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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations

Tribal Green Building Codes: Code Contents

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What is a Building Code?

In providing a description of a building code and standard, please note, these distinctions can vary depending on a Tribe's cultural references and their respective government definitions.

Codes are laws that outline legal requirements that must be met and are made up of mandatory provisions that become enforceable when adopted by statute or ordinance. Building codes are regulations, technical provisions, and referenced standards establishing minimum requirements for the construction, alteration, maintenance and demolition of buildings.

Codes are typically enacted by ordinances or laws adopted by local, regional, state, or tribal governments. Conventional building codes were designed to protect human health and safety primarily from physical hazards, as well as to protect property and structures from fire, weather, and seismic events.

Of the numerous model building codes available today, it appears that none were developed by or specifically for tribes, or with significant tribal involvement. As a consequence, model building codes may not meet tribes' needs or priorities. At the same time, building codes are important because they guide construction practices and are often required to secure private and federal loans for construction projects.

The Inter-Jurisdictional Regulatory Collaboration Committee (IRCC) Exiting EPA (disclaimer) is an international organization of national building code organizations working to advance the development and use of performance-based codes. The IRCC supports research and provides guidance and support documents on performance-based building regulatory systems. IRCC Logo

There are two basic types of building codes:

  • Prescriptive codes that define both what must be done and how it is to be accomplished, and
  • Performance or outcome-based codes which describe what must be accomplished but leave the "how" up to those designing and submitting plans for approval.

Most of the existing codes in the U.S. are primarily prescriptive, though some also have performance criteria included.

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Green Building Code

International Green Construction Code (IgCC) Cover
The California statewide building code,
CALGreenExiting EPA (disclaimer)

Green building practices protect the natural environment, address health concerns related to indoor environmental quality, the toxicity of materials throughout their lifecycle, reducing waste, and conserving energy, water, and other resources.

Over the past few decades, increasing awareness and evidence about the significant impacts related to the built environment gave rise to the "green" building movement, also referred to as "ecological" or "sustainable" building and development. As sustainable building practices, programs, and rating systems were adopted, it became apparent that building codes and standards needed to address these issues as well. In recent years, code provisions addressing green building practices have been introduced. Codes addressing green building practices are green building codes.

California was the first state in the U.S. to incorporate green building provisions and requirements into their statewide building code with the adoption of a set of building provisions called CALGreen Exiting EPA (disclaimer). They began the adoption process by instituting the model code on a voluntary basis. However, by January 2011, many green provisions became mandatory for all building activities in the State (except tribal and federal building activities).

In 2010, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) published the Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings (ASHRAE 189.1).  This publication, which was revised and reissued in 2011, is intended to serve as a model building code on a national basis.  In 2012, the International Code Council followed suit with the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) Exiting EPA (disclaimer). Like ASHRAE 189.1, IgCC contains provisions for improving the environmental and health performance of  commercial and high-rise residential construction.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Going Beyond Codes: A Guide for Creating Effective Green Building Programs for Energy Efficient and Sustainable Communities (PDF) (124 pp, 3.28M) Exiting EPA (disclaimer) provides an overview of green codes, rating systems, and other standards including information on the first tribal green building and development code, the Pinoleville Pomo Nation's draft green building code (PDF) (23 pp, 484K).

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Tribal Green Building Codes

Tribal green building codes are, first and foremost, defined by the Tribe. One way to think of building codes is as an evolving progression from conventional codes that address the physical safety of people, to green codes, that also incorporate concerns about human and ecological health and resource conservation.

Tribal green building codes that currently exist address conventional and green concerns while recognizing cultural values, traditions, and their connection to the land and responsibilities to future generations. This comprehensive approach is creating appropriate, safe, and healthy buildings on tribal lands, consistent with tribal goals, values and traditions. For example, the Pinoleville Pomo Nation's draft code (PDF) (23 pp, 484K) includes performance or outcome-based codes which recognize cultural values and traditions, describing what should be accomplished but leaving the "how" to local control.

There has been a steady effort by tribes to further integrate their cultural values into their building codes, whether these codes are translated orally or written.

In support of this effort, U.S. EPA convened a Tribal Codes Summit, and formed the Tribal Green Building Codes Workgroup which includes tribal and federal agency representatives, non-profit organizations, academics, architects, and lawyers. The goal of the Workgroup is:

To advance tribal goals in developing, implementing and enforcing culturally relevant green building codes, policies and programs leading to healthier, more sustainable communities.

For more information about the Tribal Codes Summit, please visit the Tribal Green Building Codes Workgroup website.

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Building Code Contents

Building codes are typically not single documents, but rather a series of documents setting requirements for different building types (residential and commercial) and for various aspects of construction such as:

  • Fire safety
  • Mechanical systems
  • Plumbing systems
  • Energy conservation
  • Fuel gas
  • Private sewage disposal systems
  • Existing buildings
  • Wildland-urban interface

 Within these various codes, provisions cover these and other topics:

  • Site
  • Structural integrity
  • Fire safety
  • Emergency exiting
  • Materials
  • Lighting
  • Heating
  • Cooling and ventilation systems
  • Electrical systems
  • Plumbing and sanitation facilities
  • Utility connections
  • Radon
  • Aesthetic suitability

More recently, code provisions have begun to include:

  •  Conservation measures for energy, water and materials
  •  Indoor air quality and toxicity of materials
  • Social and cultural suitability
For more examples of codes, go to the Existing Green Building Codes page.

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