Recently the International Code Council published the International Green Construction Code ("IgCC").  The IgCC is expected to be a real game changer for new construction in the United States.  Forward-thinking companies in the construction industry should be aware of this development and how it might affect their businesses if the IgCC is adopted in the jurisdictions that are home to their construction projects.

Does this new code apply to you and how will it affect construction?

The most significant impact of the IgCC will be to establish the floor, not the ceiling, for green building design and performance for new and existing buildings, affecting sustainable design and construction dramatically.

The IgCC is the product of years of study, discussions, and hearings by various industry groups involved in construction, such as the International Code Council; the American Institute of Architects; and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.  The goal was to establish minimum standards for green building design and performance.  When adopted by a jurisdiction the IgCC will apply to all new and existing commercial and residential buildings over three stories in height.  Accordingly, its impact could be far-reaching.

How does the IgCC differ from existing codes?

  • Unlike other construction industry regulations, the IgCC contains requirements not only for building construction but also for commissioning, operations, and maintenance.  No other building code contains requirements for operations after a building is constructed.
  • Also significant is that existing buildings are not automatically exempt.  Certain alterations, repairs, additions, sales, or changes of occupancy of existing buildings would trigger a requirement to comply with the code. 
  • With limited exceptions Greenfield development is not allowed.
  • At least 50% of construction waste must be diverted from landfills.
  • At least 55% of building materials must be recycled, recyclable, or indigenous.
  • Increased energy efficiency must operate at 51% of the energy permitted to be consumed according to the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code.

Jurisdictions will have the ability to tailor the IgCC to local concerns, to account for varying needs across the country based on climate and geographical differences. 

How widely will the IgCC be adopted and enforced?

Jurisdictions that adopt the IgCC will presumably enforce it in the same manner that they enforce current building codes.  Whether adoption of the IgCC will result in more vigorous oversight and enforcement than current building codes remains to be seen.  The IgCC itself does not call for greater or different enforcement. 

Many groups involved in construction have concerns about adoption of the IgCC.  The National Multiple Housing Council is actively seeking an exemption from the IgCC, at the code level regardless of where adopted, because it considers compliance to be onerous and in some cases unrealistic for apartment complexes to achieve.  Other industry groups might seek an exemption as well.

Has the IgCC been adopted by any jurisdiction to date?

To date, the IgCC has been adopted in a limited number of jurisdictions.  Rhode Island has approved use of the IgCC but limited to only particular projects.  The states of Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and Oregon have adopted the IgCC to varying degrees. Selected local governments in Arizona, New Hampshire, and Washington have also adopted the code. The author has been advised that the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the single largest code enforcement agency, views the IgCC favorably and will likely advocate for its adoption.

While no jurisdiction has yet to reject the IgCC, it is likely that Pennsylvania will decline to adopt the IgCC.  In January 2012 the Uniform Construction Code Review and Advisory Council advised the Pennsylvania legislature not to adopt the 2012 updates to the International Construction Code, which includes the IgCC.  One consulting engineer was quoted in Engineering News Record as remarking that the new codes, "are too complicated, too expensive to comply with and impossible to enforce."