Last Monday evening an ordinance was introduced in the Baltimore City Council to adopt the 2018 International Green Construction Code.

In the realm of green building this is a big deal. In the more than 4,400 code adopting jurisdictions across the country only the town of Gaithersburg, Maryland has adopted the 2018 IgCC. It is worthy of note that a second jurisdiction, Montgomery County, Maryland (that includes the municipality of Gaithersburg) has promulgated regulations adopting the 2018 IgCC, but the code is not yet in effect.

I have regularly and consistently been critical of enactments of mandatory green building codes, as violative of the core principal modern green building is built upon that sustainable construction is a voluntary non regulatory response such that the built environment that can repair the planet.

But in this instance it is necessary to understand the context that Baltimore City was among the first in the nation when it enacted a mandatory green building law in 2007 that remains among the most sweeping of that in any major American city. The existing green building code mandates that nearly all newly constructed or extensively modified building must be certified green.

Accepting that this new green code replaces an existing green building mandate, Bill 20-0630 should be applauded as an excellent enactment of the 2018 IgCC, far superior to what Gaithersburg or Montgomery County have done.

Make no mistake, Baltimore is not greenwashing. The 38 pages of amendments to the form 2018 IgCC both cause the code of conform to the existing regulatory scheme in the City and tweak many of the difficult provisions of the form document that have likely caused other jurisdictions to take a pass on this code (.. click here for a free copy of the IgCC).

As proposed, the 2018 IgCC will apply to all building except not 1 or 2 family dwellings and not muli-family dwellings with no more than 3 stories and no more than 5 dwelling units.

Most significant, drawing on the current law, the Baltimore version of the 2018 IgCC is a voluntary code. That is, there are options; there are alternative compliance paths, including a structure that achieves:

  1. LEED Silver certified or better,
  2. Certain multi family residential and mixed use structures, NGBS Silver or better,
  3. Enterprise Green Communities certification, or
  4. GBI Two Green Globes rating.

Also of paramount import “the code official may, in unusual circumstances and only on good cause shown, grant an exemption from any requirement of this code ..”

Wisely, this enactment ameliorates the harsh effects of some of the form 2018 IgCC provisions that are unsupported by good science and appear to be the vestiges old trade group infighting at ASHRAE, including by way of example when in an effort to address urban heat island effect (within a major Northeastern city), Baltimore has reduced the area that must be mitigated to “40% of the site hardscape.”

To add flexibility while preserving sustainability, the enactments creates a new section eleven for electives, of which at least 10 points must be achieved. Those electives are provisions extracted from the form code that projects in Baltimore may not be able to reasonably achieve.

All 10 elective points are satisfied if the project pursues a net zero certification, including the International Living Futures Institute Zero Energy or Energy Pedal or LEED Zero Energy (and the project need only provide documentation demonstrating acceptance into the monitoring period).

Baltimore Department of Housing officials have done a good job at striking a balance with the larger environmental industrial complex and the real estate community when the City is surrounded by jurisdictions that do not have mandatory green building laws.

It should not be lost on the reader that the State of Maryland has to date declined to adopt the 2018 IgCC as a means of satisfying the State high performance building mandate for State capital projects, including new public school building, instead leaving in place a heavily amended version of the now out of date 2012 IgCC that no project has ever utilized. So, the 2018 IgCC does not apply to new public school building or other new State funded building in Baltimore City, Gaithersburg or Montgomery County.

The 2018 IgCC is not for the faint of heart, even with these 38 pages of amendments. There are no 2018 IgCC buildings, yet, anywhere in the country. Recall maybe only 17 or so (.. out of 4,400 code enacting jurisdictions) ever adopted the 2012 version of the IgCC, and Boulder County may be the only place to adopt the 2015 IgCC, so guesstimating difficulty in construction and estimating increased first construction cost is speculative at best. The only jurisdiction I am aware has used the 2018 IgCC, for any purpose, is Denver that included it within its voluntary 2018 Denver Green Code housing pilot program as a compliance option with LEED Platinum, Net Zero Energy or Passive House +Non-Energy DGC. That is, Denver determined the 2018 IgCC to be an alternative to LEED v4 Platinum!

Projects in Baltimore will certainly select one of the alternative compliance paths (.. most major projects will pursue NGBS certification) and avoid the 2018 IgCC until there is some experience with this green code.

Of course, mandatory green building in Baltimore has its critics, from those who believe the City with the highest murder rate and among the highest violent crime rates in America should focus on making the City safe, to those who believe during a COVID-19 pandemic City government should not be enacting new building regulation that will not permit increasing outdoor air ventilation; disabling demand-controlled ventilation; further open minimum outdoor air dampers, as high as 100%, thus eliminating recirculation; improving central air filtration to MERV-13; or keeping systems running longer hours, if possible 24/7; etc.

This ordinance boldly describes its purpose to “reduce the negative impacts and increase the positive impacts of the built environment on the natural environment and building occupants.” Mandatory green building has been and remains the law in Baltimore City. Bill 20-0630 will  make the flavor of green building bigger and better while more palatable for all of the City’s occupants, and it may just help repair the planet.