Jay Peters

In early 2007, The International Code Council (ICC) released a policy position statement supporting green building, reflecting its commitment to social responsibility and expanding the boundaries of public safety. In that statement, the Code Council vowed to (1) educate its members about programs for achieving environmentally responsible buildings, (2) participate in activities with other organizations to assure green building practices are safe and sustainable, and (3) advocate for green building in the legislative, regulatory and codes arenas.

Concurrent with the release of the policy position statement, the Code Council moved its headquarters into a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building in Washington, D.C., and soon thereafter created Sustainable Workplace Advocate Teams in each of its three regional offices. ICC’s activities were particularly visible at that time - and continue to be - but its commitment to sustainability is longstanding.

Fred Grable, P.E.

The Code Council was involved with green initiatives and sustainability long before it was a gleam in many other organizations’ eyes. ICC’s International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) - the most widely adopted energy code in the world - in effect, marked the beginning of the green movement in the code arena. Subsequently, the Code Council developed the International Plumbing Code (IPC), the most widely adopted sustainable-minded plumbing code in the nation.

For years, the IPC has incorporated innovative technologies like waterless urinals and detailed engineered designs permitting the installation of smaller, more precise water and drainage systems - resulting in the savings of millions of gallons of water, not to mention countless miles of conduit materials.

ICC also works internationally with the World Plumbing Council (WPC), the World Toilet Organization (WTO) and, most recently, the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SSA). This de facto coalition of industries has brought its Plumbing, Mechanical and Fuel Gas (PMG) staff to Zurich and Tokyo and, later this year, to South Africa, Canada and Macau. It is also developing global guidelines in conjunction with the WTO for safe sanitation and clean water, an initiative that will reduce disease and help millions of people worldwide.

International Plumbing Code Adoption Map

The "Green Book"

Many professionals who use ICC’s Family of International Codes casually refer to the IPC as the “green book.” Little did anyone realize that the color of the International Plumbing Code’s cover would also come to symbolize the environmental sustainability movement.

It would be a flattering testament to ICC’s prescience if by the color selection of the IPC’s cover the Code Council had knowingly anticipated the global movement green would soon come to represent. Although no such credit can be taken, it can be said that the IPC’s contributors were thinking and acting in ways that guided its emergence as the code leader for sustainable plumbing installation.

Green building practices involve more than just selecting environmentally safe or recyclable materials. The designer must also see the bigger picture, often called the “cradle to grave” view. For example, he or she might choose cast iron drain, waste and vent piping because of the material’s recyclability. While this avoids the use of nonrenewable petroleum resources for the production of plastic pipe, it may not be the most sustainable option. The broader perspective would consider other issues, including:
  • How much energy does it take to manufacture the cast iron pipe and transport it to the jobsite?
  • How much energy will it later take to remove the piping from the building and transport the iron to the nearest steel recycling facility?
  • How much energy will it take to melt down the recycled material?

    Depending on the answers to these questions, plastic drainage piping might be a better choice because petroleum resources and plastic pipe manufacturing plants might be closer to the jobsite, its manufacture consumes a relatively low amount of energy, it weighs substantially less and, thus, requires less energy to transport, and it can be recycled using low-energy methods.

    This example is not intended to promote plastic over cast iron piping, only to serve as an illustration of the important green implications a designer should consider. If cast iron pipe is manufactured relatively near the jobsite or plastic pipe is not readily available in the region, iron may well be the best choice.

    Another factor that might influence the choice of cast iron over plastic would be the extra energy and special fill materials needed to properly install plastic piping underground in poor soil conditions. The point is that sustainability requires a careful consideration of all factors associated with the construction, use and eventual demolition of a building.

    While the choice of materials used in plumbing systems today plays a part in green building practices, the most significant impact is achieved through efficiency: using less material. The IPC has always focused on methods to safeguard public health and safety using the least amount of materials possible. The following characteristics illustrate how the IPC supports sustainable plumbing installations.

  • Compared to other plumbing codes, the dimensions of drain, waste and vent pipe are generally smaller for the same number and type of fixtures.
  • Thanks to the wide selection of venting options, less piping is needed to accomplish the same task.
  • Vent terminals can terminate through outside walls versus through the roof, thereby reducing vent-piping length.
  • Air admittance valve venting options can significantly reduce the length of vent piping to outdoor terminals.
  • Combination drain-and-vent systems can use smaller drain-pipe sizing than under other codes and may eliminate the need for multiple vent pipes.
  • Circuit venting methods within the IPC eliminate redundant vent piping.
  • Waste stack venting, a material-efficient method for the installation of vertical drainage pipe systems, is another permissible option.
  • Some approved engineered vent system designs allow reduced vent system pipe sizes.
  • Water pipe sizing generally is smaller for the same number and types of fixtures.
  • Manifold water distribution systems can be used, resulting in smaller water pipe sizes and significant water and energy savings.
  • Waterless urinals can achieve enormous water savings and do not require “backup” water supply, greatly reducing the amount of pipe used.
  • An often-asked question is: “Does the IPC promote water conservation?” The answer is, Yes. As required by the Energy Policy Act of 1992, the IPC mandates limits on maximum flow rates and consumption for certain plumbing fixtures. Waterless urinal technology is also included by the IPC in its 2006 edition. The code also contains an appendix for gray water systems design, should a jurisdiction choose to allow this technology.

    There is a high probability that the 2009 edition of the IPC will incorporate additional sustainable methods; a single stack venting method and a siphonic roof drain method have been proposed and committee-approved, and are currently awaiting a final assembly vote. Whatever ICC’s membership decides, the IPC truly is and will remain a “green code,” not because of its cover but due to its progressive sustainable methods for plumbing installations and its long track record of allowing specially designed systems that assure a miminum level of safety, and, at the same time, a maximum level of efficiency


  • The National Green Building Standard

    Even prior to the release of ICC’s green building policy position statement, the Code Council was involved in various green building-related projects. For example, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and ICC were joint stakeholders in the creation of NAHB’s Model Green Home Building Guidelines, which were released in 2005. In addition, ICC’s award-winning magazine, Building Safety Journal, and its electronic periodicals regularly include articles and news items on various aspects of the subject, and its regularly updated Green Building Webpage, www.ICCsafe.org/green, provides a wealth of resources.

    Most recently, ICC partnered with NAHB in producing the (now-titled) ICC 700-2008 National Green Building Standard (NGBS) - which is widely seen as ICC’s most ambitious green effort to date. The initial draft of the standard was based on NAHB’s aforementioned Model Green Home Building Guidelines, and the NGBS will be the first residential green building standard created under American National Standards Institute (ANSI) protocol, with the NAHB Research Center administering the process in their capacity as Secretariat. Draft Standard No. 2 of the NGBS has been approved by the NGBS Consensus Committee and has been submitted to ANSI for approval.

    The NGBS is intended to rate the environmental impact of residential structures, including new construction, renovations and additions. It can be administered by any adopting entity, such as a governmental jurisdiction, green building program, or any other adopting third-party compliance-assurance body. The standard addresses environmental concerns through consideration of the following general criteria.

  • Land Conservation. Example: Section 501.1 encourages the development of infill lots (lots in existing developments which were never built upon). Developing infill lots does not require the development of new infrastructure, such as roadways, public water supply, storm sewers and electric and gas utilities.

  • Material Resource Conservation. Example: Section 601.1 encourages the construction of smaller dwellings. Small dwellings use far less material resources than large dwellings of similar construction types.

  • Energy Conservation. Example: If energy analysis software is used in accordance with Section 702.2, Bronze Performance is attained (in the energy category only) if energy efficiency is 15% above baseline requirements of the 2006 IECC; Silver, if 30% above; Gold, if 50% above; Emerald, if 60% above.

  • Water Conservation. Example: Section 801.1 encourages reduction in hot water use by numerous prescriptive means. More energy is used to heat hot water than for any other purpose on the planet.

  • Indoor Air Quality. Example: If a fireplace (or natural draft fuel burning appliance) is provided, Section 901.2.1 requires that it be vented to the outdoors and have adequate combustion and ventilation air. Various prescriptive requirements and standards are referenced. Fireplaces can be a major source of indoor air pollution in dwelling units if they are not installed properly.

  • Owner Education Regarding the Maintenance and Operation of Green Buildings. Example: Section 101.1 requires that a homeowner's binder be provided, and lists required and optional information. If a green building is to remain green throughout its life cycle, proper maintenance and operation are crucial.



  • An Active Commitment

    As with its partnership with NAHB in the production of the NGBS, ICC works with many organizations that are leaders in the green and sustainable building movement. A Code Council staff member serves as consultant to the Consensus Committee in the ANSI process, which is being utilized to create ASHRAE/USGBC/IESNA 189.1, Standard for High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.

    Also, ICC Evaluation Service is a voting member of the Consensus Committee in the ANSI process that is being used to create the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes v.1 Post-Construction Assessment green building standard for commercial buildings. The Code Council also advocates for green building on Capitol Hill (as well as directly to state and local jurisdictions), has added many new green publications to the ICC bookstore, and attends and exhibits at green building conferences, expos and educational events.

    For those in the know, none of this will come as a surprise. The IECC has been accepted by many jurisdictions as the flagship for energy saving installations and is now the most widely adopted energy code in the world, and the Code Council’s building and residential codes have always promoted building durability and safeguarded public health and welfare right along with public safety.

    In fact, the International Codes could well be viewed as the foundation on which the majority of modern green and sustainable programs and standards are based. After all, without regularly maintained, fair and enforceable codes like those produced by ICC, there would be no firm framework on which to hang the fruit of a safe and healthy built environment for the generations to come.

    Industry-leading organizations like ICC move at such a fast pace that, by the time they toot their horn, they have often already passed the next mile marker and no one hears them. Nonetheless, the Code Council will continue to move at light speed and hope that people will notice us as we zoom by. If they don’t, we'll be back around again on the next lap to pick them up!