Will Green Building Codes Leave You Seeing Red?

February 24, 2010 / no comments


Now that ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1 has been published, it’s time for the building design and construction communities to consider the implications of the new green building codes coming out.

What is a green building code, and why do we need one? Imagine LEED written in code language – site sustainability, water use, energy, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources. We need green building codes because LEED is not a code; it is a voluntary rating system, not a mandatory code.

Many cities and states desire a green building standard that they can apply as code or ordinance, or through “green” legislation. To meet this need, some cities have adopted LEED as a requirement. For example, Boston requires that projects over 50,000 square feet be “LEED certifiable”. The City can’t require you to be officially LEED certified, and because LEED is a points-based rating system, there are many ways to achieve “certifiabilty”. Messy, hard to enforce – LEED is not a legal code and the USGBC does not want it used as a code.

Thus, the motivation for ASHRAE, the USGBC, and the IES to team up and create a green building standard, written in code language and ready to be adopted by any municipal or state government. It has taken several years and four public review drafts to finally get Standard 189.1 on the street. And it is still a work in progress; proposals are already being accepted by ASHRAE for changes to the standard.


Fine, you say? Sounds like a good idea, let’s see what happens? Sorry, it’s not going to be so easy – there is another green building code in the works! Have you heard of the IGCC, the International Green Construction Code? Same idea, but this time from the ICC and the AIA! (The ICC is the International Code Council who brings you the IBC and the IECC) This code has been in the works since last summer and the first draft for public review is expected March 15th. The code will be finalized at the end of next year and published in March 2012.


So what will happen? Which code will be adopted? Will they be adopted at all?

Standard 189.1 has the advantage in that it is already available, a full two years before IGCC will be ready. But the IGCC will be from the “code guys” who provide all the building codes typically being adopted in the US, so perhaps it is a more likely candidate. Worst-case scenario: in three years we have two green building codes being adopted by towns and states scattered across the country. Building design and construction professionals will have to be conversant in two different green building codes – in addition to LEED! And for each city and state we will have to keep track of which code applies, and how it is used. Perhaps one city decides that they will only apply the green code to city-funded projects, or to projects larger than 25,000 square feet, or…?

The other thing to think about is the relationship of green building codes to energy codes. The assumption is that the energy provisions in a green building code are more stringent than the applicable energy code, which would be superseded. But what if a state or locality adopts an energy code that is more stringent than the green building code they have previously adopted? Someone will have to sort this out.

And if your head isn’t already hurting, try this: you are designing a LEED project in a town that has adopted a green building code. So, now you have to design to two different green standards -every design option would have to be tested twice. And you’d have to do the calculations and documentation twice to prove compliance with each provision.

I hope someone at the USGBC is thinking about this. I know that those of us on the IALD’s Energy and Sustainability Committee have been thinking about it. Through our work on standards drafting committees, and through public review commenting, we are striving for consistency between all electric lighting and daylighting related provisions in 189.1, IGCC, and LEED.

But have you heard about CALGREEN, California’s new mandatory Green Building code? Oh, my.


Image Credits: ASHRAE (1), ICC (2), Lam Partners (3)

Making the Sausage

June 14, 2009 / no comments


You’ve heard the saying, “There are two things you will never wish to watch: the making of sausage and the making of legislation.” As the new chair of the Energy and Sustainability Committee of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), I’ve been getting a glimpse into the kitchen.

Why, you might ask, would a Lighting Designer care about the making of legislation? Energy codes, light pollution ordinances, LEED, green building codes, Federal energy efficiency legislation, Department of Energy rulemaking, and on and on. Get the picture? All of these things affect our work as lighting designers, directly or indirectly.

Lighting Designers have a responsibility, and an obligation, to minimize the negative environmental impact of their design decisions. Mostly, this means energy! energy! energy! Making lighting more energy-efficient is the easy part. The hard part is doing it without destroying the quality of the visual environment – this is what we do.

So, back to the sausage. We get involved with the development of energy codes and standards and legislation to make them the best they can be. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about resisting or trying to make standards more lenient. This is about maximizing real energy savings while simultaneously maximizing lighting quality – no simple task. Too often, standards have been developed by people who do not understand this balancing act. A belief that simply limiting the available watts or setting efficiency standards on equipment is enough can lead to unintended consequences, such as the obsolescing of unique equipment, or increased glare and light pollution.

The energy bill winding its way through Congress has an outdoor lighting energy efficiency provision that is being negotiated by lighting manufacturers and environmental groups. Our committee has been following this process and making ourselves heard (see IALD position statement below). We provide an independent voice that understands how to reduce lighting energy use of the total lighting system and how to create quality luminous environments. You need to understand this if you are going to write an effective standard, right? This is what motivates me to watch, and sometimes help, make the sausage.

Photo Credit: Stephen M. Lee