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Green Building Code Falls Short on Resilience

Three years in the making, the International Code Council released its 2012 International Green Construction Code on March 28. ICC claims it will make buildings:  "more efficient, reduce waste, and have a positive impact on health, safety and community welfare.The IgCC will increase the energy-efficiency of structures, while providing direction and oversight of green design and construction."

Will it do all that? Sort of, say PCA's building code experts. The real problem is what the code doesn't do.

While it does a good job of incorporating sustainability features from initiatives such a the US Green Building Council's LEED system, it fails to incorporate provisions for enhanced resilience.

And that's where the model code and other green initiatives fall short. Because without a resilient structure, all those high-efficiency lighting, appliances, and plumbing fixtures could end up in a landfill.

The failure to address disaster resistence and other elements of resilience could more than offset any gains from greater energy efficiency and water conservation. Another concern is that the green code could actually erode resilience.

Sheer survival has a huge environmental impact. The ability of a building to stand the tests of time, changing uses, and natural disasters saves resources and energy squandered in demolition and rebuilding.

The new building code could actually make "green" buildings less resilient than conventional buildings. The trend in the United States, notably since the 1970s, has been toward least initial cost to builders and developers, which translates into the design and construction of buildings to the minimum levels permissible by code. That is, the cheapest buildings allowed by law.

As the mandated green or sustainability features add to the initial cost, builders and developers are likely to seek savings elsewhere.  One very likely scenario is to tradeoff designs and practices that provide enhanced resilience to pay for the green features.

The gains in energy and water conservation could very well be more than offset by the amount of long-term maintenance, repair, replacement of less resilient and more disposal construction.

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