Green Construction Code (IgCC), subtitled “Safe and Sustainable: By the Book,” was the outcome of this effort. The 2012 IgCC was published in March and is now available for adoption and use by jurisdictions internationally, though there have been early adopters for some of its previous Public Versions. Along with the International Energy Conservation Code® (IECC) and the International Existing Building Code® (IEBC), the 2012 IgCC demonstrates ICC’s ongoing commitment to the promulgation of a safe and sustainable set of building codes.

The Code Council has a long and successful record of creating model codes designed to ensure the safety and general welfare of a building’s owner and occupants. For more than 30 years, the ICC has consistently and increasingly introduced green building standards into its codes. Along with water conservation measures in the International Plumbing Code® (IPC) and air quality measures in the International Mechanical Code® (IMC), the Code Council proved its commitment to sustainability in 1998 with the initial publication of the IECC, created from the energy codes of ICC’s legacy organizations.

The IECC has been modified and improved in the ensuing years, with the 2012 edition expected to yield at least 15 percent more energy efficiency than the 2009 edition, according to U.S. Department of Energy’s estimates. The code contains improved requirements for windows, doors, skylights, and HVAC systems, and will significantly reduce the impact of buildings on our environment.

The IgCC is the first model code that takes a broad approach to a building’s construction and operations with regard to sustainability. This approach builds upon existing measures and incorporates other provisions that reduce the negative impact of buildings on the environment.

The IgCC threshold establishes a foundation of green building measures that offers a clear and uniform path to sustainability in the built environment. As mentioned, several jurisdictions have adopted all or part of the Public Versions of the code, and many organizations and individuals have supported the development and publication of the IgCC. Along with this early support, there continues to be strong demand nationally and internationally for the 2012 version from governmental agencies interested in using the code to meet their sustainability initiatives.    

The IgCC addresses the key elements of green building design: Site Development and Land Use, Material Resource Conservation and Efficiency, Energy Conservation, Water Resource Conservation and Efficiency, and Indoor Environmental Quality. The code addresses items that affect the building and the site, such as storm water management, heat island mitigation, recycling of construction material, moisture control, water conservation, graywater and reclaimed water systems, low VOC emitting material and pollutant control measures, and building commissioning.

The IgCC is a model code, not a rating system. However, an important element of the IgCC is its flexibility. The code creates minimum standards for adoption, but also provides a set of jurisdictional electives and project electives that can be incorporated into a local ordinance for jurisdictions that want to go beyond the established minimum. Many communities have sustainability initiatives relating to their local needs and desires that can vary significantly from others. The flexibility of the IgCC provides the necessary tools to meet these varying goals.  The Code Council also supports the use of green rating systems and standards, including but not limited to, the Green Building Initiative (GBI) and U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) programs that push the sustainable provisions beyond the IgCC threshold.

The 2012 IgCC applies to all occupancies except that it is applicable to the following (through reference to ICC 700) only where the jurisdiction specifically indicates so: other than the following: one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses that are within the scope of the International Residential Code® (IRC); Group R-3 occupancies; Group R-2 and R-4 residential occupancies that are three stories or less in height; and temporary structures approved under Section 3103 of the International Building Code® (IBC). The IgCC also references ASHRAE 189.1 as an alternate compliance path.

The Code Council recognizes that many of the items within the IgCC are new to the enforcement and building design communities and is coordinating and developing tools to assist in the enforcement and implementation of the code. These tools include guidelines on building commissioning, compliance forms, templates, a commentary, and other publications that can be used as part of the implementation and enforcement process. Additionally ICC is:

  • educating and training its Membership on the IgCC, the IECC and the various programs available for achieving an environmentally responsible building;
  • providing the latest available information to our Members so they can make informed decisions;
  • monitoring and advocating in the legislative, regulatory, and codes arena to give Code Council Members the opportunity to speak for sustainable building safety;
  • reinforcing the understanding that safety and sustainability are both achievable and not mutually exclusive; and
  • promoting the understanding that the I-Codes and the ICC safety system facilitate the application of sustainable building policy.

Additionally, as part of the support infrastructure, ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) and the International Accreditation Service (IAS) are responding to the increased demand for the evaluation of “green” building products and services with programs that benefit manufacturers, code officials, and the design community.

The ICC-ES Environmental Program provides manufacturers with verification that their products meet specific sustainability targets defined by the IgCC. The Environmental Program provides an independent and comprehensive evaluation of the sustainable attributes of building products. The result is a Verification of Attributes Report™ (VAR™) available to the enforcement and design community, free of charge, on the Sustainable Attributes Verification and Evaluation (SAVE) or ICC-ES Environmental Program web site.

ICC-ES is adding a program to develop and publish Type III environmental product declarations (EPD) for building products, including interior fit out, trim, and furnishings manufactured in North America.  ICC-ES is the program operator responsible for the preparation, maintenance, and communication of general program instructions governing the development of Product Category Rules (PCRs) and EPDs for building and construction products.

It is clear that technology will continue to advance in the areas of building efficiency, safety, reliability, and sustainability. Code Council Members will carefully consider proposed changes for the inclusion of these advances in the IgCC, where necessary and appropriate, through an open code-development process. Among the benefits of the model code development process is providing an international forum for building professionals to discuss the science and performance of buildings and systems. This forum offers an excellent arena to discuss and debate improvements to the ICC Family of Codes and Standards.

Moreover, the role of the Code Council relating to green building and the “safe and sustainable” theme is evolving. To further its outreach, ICC created the Sustainability Membership Council open to all ICC Members. The Council will have an opportunity to influence the direction of ICC in the field of green and energy code enforcement.

ICC’s success is driven by the unity and diversity of its Members, and the IgCC would not be what it is without Membership commitment to a shared vision of a safe and sustainable world. The hard work and dedication of all involved in the development and publication of the IgCC has achieved this incredible accomplishment. The completion of this effort and the commitment to the inclusion of sustainable design, while not departing from its central mission, is a prime example of the Code Council’s leadership and is a significant step toward fulfilling one of its strategic goals of social responsibility.