Green Building Law Update

The Green Building Code is Too Confusing

ConfusedI have spent just over a year thinking about the International Green Construction Code (IgCC).  I know it has been one year because I received my first copy of the code at Greenbuild 2010.  My conclusion today about the code is no different than it was one year ago: 

The IgCC is unnecessarily confusing. 

Take, for instance, the IgCC's basic setup -- it's two codes in one.  Apparently, trying to figure out one set of building codes is not enough.  Within the IgCC, jurisdictions have the option of adopting either the IgCC code or ASHRAE 189.1.  Yes, I know that that sentence does not make sense, but it is correct. 

Other aspects of the IgCC create more confusion.  Not only does it include mandatory code provisions, but it also contains electives that can be selected by a jurisdiction and a project team.  Why would the code writers have included electives in a mandatory building code?  One theory I have heard is that the code writers wanted to mimic the elective credits in the LEED rating system.

I support the creation of a green building code.  Too many jurisdictions were mandating the LEED rating system as a de facto building code.  The IgCC was an attempt to fill that void with a system more appropriately suited to a building code.  However, the current version of the IgCC will create unnecessary confusion that will result in the following: 

  • Building inspectors will struggle to learn to enforce a complicated building code that changes with each project depending on the electives selected.  This will result in inconsistent building code rulings.
  • Design and construction professionals will have to comply with different building codes depending on the jurisdiction.  This means that professionals may have to learn more than one building code to do work in two adjacent communities. 
  • Insurance and surety companies will struggle to ensure the risks associated with confusing green building codes.  I have already heard one large insurance company state that the adoption of green building codes will change the standard of care for design professionals going forward. 

What do you think of the International Green Construction Code?  


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P.Douglas Folk - October 24, 2011 11:54 AM


With respect, I think you have not correctly explained how the IgCC overlays the IBC. It's not confusing and it won't be difficult to implement. When a local jurisdiction adopts IgCC, it will select either the ASHRAE 189.1 performance-based standard or the prescriptive requirements in IgCC as the method by which designers will comply with the Code. (If I had to bet money on this choice, I think most will not opt for the ASHRAE standard because it requires a more sophisticated designer and plan reviewer.) This election will apply to all projects and not vary from one to the next.

In my opinion, the burden on design engineers will be somewhat greater if ASHRAE 189.1 is selected as they must demonstrate compliance with a performance standard and not just satisfaction of table requirements for energy reduction and indoor air quality.

While building inspectors will have a learning curve with IgCC, my concern--speaking as a lawyer who represents design professionals--is that many architects and engineers are not doing enough to educate their clients about the demands of high performance, "green" HVAC systems. Building green involves higher first costs and puts a bigger O&M burden on owners and users; many of whom are unprepared to accept their burdens as users responsible for the lifetime of the faciility. The risk is that the unprepared owner will blame the design team and mechanical contractor for building a system that is too expensive/complicated/ineffective, etc.

I'm glad to see you are putting the spotlight on IgCC now because I expect most jurisdictions to adopt it quickly after it is released in March 2012. It will also be interesting to see how quickly developers move away from LEED after they discover that they can get their green credentials by designing to IgCC without the cost of LEED accreditation.

Vernon Woodworth - November 3, 2011 11:19 AM

Most architects and engineers today are used to juggling all of the ICC family of codes, plus referenced standards, plus LEED's multiple rating systems. The IgCC will present a learning curve in terms of design documentation, and coordination of plan review and inspections (there are multiple disciplines implicated, from zoning and conservation to plumbing and building), but so do all new codes, even newer editions of the "I-codes". Of course the IgCC raises the bar on the standard of care, but the alternative is to continue construction and development that are un-sustainable. Of a larger legal concern than increased liability for sustainable construction is the potential of liability for un-sustainable construction. Just ask the tobacco companies.

Stuart Kaplow
Sustainability & Green Real Estate Attorneys
15 East Chesapeake Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21286-5306 USA
Tel 410-339-3910
Fax 410-339-3912