The Unabridged Story of Residential and the IgCC

The International Green Construction Code (IgCC) is completely void of low-rise residential provisions. How we got to this point is a convoluted and confusing tale that began almost 2.5 years ago.

The Beginning

In June 30, 2009, the International Code Council (ICC) issued the Drafting Rules & Procedures for the IgCC. This was the document that was meant to guide the newly formed Sustainable Building Technology Committee (SBTC). Consisting of ICC members with “green expertise”, the SBTC members also had the assistance of industry stakeholders (special interest groups, manufacturers, government agencies, etc.) with knowledge in a wide range of fields.

According to the Project Scope, as issued by the ICC Board, the IgCC was designed to “apply to traditional and high performance buildings that are consistent and coordinated with the ICC family of Codes & Standards. The IgCC shall be applicable to the construction of buildings, structures, and systems, including existing buildings subject to alterations and additions. Residential portions of buildings shall be covered by the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS).”

While this might seem fairly clear, the document later backtracks on this pledge, stating “The IgCC shall cover all buildings except those currently covered by the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS). The SBTC shall determine the scope and application of the NGBS as referenced by the IgCC.”

[For point of reference, the ICC 700 is an ANSI-approved standard for residential construction. Jointly developed by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the International Code Council, ICC 700 – commonly called the “National Green Building Standard”[i] – lays out the "green" practices that can be incorporated into new and remodeled homes and additions, high-rise multifamily buildings, hotels and motels.[ii]]

According to two members of the SBTC, the inclusion of ICC 700 was never really clear to them. Additionally, one official involved with the initial development of the IgCC later admitted the SBTC never explicitly adhered to the project scope. This was confirmed by one SBTC member, who felt the scope was “always very open”. This should not be interpreted such that residential’s inclusion in the IgCC was in doubt. Rather, one member of the SBTC got the impression the committee believed residential should be a part of the new code. The connection between the ICC 700 and the IgCC seemed logical to some on the committee, since it is an ANSI standard (though the proprietary rating system NAHBGreen is largely based off ICC 700). However, it should be known that dissent existed amongst some committee members, who were opposed to any relationship between the two documents.

Nevertheless, when public version 1.0 of the IgCC was first released in March 2010, it contained residential provisions referencing ICC 700. It did so in an odd way, though. In the scope statement 101.2, it stated:

“This code shall not apply to the following:

  1. Any Group R, Residential occupancies except as provided for in Section 102.4.12.”

Yet in section 102.4.12, it reads: “The provisions of ICC 700 are incorporated by reference and shall apply to the design and construction of buildings or portions thereof of Group R, including the building site.”

Odd as that may read, here’s where the story takes the first bizarre turn.

Round 1

At the first public IgCC hearings in Chicago in August 2010, some national and state-level industry stakeholders, including the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA), NAHB, the Texas HBA and others testified that ICC 700 should not be included in the IgCC. Their reasons varied. Some felt a document so closely linked to a proprietary program had no place in the new code, and an alternative should be produced. Others saw the IgCC as a financial threat, either in the up-front costs associated with increased energy efficiency requirements, the sudden obsolescence of major product lines, or the loss of market share to existing rating systems or green building programs. Yet others were (and are) philosophically opposed to any form of mandate. A small group of organizations, including the DoE, Green Builder® Coalition and a small consulting firm, argued that ICC 700 should remain, stating that without the reference, residential could be ignored. The IgCC Public Hearing Committee voted overwhelmingly that ICC 700 should remain as the residential provision within the IgCC.

The Reversal

However, in October 2010 an NAHB-led group later lobbied the ICC Executive Committee to overturn that recommendation and eliminate ICC 700 from the IgCC public version 2.0. Completely within their purview, the ICC Board listened to NAHB and their allies and removed low-rise residential. In effect, NAHB pushed to have its own standard removed from this newly-developed green code, so as to avoid any form of residential green mandate. And in the process, the ICC Board reversed itself, because as you’ll recall, it was the Board who originally included ICC 700 in the drafting rules and procedures a full 15 months earlier.

Round 2

Code change proposals were filed by many groups and individuals for the 2nd public hearing in Dallas in May 2011. Among those were a number of varied proposals to reintroduce low-rise residential buildings into the scope of the IgCC. The Green Builder® Coalition submitted one of these proposals, which stated that any and all green building programs and rating systems that are approved* should be viewed as a compliance path for the IgCC. The USGBC submitted a similar proposal, “where the code official finds that the program is at least as stringent and effective as the commercial provisions of this code” and that the code official be provided “the authority to select a green homebuilding program that both satisfies the intent of the IgCC and best fits with the community’s needs while complementing the commercial provisions of the code.” The Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards also submitted a simple proposal to reintroduce residential, stating that “eliminating residential construction from the code renders the code ineffective…” The common rationale behind these proposals was to a) get low-rise residential structures back into the green code, and b) make it as easy as possible for building code officials to enforce.

*approved, to paraphrase the definition in code language, means that the local building code official is familiar with and accepting of a method, material or product.

All residential proposals were disapproved by the Public Hearing Committee. It did not appear to be a philosophical rejection of any of the proposals. Rather, it seemed the Committee had no tolerance for any proposal that would allow ICC 700 to be utilized as a compliance path. One can see why they would act in this way, when 7 months prior, the ICC Board had reversed the Committee’s vote to retain ICC 700. The message from both the Board and the Committee had been sent; the Dallas proposals did not offer a means to get away from ICC 700. Anything that allowed its use was unacceptable.

As a result, the IgCC only applies to commercial, institutional and some high-rise residential structures, and does not address low-rise residential construction.

The Response

Immediately following the disapproval of the residential proposals in Dallas, the Green Builder® Coalition and USGBC started discussions on formulating a public comment to submit for the final action hearings in Phoenix. With the help of ICC staff, the Green Builder® Coalition assembled a development task force of concerned individuals. The group included three members of the Dallas Public Hearing (General) Committee, one member of the Dallas Public Hearing (Energy/Water) Committee, a representative from the USGBC, two charter members and one staff member of the Green Builder® Coalition. A representative from the Southern Nevada Water Authority provided technical support. Our effort also received technical support from two ICC staff members.

Over the course of 5 weeks, the task force exchanged e-mails and had conference calls to draft two attempts to re-insert residential into the IgCC. Green Builder® Coalition staff also spoke with members of two different building departments during this time. Both had analyzed ICC 700 and found that it did not meet their needs. One jurisdiction went as far as devising its own green residential guidelines, due to the absence of national guidance.

On August 12, 2011, Green Builder® Coalition, USGBC and MC2 Mathis Consulting Group co-signed two public comments to re-introduce low-rise residential buildings to the IgCC. One states that low-rise residential buildings should be a mandatory part of the IgCC. The other comment would give jurisdictions the option to ensure a level of green to commercial and residential buildings.

They are officially titled Public Comment 1 & 2 on code change proposal GG2-11. They can be downloaded in short form here and in extended form here.

The Final Stretch

Depending on your perspective, there’s plenty of blame to go around for the absence of low-rise residential within the IgCC. One could blame the ICC Board for not clearly stating residential’s role in the original scope of the IgCC, or for their reversal of both themselves and the Public Hearing Committee’s decision in Chicago. Others might want to blame the SBTC and ICC staff for not making it clear from the beginning that residential was a vital and essential part of the IgCC. There are special interest groups that could be accused of manipulating the process in order to leave residential out of the new code. One could even blame the Dallas Public Hearing (General) Committee for not abiding by the decision of the Chicago (General) Committee and instead bowing to pressure, perceived or real, from the ICC Board to reject ICC 700 in any and all forms.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who you blame, or why. All that matters is that Phoenix is the final opportunity to get residential re-inserted in the IgCC before the 2012 version is decided and published. The inclusion of a residential chapter within the IgCC will help communities take the necessary steps to consistently apply our talents and resources in the most responsible manner possible.

Round 3

The ICC public hearings are always conducted according to Roberts' Rules of Order. It makes for a fairly efficient and organized meeting. When the issue of low-rise residential was presented to the voters, they first had to consider whether or not to accept the Dallas (general) committee's recommendation for disapproval.

Arguments for disapproval of the proposal (another way of saying "eliminating low-rise residential from the IgCC") were heard first. Witnesses included representatives from NAHB, American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), WDMA, Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA) and two building officials, one from Utah and one from Tennessee. A representative from Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL; a DOE contractor) offered neutral testimony. Those who verbally supported the re-introduction of low-rise residential included representatives from MC2 Mathis Consulting, Green Builder® Coalition, USGBC, Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC), American Wood Council and two building officials, one from Minnesota and one from Arizona.

The hope was for the voting members to reject the committee's decision in Dallas, and approve the proposal as modified by one of the public comments, preferably public comment 1 or 2. Unfortunately, the voters never considered any of the comments because they voted, approximately 2 to 1, to uphold the Dallas committee's disapproval.

The verdict was disappointing for all members of our group.

The Future

Our development group, while disappointed, is not deterred by this latest decision. We know we have a good concept, and have already received message of support for our concept. In fact, our public comments are currently under consideration in jurisdictions in two states. We are currently hard at work sifting through many ideas on future paths to success. Stay tuned to future editions of our e-newsletter to read about our next plan of action.

[i] National Assn. of Home Builders (2008). ANSI National Green Building Standard.

[ii] ICC 700 was developed for use by individual builders or as a model for local or state green building programs.  Its green practices include “lot design, preparation and development; resource, energy, and water efficiency; indoor environmental quality; and operation, maintenance, and building owner education.”  With four levels – Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Emerald – construction under ICC 700 can range from entry-level green building to green building that incorporates energy savings of 60% or higher.