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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

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

Tribal Green Building Codes: Codes, Standards, Rating Systems and Labeling Programs

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Building Codes

Overview of Code Development Organizations

In the U.S., model building codes are developed by organizations whose main membership typically includes the governmental officials responsible for enforcing related areas of codes and regulations. They generally use a comment-driven development process open to interested parties, including tribes. These include buildings, fire and electrical systems, and plumbing and mechanical systems.

The U.S. does not have official national building codes developed through a federal or national process and adopted uniformly nationwide. Instead, there are recognized organizations that develop codes and standards that are adopted by state or local (municipal or county) governments, as well as by tribes, who may also modify model codes to meet their specific needs. The codes and standards gain their enforcement authority through the state and local government adoption processes.  Because of this, there is little uniformity across the country and states and local governments are able to modify the codes they adopt.  Some states and a few cities have their own codes. For tribes, this provides more options from which to choose appropriate code language.

This webpage provides additional information on codes and standards development organizations including a collection of building codes and standards to reference, and possibly adapt or adopt to support sustainable building and development for tribal, state and local governments. Some resources are not necessarily green, nor were they developed with tribal input.

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Existing Building Codes

International Code Council

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The International Code Council (ICC) is an organization of building code officials and other building safety professionals. ICC produces the most widely used set of model building codes in the U.S., known as the International codes, or I-codes.  They are called "international" codes, however they are primarily adopted in the U.S. These codes are written by a broad group of stakeholders, and ICC staff oversee the code development, coordination, and publication process. ICC charges for their codes to recover code development costs. Purchasing the codes is expected of any jurisdiction adopting them. Members of the ICC receive significant discounts and the codes can be purchased as sets in either electronic or printed form.

ICC also maintains the eCodes Free Subscription Web Site as part of their ICC Online Library, which enables anyone to view the I-Codes and some State Adopted Codes for free, though with limited search and print capabilities. This collection includes both current and past versions of the various I-Codes, so it is possible to look up the different versions of codes that may have been adopted in a particular jurisdiction. However, state or local amendments that were adopted won't be shown. Additionally, though not available on the free website, ICC produces commentaries for the various codes to aid in understanding and interpreting them.

Codes from the ICC include:
Northeast Arizona Technical Institute for Vocational Education campus

Kayenta Township on the Navajo Nation used the IgCC for the
construction of the Northeast Arizona Technical Institute for
Vocational Education campus. | Press Release

  • International Green Construction Code (IgCC)
    Development of the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) was initiated in 2009. It is the first green code to be included in the I-codes. The final version was released in March 2012, and covers commercial and high-rise residential construction.  This code offers flexibility and guidance to those responsible for regulating green projects.
  • International Energy Conservation Code® (IECC) The IECC is a building energy code for all buildings, covering both residential and non-residential construction. It includes prescriptive and performance paths for energy efficiency in residential and commercial projects. The 2012 IECC is designed to result in a 30 percent increase in energy savings compared to the 2006 IECC and approximately 15 percent improvement over the 2009 IECC.
  • International Performance Code for Buildings and Facilities® (IPCBF)
    The International Performance Code presents regulations based on outcome rather than prescription. It encourages new design methods by allowing a broader parameter for meeting the intent of the International Codes. The code is based on describing the problem that must be addressed—the objective that needs to be accomplished—rather than stating how it is to be accomplished.
  • International Residential Code® (IRC)
    The International Residential Code is a comprehensive code covering all building, plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas and electrical requirements for one- and two-family dwellings in a single code document. The regulations cover dwellings and townhouses up to three stories.
  • International Building Code®(IBC)
    The IBC covers all buildings except detached one- and two-family dwellings and townhouses up to three stories. Previous editions of the IBC have been adopted at the state or local level in all 50 United States plus Washington D.C.
  • International Plumbing Code® (IPC)
    Provides minimum regulations for plumbing facilities in terms of both performance and prescriptive objectives, and provides for the acceptance of new and innovative products, materials, and systems.
  • International Mechanical Code® (IMC)
    Establishes minimum regulations for mechanical systems using prescriptive and performance-related provisions. First introduced in 1996, the IMC was developed with broad-based principles that make possible the use of new materials, methods and design.
  • International Wildland-Urban Interface Code®
    This code contains provisions addressing fire spread, accessibility, defensible space, water supply and more for buildings constructed near wildland areas.

These codes are typically updated on an ongoing development cycle, with new editions released every three years. The ICC code development process is an open, public process and anyone can propose a code change and testify for or against changes.

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International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO)

The IAPMO is a membership-based association. The IAPMO develops codes through an open consensus process.

Codes from the IAPMO include:
    Sandra Begay-Campbell talks with Sandia interns about how a photovoltaic panel works to generate electricity at the Mission San Esteban Rey in the Pueblo of Acoma. Photo Courtesy of SandiaLabs

    Sandra Begay-Campbell, a Sandia researcher and member of
    the Navajo Nation, talks with Sandia interns about how a
    photovoltaic panel works to generate electricity at the Mission
    San Esteban Rey in the Pueblo of Acoma.
    Photo Courtesy of SandiaLabs

  • Uniform Plumbing Code® (UPC)
    The UPC is designed to provide consumers with safe and sanitary plumbing systems while allowing latitude for innovation and new technologies.
  • Uniform Mechanical Code® (UMC)
    The UMC provides complete requirements for the installation and maintenance of heating, ventilating, cooling and refrigeration systems while allowing latitude for innovations and new technologies.
  • Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement (GPMCS)
    The GPMCS covers green plumbing and mechanical building practices in straightforward code language. The Green Supplement is not a "greener" version of the Uniform Codes, but rather a separate document establishing requirements for green building and water efficiency applicable to plumbing and mechanical systems. Systems covered include high efficiency plumbing fixtures, fixture fittings, and appliances, water softening equipment, cooling towers and evaporative coolers, alternate water sources including gray water, rainwater, and recycled water, water heating systems including equipment efficiency, insulation, recirculation, design and system controls, energy efficiency for HVAC systems, and enhanced ventilation and indoor air quality.
  • Uniform Solar Energy Code® (USEC)
    The USEC provides comprehensive coverage of both solar thermal and photovoltaic systems including system design and installation requirements.

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National Fire Protection Association® (NFPA)

The NFPA develops, publishes, and disseminates codes and standards intended to minimize the possibility and effects of fire and other risks.

Codes from the NFPA include:
The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has stipulated that NFPA 5000® is the building code that currently applies to BIA-funded projects. Tribes and code organizations are working with BIA to clarify that tribally adopted codes are applicable to all tribal structures, including BIA funded projects.

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Other Building Related Codes or Code References

Straw Bale Codes

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Earthen Building Codes and Standards
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)

Standards as Codes
As discussed under the Building Standards section below, standards are typically voluntary industry technical requirements rather than legal prescriptions of a local jurisdiction. On occasion, though, standards are crafted in the format of codes and therefore, reviewing the information on Building Standards should be helpful to a jurisdiction researching codes.

An example of a standard written in model code language is the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.

Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute: Sustainable Community Development Code

This initiative seeks to bring sustainability to the forefront as a land use issue and understand how local governments can support sustainable communities through innovative land use codes.

Radon Resistant Building Code Guidance

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon causes many thousands of deaths each year because breathing air containing radon can lead to lung cancer.

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Building Standards

Overview of Standards Development Organizations

Building codes and standards are not the same. Codes are laws that outline legal requirements that must be met and are made up of mandatory provisions that become enforceable when the codes are adopted by statute or ordinance. Standards are typically voluntary industry technical requirements for many things such as quality, testing, capacity, compatibility, and performance. Standards are often referenced in codes to establish how things must be done. Standards also gain the force of law when they are referenced in codes. When codes are adopted, the adopting jurisdiction can specify the referenced standards adopted with them.  As with building codes, tribes have the authority to develop and adopt whichever standards best serve their needs.

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Existing Building Standards

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Building codes typically include references to industry and other standards developed by recognized standards development organizations. These standards cover a wide range of aspects related to buildings including building materials, systems, and equipment, testing, and more. The most likely to be relevant to green building include:

American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) develops standards for a wide range of construction related materials, systems, equipment, and more. Standards from ASTM include:

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)  has standards for mechanical systems, energy efficiency, indoor air and environmental quality, and green building. Standards from the ASHRAE include:

Below are two standards establishing energy performance levels for all buildings.
Below are two standards determining appropriate levels of indoor air quality and ventilation rates for buildings.

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) develops standards that provide technical guidelines for promoting safety, reliability, productivity and efficiency across all areas of civil engineering.

Green Building Initiative (GBI) is a green building organization that has developed the standard:

There are also organizations, including many that focus on single materials, such as concrete, wood, steel, or products like plumbing fixtures or window performance. The U.S. organization designated to accredit standards development organizations is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  ANSI standards are developed through a consensus process. In almost all cases, conventional building codes and government entities require referenced standards to be developed through such a consensus process.

Like many building codes, most standards are proprietary, meaning they are copyrighted and can be expensive. For example, a single user set of 1500 ASTM Standards in Building Codes costs about $1500. Which standards may be necessary for a tribal building department to own will depend on many things and the best guidance for this will likely come from local or regional building departments or building officials.

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Rating Systems

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The terms standard and rating system are sometimes used interchangeably. Both standards and rating systems are usually voluntary industry technical guidelines for how to construct or renovated a building.  However, rating systems differ from standards in that they apply a type of measurement to calculate the degree to which the technical guidance is applied. In addition to building standards development organizations, there are non-governmental organizations with rating systems, for example:

This office building can be expanded or contracted to suit needs, conserve resources
Grupe builds LEED-H homes in
Rocklin, CA. | Larger image

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. For examples, LEED for Homes is a rating system to certify a home designed and constructed in accordance with the rigorous guidelines of the LEED for Homes green building certification program.

green building tribal logo Tribal LEED Project Examples

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Home Energy Rating System (HERS)
The Residential Energy Services Network's (RESNET)  energy efficiency rating system, commonly known as HERS,  uses energy efficiency software package to perform an energy analysis of the homes design. The rating involves analysis of the home's construction plans and at least one on-site inspection. This information is used to estimate the home's annual energy costs and give the home an index between 0 and 100. The higher the score, the more efficient the home. One can use the HERS Index score to estimate the energy efficiency of a home that is being constructed or renovated.

The National Green Building Standard was developed in cooperation with the International Code Council and is sometimes also referred to as a green residential building code. Nuances like this can create confusion between building codes, standards and rating systems

Green Globes® is a green building guidance and assessment program that offers an effective, practical and affordable way to advance the overall environmental performance and sustainability of commercial buildings.

Green Point Rating System  This system exceeds California's Energy Code - 2005 Title 24 by 15%. Build it Green/Green Points is a membership supported non-profit organization that two points based verification, one for new homes, and existing homes. It is used by jurisdictions as a mandatory or voluntary third party certification program.

National Green Building Standard (lcc 700) (NGBS) covers green residential construction and was developed by the National Association of Home Builders.

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Labeling Systems

These labeling programs provide extensive resources, free training, and online calculator tools.
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Labeling Systems are usually applied to products that meet a level of performance in areas such as energy and water efficiency, in-door environments, and material use. Below are examples of voluntary EPA labeling systems.

Energy Star logoENERGY STAR Exiting EPA (disclaimer) is a joint program of the U.S. EPA and Department of Energy (DOE). The program includes the HERS energy performance rating system for buildings that provides strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. EPA.

ENERGY STAR for New Homes To earn the ENERGY STAR, a home must meet strict guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20–30% more efficient than standard homes.

Indoor Airplus logoEPA Indoor airPLUS- These specifications were developed by the U.S. EPA to recognize new homes equipped with a comprehensive set of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) features. They were developed with significant input from stakeholders, based on best available science and information about risks associated with IAQ problems, and balanced with practical issues of cost, builder production process compatibility, and verifiability.

WaterSense LogoEPA Water Sense - WaterSense labeled new homes are designed to reduce residential water use indoors and outdoors. Compared to a typical home, a WaterSense labeled new home can save a family of four 50,000 gallons of water a year or more. That is enough to wash 2,000 loads of laundry and could amount to utility bill savings of up to $600 each year.

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Other Green Building Programs

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  • Enterprise Green Communities Criteria
    The Green Criteria contains detailed information that addresses aspects of design, development and operations, such as integrated design; site, location and neighborhood fabric; site improvements; water conservation; energy efficiency; materials beneficial to the environment; healthy living environment; and operations and maintenance.
  • Living Building Challenge
    The purpose of the Living Building Challenge is to define the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions. This certification program covers all building at all scales (new and existing buildings, sites, and whole communities).
  • Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)
    CHPS is a non-profit organization dedicated to making schools better places to learn. CHPS was founded in 1999 as a collaboration of California's major utilities to address energy efficiency in schools. The program quickly expanded to address all aspects of school design, construction and operation.
  • Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC)
    The GGHC is a best practices guide for healthy and sustainable building design, construction, and operations for the healthcare industry.

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