Next-Generation Building Codes

Energy-efficient and renewable technologies on and in commercial buildings are becoming more commonplace as businesses "go green." Due to the upswing in sustainable construction activities, it is important to understand how these technologies are applied within the framework of a sustainable...


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Energy-efficient and renewable technologies on and in commercial buildings are becoming more commonplace as businesses "go green." Due to the upswing in sustainable construction activities, it is important to understand how these technologies are applied within the framework of a sustainable building code, as well as how green building design and construction relates to fire safety. There is a need to ensure integration between regulations that promote sustainable construction and those that promote the safety of building occupants and firefighters.

As a natural evolution of building safety to address building sustainability along with the health and welfare of citizens, and in response to public demand, the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) is making its debut. Using the slogan "IGCC: Safe and Sustainable by the Book," this newly released and enhanced building code is a milestone on the road to developing commercial building standards that achieve goals of sustainability while incorporating the input of public safety officials across the country.

The Public Version 1.0 of the IGCC was unveiled in March 2010 by the International Code Council (ICC) at its Washington headquarters with participants from the fire safety community in attendance. The IGCC made its debut in a time when communities are calling for more sustainable building options and fire safety professionals are seeking more information about green trends and how they can be active contributors to the sustainability conversation.

The objective of the IGCC is to provide a green building code for traditional and high-performance buildings. By referencing the residential occupancies that have qualities similar to commercial structures, it is consistent and coordinated with the ICC family of codes and standards. ICC codes and standards use the same basic principles that have made these model codes the predominant choice for adoption. The ICC, through its previous work and that of its legacy model code organizations, has been involved in energy efficiency since the late 1970s. During this time, it has been developing codes and services to support sustainable building in commercial and residential construction, as well as providing related training, professional certifications and product evaluations.

The genesis of the IGCC effort occurred when the ICC joined forces with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and ASTM International, a voluntary standards development organization, to develop the first green construction code for buildings.

"Our mission in this partnership is to develop a code that maintains the highest level of safety," ICC CEO Richard P. Weiland said. "But it must also be compatible, enforceable, adaptable and effective through consultation on standards and best practices. The fire safety community is critical to developing a final code that helps to protect the safety of building occupants, which accounts for the mission of the firefighter and creates a sustainable and safe environment for all."

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings consume approximately 40% of energy used and produce about the same amount of the nation's carbon emissions. To create a healthier climate, rating systems such as U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and the Green Building Initiative's (GBI) Green Globes have been designed to support the construction industry's efforts to achieve sustainable goals. While these rating systems have produced great results, construction industry experts and regulators have discovered that where market forces are not adequate to improve energy efficiency, building codes and standards are needed to complement rating systems and ensure that fire and building safety measures are not lost.

To develop the first public version of the IGCC, the ICC formed a Sustainable Building Technology Committee (SBTC), comprised of representatives from architecture, engineering, building safety, fire prevention, plumbing, iron and steel, standards, government and academia. The ICC and its partners are encouraging the fire safety community and the public to become actively engaged in shaping the building codes that will help green building design and construction practices evolve and become more common. While fire safety professionals have provided some fire safety code related suggestions for green building code development, more input is being sought in order to refine the details that encourage use of green building technologies in building construction, fire protection systems, the operation and maintenance of buildings, as well as emergency fire operations considerations.

There are other wide-ranging areas of interest for the fire safety community to consider in the development of the IGCC, such as:

  • Green rooftops, which may pose fire safety and firefighting considerations due to the presence of vegetative material on top of the roof assembly
  • Permanent shading devices on fenestration and the potential impact on occupant egress and firefighter ingress
  • Wildland/urban interface (W/UI) codes that help mitigate the exposure of buildings to wildfires and wildland to building fires
  • Sustainable construction materials in relation to fire-resistive construction and the potential impact on fire safety considerations
  • Environmental benefits provided by the use of automatic fire sprinklers
  • Cluster development that addresses separation between buildings, exposure considerations, combustibility of exterior walls, roofs, and firefighter access to the property and structure
  • Reduced hard-scape (narrow roadways, dead ends, limited access)
  • Smaller building footprint (overcrowding, faster flashover occurrence)
  • Use of recycled materials (evaluating whether they meet structural, or load-carrying, requirements, fire resistance and other requirements for interior finishes)

Discussions about sustainable building are growing in communities throughout the country — from large urban areas such as New York City to more rural markets with natural elements to consider — and we expect that the topic will continue to gain momentum in the years to come. The IGCC is meant to help serve as a resource to all types of communities, regardless of location and makeup. While new and perhaps uncommon sustainable construction materials, technologies, systems and design features will be seen in green buildings, it will be important for code officials and fire safety professionals to lead communities in correctly interpreting and applying existing building and fire safety codes while engaging in green code development to embrace green building advances.

A call to action for fire safety professionals: The National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) recently received an Assistance to Firefighters Fire Prevention and Safety Grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a project titled "Fire Safety and Green Buildings: Bridging the Gap." The objective of the project is to develop and share information that will help code enforcement officials and first responders address the fire safety gap that exists in the interface between established fire safety practices, new building technologies and criteria being employed in sustainable building design.

Deliverables for this project include:

  • Formation of a working group to advise on the project and develop an agenda for needed educational materials
  • Development of an interactive forum/online clearinghouse for outreach and sharing of information
  • Development of guideline publications for use by authorities having jurisdiction and first responders

The IGCC can be used as a resource for this working group and grant initiative and also for a broader discussion on sustainable building among the public safety community. The ICC encouraged fire safety professionals to provide comment on Public Version 1.0 of the IGCC during the period of public comment, which was scheduled to end on May 14, 2010. Following the consideration and approval of public comments, including public hearings in August 2010, the Public Version 2.0 of the IGCC will be posted for code change submittals beginning Nov. 3, 2010. The deadline for code change proposals is Jan. 3, 2011. The fire safety community is invited to participate by developing and submitting code change proposals to help make the first edition (2012) of the IGCC as complete and up to date as possible. Code change proposals will be considered at code development hearings and final action hearings in Dallas, TX, and Phoenix, AZ, respectively, in 2011, with publication of the 2012 IGCC to follow.

SBTC meeting minutes and detailed working group discussions are posted at www.iccsafe.org/igcc. If you have questions on the process or final draft, we welcome your feedback. The detailed schedule for the development of the IGCC is at http://www.iccsafe.org/cs/SBTC/Documents/misc/schedule.pdf.

KRAIG STEVENSON, CBO, is a senior regional manager of governmental relations for the International Code Council (ICC), serving seven western states. He previously worked for city and county governments as a building official, inspector, plans examiner, and drainage design and grading plans reviewer. Stevenson received a bachelor of science degree from Western Washington University.

DAVID NICHOLS is a regional government relations manager for the ICC, serving as staff liaison for Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. Previously, he was director of regulatory affairs for the Inflatable Restraints Division of TRW Vehicle Safety Systems. Prior to his work with TRW, he completed a 21-year career with the Mesa, AZ, Fire Department, serving the last three years as a division chief and fire marshal. Nichols graduated from Mesa Community College with an associate's degree in applied science/fire science.

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