Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

Greening the Green Code Through Use

For this week’s Guest Post Friday, we welcome a couple of authors. Gary Klein has been intimately involved in energy efficiency and renewable energy since 1973. His firm, Affiliated International Management LLC, provides consulting on sustainability. Craig Conner has been involved with energy efficient buildings since 1976. He is active in the development of energy and green related building codes.

We, along with several code enforcement staff and colleagues from around the country, proposed changes to the IGCC that would cut its size of the new green code by 2/3. Why revise the IGCC so radically? Because we want green to actually happen. The IGCC needs to be simple, understandable, usable, useful and enforceable.

As a society, we celebrate adopting something with Green or Sustainable in the tile. But our goal is not titles; it is impact on buildings, on people, on the environment. We should celebrate the greening of buildings. So how is the implementation of the IGCC doing? Poorly.

Who has adopted the IGCC? Richland WA, Maryland, Oregon, North Carolina, Scottsdale AZ, and others. An impressive list. Are they really using it? The city in which Craig resides, Richland WA, was the first to adopt the IGCC in August 2010. So far the total number of buildings built under the IGCC is zero (none). Richland adopted the IGCC as a “non-mandatory document. Is Richland a greener city because of this code? Not yet. In Maryland the IGCC is an “optional requirement”. North Carolina used only the rainwater provisions. The IGCC is an “alternative requirement” for new public buildings in Rhode Island. Oregon only adopted parts of the IGCC, but modified the energy chapter and utilized the IAPMO Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement for the water chapter. Other “adoption” stories are similar.

How many have really applied the IGCC? Hundreds of buildings would be a comforting answer. Cities or states that routinely applied the IGCC, just like the other I-codes, would be good. Are there even 10 buildings that have fully applied this adopted code? We doubt it. Have any really applied Craig’s least favorite least favorite chapter, energy? What was the definition of “green washing” again?

In the language of Dr. Seuss- Green is good. More green is better. No green is not good. An unused green code, that can’t be good?

Do we oppose green? Hardly. Our careers have focused on energy and water efficiency. We are currently active in revising ICC 700 (residential green standard). We were active in the 2012 IECC and IGCC code development processes. Craig has authored or helped with many IECC energy upgrades. Gary is active in ASHRAE standards development, sits on the IAPMO Green Technical Committee and is nationally recognized for his work on the water-energy-carbon footprint connection. In addition to us, there were four code enforcement staff signatures on GG34, staff with extensive code development, training and code enforcement experience. (“GG34” is the number given our proposal in the IGCC code development process.) Our entire GG34 team acknowledges input from many others, mostly code enforcement staff, from around the country.
So who wants this “Simple Green”. Among others, many code officials that want to use the IGCC.

Mike Collignon’s post on the recent IGCC code development hearings was a pleasure to read. We agree with Mike’s assessment that the initial large group of code official voters would likely have supported simplifying the IGCC as represented by GG34. The first day’s large audience only got to vote on one part of GG34, and gave us a 77% “yes” vote. Later votes that GG34 lost were based on smaller groups, sometimes much smaller groups of voters.

We believe the typical code official wants something that can be used. They want the Simple Green. Without the Usable IGCC, the price of complexity in the code world is confusion and lack of compliance.

Most code changes come from product makers, trade associations, or advocates of various good causes. As such their focus is a few sections or maybe a few pages in a 200+ page IGCC. They don’t see complexity as they are only concerned with a small fraction of the code. We are trying to make the whole code usable, which is why so many of our supporters are those that have to use the whole code, the code officials.

What did we propose to change in the IGCC to get Simple Green? GG34 was based on a number of principles. A longer version can be found here.

  • Principle: Focus on the core of green: energy and water. IGCC energy should be built on the IECC. IGCC water should be built on the IPC.

The IGCC content on water is OK, but we clarified and condensed the chapter, cutting the code text in half by removing language already in other I-codes and by creating a section for provisions shared by graywater, rainwater and reclaimed water. In contrast, the content in energy is a mess. We believe the IGCC creates a new energy code, missing the ICC mandate to be an overlay to the IECC in energy.

Why do we say a new energy code? IGCC covers plug loads (outside the scope of the IECC). IGCC uses a new metric, source energy, while the IECC, ASHRAE 90.1 and ASHRAE 189.1 (ASHRAE commercial green) all use energy cost. Just look at the tables of multipliers in the IGCC energy chapter, none of these factors even applies in the IECC. IGCC adds several equations, such as for greenhouse gases; let’s just reduce energy use and the greenhouse gas will be improved even if we don’t do a calculation. IGCC creates a “zEPI”. So what zEPI value equals energy code compliance? There is not an answer, they are apples and oranges.

Among the potential IGCC code users we talked with, the energy chapter was often cited as the biggest problem. Many of these users said they would either 1) delete the energy chapter, 2) replace it will a line that said meet the 2012 IECC or their local code, or 3) add a line that said do 10% better than the 2012 IECC or their local code. GG34 replaced the IGCC’s 40 pages with 7 pages, adding no new equations since we built on the IECC. It incorporated the 10% better than the IECC as one option.

  • Principle: Remove the non-green issues. For example we removed acoustics and light pollution.
  • Principle: Some good things cannot be codified. That is OK. Not everything need to be code.
  • Principle: Remove those things that have no impact. We came up with a new definition:

Code Fluff: Code that requires effort from both the permit applicant and the code enforcement staff, but has no impact. Term usually applied to requirements that are complex or require calculations.

Code Fluff example: IGCC requires that 55% of materials include one of several good attributes. Indigenous materials, comes from 500 miles or less; for example, in many commercial buildings concrete is about half the weight and will be from much less than 500 miles away. Materials have a minimum recycled content or are recyclable; for example steel and aluminum should usually meet at least one of these. Now, can you find a commercial building without much concrete, steel or aluminum? This means most buildings easily meet this provision, with or without the IGCC. We would eliminate this as “code fluff”.

  • Principle: Don’t repeat the I-codes. The IGCC is an overlay, it requires other I-codes. We removed substantial parts of the IGCC that simply duplicate other I-codes. Some of this was also done in other approved proposals.
  • Principle: The IGCC is a code, not a rating system. IGCC is not a LEED (or GBI) replacement. LEED can and should go further, be more complex, require more experts. We deleted all the electives and jurisdictional requirements.
  • Principle: Simpler is better. The more complicated a code provision is, the less likely it is to be used. Eliminate unnecessary calculations.
  • Principle: The IGCC’s primary users are those who enforce it and the parties that are regulated by it. The code should be written for those users.
  • Principles: Replace reference to programs such as Energy Star & WaterSense with specific code requirements. Remove reference standards that do not meet ICC’s guidelines for reference standards (called CP-28).
  • Principle: Be sure that the green code is representative of best practices. Check the details. For example, the IGCC’s maximum mercury in compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) was less restrictive than the industry’s own voluntary standard.
  • Principle: The IGCC drafting stage is over. IGCC is not the holding pen for “good ideas” or “almost completed code”. Remove placeholder or incomplete items. Proponents can resubmit for 2015 code development cycle.

An important acknowledgement: To be fair to the IGCC development committee, they were not given enough time. Given another year with another cycle we believe they would have fixed may of the issues GG34 dealt with.

Are there precedents for simpler codes being better? Yes, for example, the rewrite of the 2003 IECC resulted in the 2006 IECC that was only 1/3 the length with the smaller code having more impact.

Let’s be clear. The I-codes should include a green code. We are absolutely not trying to create a competing green code. We advocate adoption of the IGCC (and I-code family), and will offer a set of amendments that a jurisdiction can adopt to produce a Usable IGCC, or “Simple Green”. We expect to have that revised Usable IGCC with amendments based on the 2012 IGCC and reasons by late January. Send us an email then if you want a copy (free) when it is ready.

As always, Mike, Kevin and I welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

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6 Responses to Greening the Green Code Through Use

  1. Thank you for the kind words, gentlemen.

    In defense of those communities who have “adopted” but not used the IgCC yet, the final version of the IgCC isn’t scheduled for publication until March. It’s my opinion their early “adoption” was mostly ceremonial, and instead sends the message that they intend to use this new code once it is finalized.

  2. Gary and Craig have done a tremendous amount of work on this “Simple Green” code. They were willing to speak with anyone who had any sort of interest in any portion of the IGCC, Public Version 2, to see where things could be fixed.
    Yes, a lot of work went into the public version and there were some good things in there but when you take that public version and want to now call it a code, it needs to live up to the other I-Codes. There was so much “fluff” in the public version that it had to be dwindled down to a more usable document. Why can’t we start small and add as we learn instead of throwing a wish list inside a cover and calling it a code book?

    What is needed is to take the IGCC and strip it of all of it’s fat and waste, create a skeleton and then slowly add back the muscles and vital parts to make it whole and allow it to stand on its own. Craig and Gary, among others, tried to do this in this code cycle. There were some successes but not enough. I am glad that the next code cycle for the IGCC isn’t that far off so that we can make another attempt at creating a document that people aren’t afraid to use.

    Thank you Gary and Craig. Nobody realizes the countless hours you put into “Simple Green”. I, for one, appreciate your attempt to make my job easier as a code official. Way to go!!!

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