IgCC could bring "green" construction to the mainstream, but hurdles remain

By Julie Ruth
October 3, 2011

As many of you are probably aware, the International Code Council is developing an International Green Construction Code to provide jurisdictions with a codified document to adopt if they wish to mandate green construction. In this way, the IgCC differs from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. LEED is a program intended for use on a voluntary, project-to-project basis. The IgCC is intended as a mandate for all new commercial buildings built within an adopting jurisdiction's boundaries.

Used in this way, the IgCC could bring "green construction" into the mainstream. Instead of just isolated instances of green construction across the country, as occurs with LEED, entire communities might adopt green construction practices. The intent is that "building green" would become the new standard practice.

This is a lofty ideal. I suppose it's one worth aspiring to. Unfortunately, actual practice appears to be falling short.

The document that the ICC is currently promoting―IgCC Public Version 2―contains language that is vague, conflicting or otherwise simply unenforceable.

The code change committees charged with moving this document one step closer to adoptability at the IgCC Code Development Hearings in May 2011 instead chose to rely quite heavily on "someone fixing this" at the final action hearings in November.

It seems unlikely that everything that needs to be addressed in the IgCC will be "fixed" during the final action hearings, as it would require code officials to fix, within a few days, the mess that the IgCC committees have made over the past couple of years. To do this, the code officials would first need to find time to review the entire document, the submitted code change proposals, and the public comments and their supporting statements. Then, they would need to develop a thorough understanding of the concepts and issues at hand before the hearings. The possibility of this occurring is tiny.

The problem seems to be that the code officials, and the green advocates who have assembled this code, speak two different languages. The green advocates do not seem to understand the language of the code officials, or their concerns. And having spoken "codese" myself for more than 20 years, I have to confess: trying to understand the language of the green advocates is just plain baffling to me. Are they aware that buildings that are too tight mean the occupants don't get enough air to breathe? Or that gas fires in such buildings will go out if there is insufficient oxygen, and that by doing so they could fill the air with gases that can explode and kill people? What on earth is "acidification potential"? And how does one calculate what percentage of the material in a window―by mass or cost―is recycled, recyclable, bio-based, used or indigenous?

The good news

That being said, some of AAMA's largest concerns with the IgCC were addressed during the IgCC Code Development hearings in Dallas this May.

Specifically, a requirement that fenestration values "exceed the 2012 IECC by 10 percent" was replaced with language that specifies both the U-factor and SHGC of fenestration in commercial buildings be "10 percent lower than that of the 2012 IECC" when the prescriptive method is used for energy conservation. Although AAMA opposed the application of a 10 percent reduction to the fenestration values, particularly to SHGC, the approved language at least clarifies how "exceeds by 10 percent" is to be applied.

AAMA was successful in limiting the 10 percent provision to the prescriptive method for energy conservation only. It will not apply when performance-based or outcome-based design is used for energy conservation.

AAMA also was successful in preventing another new prescriptive energy table from being added to the ICC family of codes by instead maintaining reference to the IECC.

A move to replace requirements for minimum fenestration area with requirements for minimum effective aperture was approved. The minimum effective aperture establishes a specific minimum ratio between the amount of daylighting provided and the size of the area daylit. Other sections of the IgCC contain requirements for specific sizes of daylit areas. The net effect is to require a specific amount of daylighting be provided through vertical or sloped glazed fenestration.

Removal of the vague Component Design Life provisions, as sought by AAMA, was approved as well.

In addition, three Life Cycle Assessment alternatives to the criteria that 55 percent of materials―by mass or cost―are to be recycled, recyclable, used and indigenous or bio-based, were approved. LCA is an evaluation of the environmental impact of the materials used in a building "from cradle to grave." The three alternates are as follows:

The entire building has a 10 percent improvement in overall energy performance, and LCA of the entire building demonstrates a 5 percent improvement in three of the five measures included in the table below (not including primary energy).LCA of the whole project demonstrates a 10 improvement in three of the five factors other than primary energy listed in in the table below, or The environmental impact of the assemblies selected for the project for primary energy and at least two of the other five measures in the table below is less than the environmental targets established by the IgCC for that particular type of component.

Now what?

Now, do you know if your product meets any of these environmental limits?

I have to confess, I do not have a clue as to whether or not anyone's product does, everyone's product does, or no one's product does. Nor does the IgCC provide any real guidance to determining this.

Probably the biggest disappointment to AAMA with regards to the IgCC Code Development Hearings has to do with the use of ASHRAE 189.1. AAMA and several other interested parties had sought to give the building designer a choice between complying with ASHRAE 189.1 or the IgCC. All the proposals that would have established this, however, were disapproved. The jurisdiction that adopts the IgCC will have the right and responsibility to decide if ASHRAE 189.1 is to be used to demonstrate compliance with the IgCC. The designer or building owner will not have that option.

AAMA is developing public comments for consideration during the final action hearings of the IgCC, to be held November 2-6 in Phoenix.


This column is brought to you by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, Schaumburg, Ill., www.aamanet.org. Julie Ruth can be contacted through AAMA at 847/303-5664 or via e-mail at julruth@aol.com. 

  • Key points

    The ICC is developing an International Green Construction Code for jurisdictions wishing to mandate green construction.

    IgCC Public Version 2, however, contains language that is vague, conflicting or unenforceable, and it seems unlikely that it will be fixed during the November code hearings.

    AAMA is developing public comments for consideration during the final action hearings of the IgCC, to be held November 2-6 in Phoenix.