The 2018 International Green Construction Code was released on November 8, 2018 but more than a year later, it has not been adopted anywhere.

The 203 page document available from the ICC for sale to the public, .. click here for a free read only copy of the 2018 IgCC, is an entirely new standard and bears little, if any relationship to earlier IgCC versions.

Which at first blush might appear to not necessarily a bad thing, given that the IgCC, first published in 2009, has only been adopted, in whole, but mostly in part, in maybe 17 jurisdictions, out of the more than 4,400 code adopting jurisdictions across the U.S., so there was room for wider adoption of a 2018 IgCC.

For purposes of this blog post highlighting the significant changes in the 2018 IgCC, that new code will be contrasted with the 2012 IgCC and not the 2015 version, which last version we are only aware a single jurisdiction has adopted.

Which is all surprising to many because the prior versions of the IgCC were ideally suited to be edited and revised for use as a voluntary compliance code promoting sustainability and energy efficiency, for specifications in contract documents, for college and professional school textbooks and curricula, and the like; but, were admittedly not ideal for use in a regulatory setting for the compulsory certification of green buildings and construction related materials, which is all but beyond dispute given that only 17 places have adopted the prior versions IgCC.

Many code officials have concluded the 2018 IgCC is not a good building code, green or otherwise. The drafting process was widely criticized resulting in a document that has never been enacted anywhere, and likely should not ever be adopted as code. It has been widely characterized as an unbuildable code.

The previous versions of the IgCC were developed utilizing ICC’s respected Code Development Process as part of the ICC Family of Codes. But arising from a 2014 confidential agreement signed by the U.S. Green Building Council, International Code Council, ASHRAE and the Illuminating Engineering Society “to collaborate on the development of future versions of Standard 189.1, the IgCC and the LEED green building program,” the ICC was only responsible for Chapter 1, Scope and Administration of the 2018 IgCC (.. be aware the American Institute of Architects dropped out of the secret society was not a party to the final code release?). The remainder of the code is the substantive content that is the 2017 edition of ANSI/ASHRAE/ICC/USGBC Standard 189.1 for the Design of High Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. Note, the 2017 edition of Standard 189.1 incorporated 75 separate addenda to the 2014 edition (so it is also in large part new). The ASHRAE process for approving standards may well work for standards, but the insular groups of subject matter environmental zealots that created the 2017 189.1 did not create a code that has garnered any market acceptance.

But draw your own conclusions: This 2018 IgCC contains requirements that address site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources, and construction and plans for operation.

The 2018 IgCC applies to “1. New buildings and their systems. 2. New portions of buildings and their systems.” and significantly “3. New systems and equipment in existing buildings.” Sec 101.3.1.

The scope of the code then does not apply to single family dwellings or multifamily dwellings of three stories or fewer. The provisions in Appendix J for residential and multifamily construction apply only when expressly adopted, providing for an option for incorporating residential building using the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. 

On the very first page of the site sustainability provisions, sec 501.3.1.2 provides there “shall be no site disturbance or development of the following: a. Previously undeveloped land having an elevation lower than 5 ft (1.5 m) above the elevation of the 100-year flood, as defined by USFEMA.” This prohibition on development in many areas is a dramatic increase from the 1 ft above the 100 year flood in the 2012 IgCC.

That section goes on to prohibit site disturbance of “land within 100 ft (35 m) of any wetland” where the 2012 version only says buildings or building site improvements shall not be located within a wetland or a buffer established by the jurisdiction; again a significant increase in prohibited developable area.

Some things have remained the same; okay very few. Inexplicably sec 501.3.5.1, the mitigation of heat island effect provision mandates that “at least 50% of the site hardscape” shall have “paving materials with a minimum initial solar reflectance index (SRI) of 29” which greatly limits the use of asphalt pavement (including even porous asphalt), is substantially repeated from 2012, despite the preponderance of scientific evidence that such is not efficacious.

Sec 501. tremendously increases the number of ordered bicycle parking spaces, providing “bicycle parking spaces shall be provided for at least 5% of the occupant load of each building” when the standard in 2012 was use based including 1 per 500 seats in a house of worship (.. now requiring not 2 but 25 spaces), 1 per 50 seats in a restaurant (.. now requiring not 1 but 3 spaces), and the like.

Sec 501.3.8.1 now requires “not less than 90% of the land-clearing debris, excluding invasive plant materials, shall be diverted from disposal in landfills and incinerators” versus 75% of building site waste management in 2012.

The 2018 IgCC “specifies requirements for potable water and nonpotable water use efficiency” but the plumbing fixture and fittings requirements are not substantially increased. There are some modest changes and some that are idiosyncratic like sec 601.3.2.1.j, “water-bottle filling stations shall be an integral part of, or shall be installed adjacent to, not less than 50% of all drinking fountains.”

A material change in water use efficiency provisions is sec 601.3.4.1, which for the first time requires “for individual leased, rented, or other tenant or subtenant space within any building totaling in excess of 50,000 ft2 (5000 m2), separate submeters shall be provided.”

Energy efficiency provisions were completely rewritten in the 2018 IgCC, including gone is the zEPI energy scoring. Not capable of being summarized in this brief blog post, the updated requirements reflect changes in ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2016. There is a new informative appendix H with an energy compliance path that builds on the International Energy Conservation Code instead of Standard 90.1.

The 2018 IgCC greatly expands on the previous “2% of the total annual estimated energy use of the building” requirement for onsite renewable systems, when sec 701. now mandates, “building projects shall contain on-site renewable energy systems that provide the annual energy production equivalent of not less than 6.0 kBtu/ft2 (20 kWh/m2) multiplied by the horizontal projection of the gross roof area in feet squared (metres squared) for single-story buildings, and not less than 10.0 kBtu/ft2 (32 kWh/m2) multiplied by the horizontal projection of the gross roof area in feet squared (metres squared) for all other buildings.” There are exceptions, including that allow for the purchase of Green e Energy of at least 7 kWh/ft2 of conditioned space annually, but this onsite renewable instruct is a heavy lift and particularly so for one story buildings.

The indoor environmental quality provisions were also nearly completely rewritten and while there is an entirely new glare control requirement that provides, “view fenestration shall have one or more operable glare control devices capable of reducing the specular visible transmittance of the fenestration assembly to 3% or less,” such seems to be little more an aesthetic attack on window blinds?

But it is sec 801. prescribing “not less than 50% of the floor area shall be in the daylight area” that is problematic for large building floorplate size not to mention for private offices. The 2012 IgCC provided, in buildings 3 or more stories above grade, “not less than 25% of the net floor area shall be located within a daylit area.”

The materials and resources provisions are greatly expanded upon, including that it will now be the law that a minimum of 10 different products installed in the building project at the time of issuance of certificate of occupancy must have EPDs. Sec 901.4.1.4.

Beyond a minimum 50% of nonhazardous construction and demolition waste diversion requirement, that tracks the 2012 requirement, what is new is sec 901.3.1.2 regulating total waste, “for new building projects on sites with less than 5% existing buildings, structures, or hardscape, the total amount of construction waste generated prior to the issuance of the final certificate of occupancy on the project shall not exceed 42 yd3 or 12,000 lbs per 10,000 ft2 (35 m3 or 6000 kg per 1000 m2) of new building floor area.” This type of provision was attacked when it was proposed in the past as being anti redevelopment.

The reworked provisions for construction and plans for operation, now combined in chapter 10, are much more than systems commissioning. Sec 1001.3.2 requires plans for building project operation, intended to encourage building owners and facility management staff to operate and maintain building projects in a manner, and at a performance level, as was originally intended by the IgCC. It is not clear that ongoing requirements are desirable, like the sec 1001. indoor environmental quality survey to be administered 18 months after issuance of a certificate of occupancy and repeated every 3 years.

What is not included, substantively, are the 2012 chapters on existing buildings and existing building sites, and without that guidance local governments will need to augment 2018 IgCC scope articulating how it will apply to the many existing buildings that are modified from time to time?

But what many have observed is really missing from the standard are the “requirements determined by the jurisdiction” that was table 302.1 in 2012 that gave easy flexibility to an adopting jurisdiction (.. which has already made work for this law firm) and Appendix A from 2012 that detailed “site project electives” selected by the developer from a Chinese restaurant menu style list of electives that encouraged construction that exceeded minimum code requirements. Without that format, allowing for some flexibility on a particular project, everything in the 2018 IgCC is mandatory on every project making this code a far harsher instrument than if there were opportunities to select credits appropriate to a project while forsaking others.

While obviously no buildings have yet be constructed to comply with the 2018 IgCC, it has been suggested this standard is a dull blade that will be far more design limiting and first cost expensive to comply with than a LEED v4 Platinum or Green Globes 4 Globes certified project.

All of that observed, the broad failure of the IgCC to have been widely enacted in the past, suggests a building code that goes far beyond life safety may be going too far. Such is not necessarily different than attempting to mandate that a private land owner must build a LEED or Green Globes certified structure misusing those voluntary rating systems.

Imposing civil penalties or criminalizing the failure of a landowner to construct a building to some level of green (.. while obviously not in the same order of magnitude as the penalty of death imposed by the Code of Hammurabi for failure to construct a building properly) raises very real issues including how efficacious a sustainable project will be toward saving the planet when the owner is only seeking to avoid legal jeopardy.

Many believe that a voluntary, non mandatory approach to environmental sustainability is the best hope for stewardship of our planet; hence the broad brand and wide market share acceptance of LEED. Many also believe that burdening owners of terra firma with yet more codes and other government mandates is wrong and will not be impactful improving the more than a Trillion Dollars of real estate construction in the U.S. annually, that is more than 6% of GDP.

But even without any significant market penetration of the prior IgCC or other mandatory green laws, the marketplace shift in the U.S. to green building has been dramatic. Today, in major cities on the East and West coasts a ‘class A’ building all but requires that it be green.

Green building laws that promote innovation and create an environment rich for investment in real estate can save mankind and our current way of life. But the 2018 IgCC is flawed and will simply never be widely enough adopted to have any meaningful impact (.. you don’t have to take my word for it; as noted it has never been adopted, anywhere).

Jurisdictions will be better served adopting the 2015 version of the IgCC, the last consensus based version. The small number of likely adopters will be the jurisdictions that today have an existing mandatory LEED or IgCC law (e.g., Washington DC, Baltimore City, Montgomery County, Maryland, etc.) that will be best served updating those mandates with required 2015 IgCC compliance.

The 2015 IgCC (.. not the 2018 version) is a good standard in a crowded field of green building standards, rating systems and codes, best suited to be edited and revised for use as a voluntary compliance code (as the 2012 version has been adopted in Maryland) promoting sustainability and energy efficiency.

Additionally, the ICC should take back the process of creating a 2021 IgCC.

Moreover, USGBC should end its collaboration with ASHRAE and others under the 2014 agreement, on the development of a 2021 LEED v5.