Greening the Construction Codes

Posted on July 16, 2014

Every three years, the International Code Council (ICC) revises its family of building codes. This year, the ICC is considering changes for the 2015 edition of its green building code—the International Green Construction Code (IgCC).

Pursuant to ICC’s traditional procedures, the first of two public hearings was held in late April in Memphis, Tenn. On the agenda were more than 550 proposals, many of which could have significant economic impact on the commercial real estate industry. Major concerns this year include proposals to restrict property sales, additional post-occupancy requirements for existing buildings, and more stringent energy-efficiency mandates. The second hearing will be held this fall, when the recommendations of the IgCC code development committees will be voted on by ICC voting members.

While this process is nothing new, ICC’s voting protocol has changed dramatically. This year marks the launch of ICC’s new remote access and electronic voting system. This will allow building officials the first ever opportunity to both view the hearing debates and cast their ballots on code change proposals to determine the content of the 2015 IgCC. Following the conclusion of the fall hearing, ICC voting members will have a two-week remote voting window to cast their votes. This means that folks who may or may not have tuned into the hearings, or who may or may not be well educated on the issues, will be able to vote on proposals that have the potential to have an extreme impact on your livelihood. (Wait, that sounds a lot like Congress!)

BOMA International, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the National Multifamily Housing Council/National Apartment Association (NMHC/NAA) collectively work to protect the interests of the real estate industry to ensure that any changes to the codes are based on reliable science and data and are cost-effective while improving the safety and efficiency of the built environment. One of the biggest successes at the Memphis hearing came with recommended disapproval of the requirement that the sale of a building trigger retroactive compliance with the most recent energy code. The real estate industry has steadfastly opposed proposals to add any restrictions on the sale of properties as they are an unnecessary intrusion on the legitimate transfer of property, but, more importantly, they have the potential to violate the basic legal rights of the property owner. In the case of this particular proposal, retroactive compliance with the most recent ICC energy code would, in the vast majority of cases, require a very expensive upgrade to the building envelope, lighting, HVAC, water heating and other building systems, which would add significantly to the cost of the property and, with few exceptions, prevent the sale transaction from going forward.

Another success came with the disapproval of the proposal to eliminate building owner choice to use ASHRAE Standard 189.1 (Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings) as a more flexible and cost-effective compliance option. Advocates for the real estate industry have always supported options for building owners and their design teams that provide more design flexibility and the attendant code compliance cost reductions that can accrue as a result. ASHRAE Standard 189.1 has been allowed as an alternative compliance option to the building owner in the IgCC since its inception. It includes additional performance-based design options that can be employed by design teams in planning for many commercial buildings that can produce the same energy and resource savings as more expensive prescriptive or “cookbook” approach compliance paths. Deleting this design option in the IgCC would therefore be a potentially costly decision for many building owners.

But these are only two of the more than 550 proposals under discussion. While BOMA and our coalition partners were able to push back on many onerous proposals, we lost on some as well. Now that the Memphis hearing results are in, our challenge is to ensure that the successes secured in Memphis are upheld and that detrimental changes are defeated at the ICC’s public comment hearings scheduled for October 2–7 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. To ensure success, we need to educate the large number of ICC voting members representing local and state governments throughout the country about the impact of negative decisions on their local and state real estate and related industries. Reaching these code officials prior to the electronic remote voting period following the Ft. Lauderdale hearings will be crucial to the success of our efforts to determine the requirements in the 2015 IgCC.

Toolkits to help you reach code officials and key players in your area, along with materials on priority lists of specific critical issues, are under development by BOMA, NMHC/NAA and NAHB.  These tools will be available prior to the Ft. Lauderdale hearings at

You can also find more information on ICC code development on the ICC website at and by contacting BOMA’s Codes & Standards staff at or