Updates to the existing ICC categories seek to make the codes easier to interpret and enforce, as well as to improve construction safety. For example, the 2012 IBC adds a comprehensive proposal that clarifies how various provisions such as egress requirements for covered malls—the mainstay for many decades—apply to open mall design.
Wind-load provisions in the IBC are now consistent with the 2010 edition of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 7 Standard. Research had found that hurricane wind speeds in the 2009 IBC and ASCE 7 maps were too conservative because the standards were not tailored to buildings’ specific exposures. The IBC adjusts wind-load requirements to predict more accurately the forces that a building of a given configuration, exposure, and location can expect. The changes attempt to strike a balance between reasonable safety and cost effectiveness.
The 2012 International Fire Code (IFC) now includes requirements for photovoltaic power systems. Roof-mounted photovoltaic arrays, for example, cannot be shut down and retain electrical charges, which present a hazard to firefighters. The new IFC section provides requirements to improve safety in the vicinity of solar arrays such as the specification of acceptable circuit locations and signage, requirements for roof power disconnects and access pathways, and restrictions on locating solar panels on roof valleys and hips.
The 2012 International Plumbing Code (IPC) requires the listing of all plumbing products and materials used in any building type by a third-party certification agency such as UL; past code versions required third-party certification or testing of only plastic components in plumbing systems. The IPC also now has discharge and recycling provisions for graywater such as using it for toilets or irrigation, or even utilizing purification systems that will return it to the tap. Previously, the IPC mandated that all wastewater go to the sanitary drain system; this revision is a huge boon for potable water conservation.
Before the IgCC was a glimmer in the ICC’s eye, there was LEED, the first significant attempt to implement a nationwide standard for defining a sustainable building. Though the rating system has faced criticism about its thoroughness and effectiveness, it has paved the way for other green model codes, such as ASHRAE Standard 189.1. LEED 2012 should go a long way in silencing its critics. “This is arguably the first, biggest technical update to the rating system since we launched,” Owens says.
LEED updates its rating system on a regular development cycle via a public process. Volunteers from the building industry, organized into technical advisory groups, review feedback from industry professionals and the users of the more than 12,000 commercial projects and nearly 20,000 homes that have been LEED certified; the LEED steering committee approves all substantive changes along with the opening of the public comment periods; at least two such periods are required before the changes are put forth for a vote. Revisions are finalized to reflect the feedback received.
Set to launch at Greenbuild International Conference and Expo this November, LEED 2012 will ratchet up the rigor of the current version, LEED 2009, with across-the-board changes in every credit category. In the Building Design & Construction and Interior Design & Construction (ID&C) rating systems, the most significant change is the addition of a new credit category, Location & Transportation (LT), which were topics previously folded into the Sustainable Sites category. By giving LT its own category, the USGBC hopes to underline the importance of site selection. The category will reward projects located in densely populated, public-transit oriented areas close to community resources and amenities. Fit-outs pursuing LEED ID&C certification will have “a streamlined pathway to points” if they are located in a LEED for Neighborhood Development certified project, Owens says.
As of press time, the USGBC is still developing the redistribution of points in the LEED categories, but LEED’s overall 100-base-point scale on which the certification levels—Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum—are determined will not change.
Among the existing categories, LEED 2012 aspirants will find the most substantive changes in Materials & Resources (MR). The USGBC found that the current system failed to acknowledge the effect that raw materials have on the ecosystem and human health. Armed with additional information on life-cycle-based thinking garnered since LEED 2009, the USGBC is organizing MR into four key areas: resource reuse, assessment and optimization, human and ecological health, and waste management. It also establishes credits to encourage transparency in products by manufacturers, with the goal of generating better data related to material sources and contents to improve decision making.
LEED 2012’s Water Efficiency (WE) category will address more building water uses, such as using nonpotable water for cooling towers, than did its predecessor. It also sets strategies for achieving long-term water efficiency in buildings. For example, it aims to create a comprehensive water budget that allows designers to determine their project’s major water uses and target efficiency measures at the areas that have the largest effect. The updated WE category also includes mandatory requirements for water metering to gauge design versus actual water performance in buildings.
The remaining LEED categories—Sustainable Sites, Energy and Atmosphere, and Indoor Environmental Quality—have also been made more stringent. The numerous changes run the gamut and include: adding requirements for more building typologies, such as data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, and hospitality buildings; increasing project accountability by strengthening measurement and verification requirements; and big-picture strategic shifts such as the life-cycle thinking that has been built into the MR category. “A lot of thinking up to this point has been in a ‘do less bad’ mentality,” Owens says. “That has been effective up to this point. In the long term, where we want to take the market with the rating system is to a ‘do more good’ mentality. The end goal, relative to energy for example, is to create buildings that produce more energy than they use.”
Turning the Page
Even from this boiled-down synopsis of the most significant ICC and LEED changes among the thousands of pages of requisites, prerequisites, and line items, the trend is clear: We are moving toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly building industry. With the IgCC as the rulebook, architects will in fact have no choice but to venture down the path to sustainability. And with the yardstick of LEED continually seeking to measure and spur on sustainable-design initiatives, a greener world is one that we—with luck—will achieve together.