Inside Baseball No More-Why the Building Code Adoption Process is Critical To Sustainability

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A lot of attention has been paid to creating a greener building stock by incorporating green building practices into building codes.  The development of the International Green Construction Code is just one example.

However, there are two primary components to every regulation–policy and process.  Both components are critical to achieving regulatory goals. Good laws that are not implemented and enforced might as well not exist, and bad laws which are well implemented create a different, but equally bad, outcome. 

The process for approving building codes is arcane at best and impenetrable at worst. To those interested in sustainability, code process may seem like the ultimate "inside baseball" information, like knowing what the Lou Brock’s 1967 out statistic was–simply not vital to understanding baseball as a whole.  HB 377, a law signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett this week demonstrates how how process changes can impact green building and energy efficiency policy. 

 Generally, the process for adopting building codes is as follows:

1.  The local or state government enacts enabling legislation requiring a building code, often incorporating the International Code Council’s model code.  

2.  The International Code Council updates their model building codes on a regular basis, once every three years.

3.  The state or local government has some mechanism, either automatic or through an approval process, for updating its building code to the new version. 

Depending on what level of authority is provided to local governments with respect to their building codes, local governments may adopt additional or different changes to the building code requirements.

Pennsylvania has a state wide building code which, until this week, was an "opt-out" model.  Updates to the International Construction Code were automatically incorporated into the Pennsylvania code unless provisions were specifically rejected by a Governnor-appointed council comprised of builders, architects, code officials and so on. 

The bill enacted this week switches the code adoption to an "opt-in" model.  Any changes to the construction code must be approved by a super-majority vote by the council, otherwise the prior code remains in effect.  In addition, the law adds an additional seat to the 19 member council for:

A GENERAL CONTRACTOR FROM AN ASSOCIATION REPRESENTING THE NONRESIDENTIAL CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY WHO HAS RECOGNIZED ABILITY AND EXPERIENCE IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF NONRESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS

Policy watchers, like Penn Future , the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, and the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships , anticipate that the super-majority vote of the council will make enacting updates of the ICC very difficult, and that the extra seat for the general contractor will bias the council against upgrading the stringency of the building code. This, of course, includes code changes for greater energy efficiency requirements and incorporating green building practices.

HB 377 said nothing about energy efficiency or green building.  Nonetheless, the changes to the building code adoption process creates a potentially significant barrier to a greener building stock in Pennsylvania.  On a 20 person board, It would require 13 votes to put a code change into effect, and each change must be lobbied for separately.  

Do you know what the code adoption process is in your state or municipality?  Are there any proposed changes?  Let GBLB know what you find out.  It might surprise you.    

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

1 Comment

  1. What a bad practice to implement. I wonder if the strings that are attached to the ARRA funds (mandating states upgrade their energy policies to current standards) will circumvent this?

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