We Expect A Lot From Our Buildings — How Do International Codes Assure Sustainability?
Today, society faces 3 major challenges in the built environment: ensuring building safety, improving sustainability, and addressing our affordable housing crisis.
May is Building Safety Month. Up-to-date international codes can make communities more equipped to endure increasingly frequent and severe weather events, improve sustainability, and address the affordable housing crisis. This year, innovation and collaboration are evolving due to the increasing frequency and severity of global weather events. All communities need building codes to protect their citizens from disasters like fires, weather-related events, and structural collapse.
It seemed to make sense to learn more about how modern and innovative international building codes address these imperatives, how code officials work day in and day out to keep the public safe, and how the International Code Council is enabling the flow of innovative policies and practices around the world to improve the built environment.
So we reached out to Dominic Sims, CEO of the International Code Council, who agreed to an interview.
Q: Thanks for making yourself available to answer some questions. For those unfamiliar with the International Code Council, why is it in existence, and what effect has it had on cities and towns across the globe?
The International Code Council was established in 1994 as a non-profit organization dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and coordinated model building codes. The mission of the Code Council is to steward the development process for model codes that benefit public safety and support the industry’s need for one set of codes without regional limitations. We are a member-focused association with members from across building industries who come together to participate in our democratic and transparent process to develop the most widely used set of building safety codes and standards in the world – the International Codes® (I-Codes®).
Our technical staff works closely with legislators and code officials to help jurisdictions implement the most appropriate set of codes for their specific regions.
Q: I’m struck by the call for reciprocity toward improving sustainability and addressing the affordable housing crisis. These 2 objectives seem not to be related. Might you offer some insights into their symbiosis?
We expect a lot of our buildings. They are complex systems that have broad ranging impacts on our lives and communities. They protect us from hazards, influence our health, and impact our environment. Finding the balance across all these expectations while maintaining affordability is challenging, but the Code Council and governments must navigate these complexities.
Housing affordability is particularly important for low and moderate income households. These households are often the hardest hit by disasters — many of which are exacerbated by climate change — and lack the resources for post-disaster recovery. At the same time, they spend a disproportionate amount of their income on utility bills — in some places 3 times as much as the average household. When we talk about housing affordability, it’s not just whether we can get someone in a house but whether they can afford to stay there.
The International Code Council is currently the only code development organization that actively considers cost as an element of the code development process. Through the code development, process stakeholders from across the building industry come together to identify the best practices for safety and sustainability while ensuring the resulting buildings remain affordable and accessible to broad populations. Naturally, individual communities have their own perspectives on priorities for their building stock. The Code Council provides communities with tools to achieve those priorities from model codes that capture the current consensus to stretch codes that can assist communities in going beyond minimum-level requirements.
Q: May is Building Safety Month. What should our readers know about the need to adopt modern, regularly-updated building codes?
Today, society faces 3 major challenges in the built environment: ensuring building safety, improving sustainability, and addressing our affordable housing crisis. Modern and innovative international codes are society’s first line of defense to address these imperatives. One of the most cost-effective ways to safeguard communities against natural disasters is to build using hazard-resistant building codes.
FEMA studies show that every dollar invested in the adoption of modern building codes provides 11 times more in savings by reducing casualties, lowering the cost of building damage and helping communities get back on their feet faster by minimizing indirect costs such as business interruptions and lost income. We want to emphasize to all communities the importance of adopting modern building codes and stress the critical importance of continued inspection and enforcement to keep buildings and their occupants safe and healthy. We also encourage local governments to fund their building departments to support the needed level of maintenance inspections.
The formula for success in implementing and supporting modern building codes and inspections is simple: staff, train, and finance.
Q: How is the building industry working to increase water efficiency through innovative practices and technologies — not just domestically but worldwide?
Innovation and collaboration must evolve due to global weather events’ increasing frequency and severity. There are many examples of countries in water-scarce areas that are innovating to increase water efficiency. Those involved in the code development process can draw best practices from the following examples across the globe:
- Israel is leading the world through its policies, practices, and technologies for its water resources and conservation, most notably through reclaiming over 80% of its wastewater and stormwater for agricultural operation.
- Saudi Arabia boasts the highest production of desalinated water worldwide (the country removes salt out of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf) and is in the process of converting its desalination plants to solar.
- Cape Town, South Africa is incorporating automated domestic water metering installations to set a target water usage for each resident per day, leveraging alternative water sources, and updating their supply network infrastructure.
- The United Kingdom is cutting water use through water metering, incentives for water-saving technologies, hosepipe bans, and investing in updating the country’s water supply equipment.
- The North China Plain has addressed increasing agricultural demands on water through increased monitoring, institutionalized water conservation practices, ground leveling, and more efficient drainage and irrigation sprinklers.
Q: How does Building Safety Month address some of the issues that we face as a global community, including extreme weather events and water scarcity?
Clean water is the world’s most precious commodity, and public health depends on safe and readily available water. The World Health Organization estimates over two billion people live in water-stressed countries, which is expected to worsen in some regions due to a changing climate and population growth. Water conservation and efficiency issues have become crucial conversations amongst building safety professionals in recent years. Building Safety Month raises awareness about these issues by reinforcing the need to adopt modern, regularly-updated building codes, and helps individuals, families, and businesses understand what it takes to create safe and sustainable structures.
Q: What additional details or insights might you provide on how we can institute these best practices in the US?
There is currently no national standard on maintenance and inspection. Individual states follow their own enforcement procedures to seek out, modify, adopt and enforce their own building codes and standards. Currently adopted codes, which local jurisdictions can, and do, modify on a case-by-case basis, may or may not include provisions for building re-inspections and maintenance requirements. The International Property Maintenance Code® (IPMC®) established minimum requirements for the maintenance of existing buildings through model code regulations that contain clear and specific maintenance and property improvement provisions. The latest edition is fully compatible with the International Building Code® (IBC®).
Every jurisdiction needs to understand what their specific regional needs are so that their building, maintenance, and re-inspections codes have appropriately specific provisions for the natural, environmental, and emergency conditions more prevalent in their area (e.g., Florida hurricanes, Kansas tornadoes, California earthquakes and wildfires).
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