Building-sector groups once again are decrying the Portland Cement Association’s revised requirements for sustainable buildings, which were released recently. The move came after a failed attempt by PCA—at code hearings in August 2009—to get any of the provisions of High Performance Building Requirements for Sustainability 2.0 adopted into the model International Green Building Code. Other organizations characterize PCA’s second attempted end run around the accepted model-code development process as a self-serving push for the use of concrete over rival structural materials through the local adoption of code provisions that have been consistently rejected at the national level.

High Performance Building Requirements for Sustainability 2.0 (HPBRS2) and related code-change proposals for the International Building Code (IBC) and other International Code Council (ICC) codes are “not-so-veiled attempts” to rewrite the basic building code and transform it into a far-reaching “stretch” code, says Ronald Burton, vice president of codes, standards and regulatory affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association, Washington, D.C. “BOMA will vigorously oppose this effort,” he says.

HPBRS2, released by the Skokie, Ill.-based PCA and the Institute for Business and Home Safety, a Tampa, Fla.-based research arm of insurers, is written in code language that allows jurisdictions to amend it to the IBC. It includes concepts found in most green building standards, such as energy, water and materials resource conservation, while enhancing disaster resistance by setting more stringent durability requirements. The text is available at

The revised document has many of the same provisions found in the original. Changes include references to relevant sections of the ASHRAE 189.1 green-building standard, instead of adhering to the International Green Building Code’s language. PCA and IBHS also aligned the provisions with the concepts of both the Whole Building Design Guide and the High Performance Building Council. Enacting and enforcing these provisions provides the basis for designers and owners to obtain certification under the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for New Construction (LEED-NC) rating system, says PCA.

The proposal does not contain “so much as a hint of the costs associated with the myriad changes being proposed, much less the cost-benefit analysis essential for the extensive deliberations that must be undertaken in the consideration of such sweeping changes,” says Burton.

Not surprisingly, steel interests also are reacting strongly to what they call a biased document with a hidden agenda put out in the name of increased building safety. But structural engineers, who theoretically are neutral about building materials, do not support HPBRS2. Like its predecessor that was released a year ago, the 2010 version, they point out, is not a consensus-based document.

The National Council of Structural Engineers Associations’ code advisory committee also successfully opposed PCA’s proposal to include many of the document’s provisions in the International Green Building Code (IGBC) at the ICC code hearings in August. But the group says it is willing to work with PCA and others interested in developing proposals that uniformly and rationally increase structural durability at an appropriate cost.

Structural Durability

“The theme of PCA’s high-performance buildings requirements—that buildings that have enhanced durability are truly sustainable—is a good one,” says Ronald O. Hamburger, a senior principal in the San Francisco office of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger and chairman of NCSEA’s code advisory committee. “Many of us in the seismic community have been arguing for some time that structural durability should be a more significant consideration in LEED and other sustainability rating systems,” he says.

“Unfortunately, PCA has taken this sound idea … and arbitrarily increased some design loads on structures,” he adds. The arbitrary nature of the additional loads, which have a greater impact on the use of steel and other structural materials than on the use of concrete, did not result in either a uniform or reasoned enhancement in the durability of structures but would increase building costs, energy usage during construction and carbon emissions, says Hamburger.

PCA justifies its requirements by saying that, while states and municipalities are seeking to adopt ordinances that require “green” or “sustainable” construction, they are overlooking disaster-resistant construction.

Another objection to the document is that it leaves the decision for including items, such as durability and fire protection, in the hands of local jurisdictions that may or may not possess the technical expertise to adequately evaluate the merits of the proposals, says John P. Cross, a vice president of the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), Chicago. “These proposals already have been rejected at the IBC level based on the input of individuals with that technical expertise,” he adds.

In terms of sustainability, AISC thinks the document is biased toward structural concrete. “The PCA document exempts all materials from consideration that are transported less than 250 miles, which is a necessity for concrete, while it applies a very questionable diesel-fuel metric to all other materials,” says Cross. “Obviously, there is some serious game-playing here,” he adds.

The criteria are consistent with many code-change development efforts, says Stephen S. Szoke, director of codes and standards for PCA.

Code-change proposals rarely, if ever, are developed using a consensus unless they are referenced standards, he says. Szoke gives fire sprinklers as an example: The sprinkler sector, for both commercial sprinklers as early as the 1920s and more recently for one- and two-family dwelling sprinklers, proposed local code changes for sprinklers that were not consensus-developed, he says. Many jurisdictions adopted sprinkler requirements long before the requirements ever appeared in model building codes, he adds.

Beyond Model Codes

Szoke maintains it is common to work with local jurisdictions to adopt new provisions and then support and encourage those jurisdictions to adopt the provisions in the model codes. “Jurisdictions also often adopt ordinances that impose design and construction criteria beyond model building-code requirements,” he says.

PCA says it is not suggesting that sustainability provisions addressed in the document are appropriate for all buildings in all jurisdictions. “While a few of the provisions of the HPBRS2 have been proposed as changes to the IBC in the past, most have not because the HPBRS2 intentionally goes beyond minimum code,” says Szoke.

PCA recommends jurisdictions adopt high-performance building requirements for government owned or funded projects. It recommends designating buildings that follow the provisions as “high performance” to advise emergency responders, emergency management and the general public of the elevated minimum criteria for design and construction. PCA advises the provisions be adopted in disaster-prone areas or where there is a need for more sustainable buildings to improve communities. Additionally, owners who occupy their own buildings may elect to design and build to the requirements to reap the long-term benefits and potential reductions in insurance premiums, regardless of whether the provisions are adopted locally, says PCA.

The group plans to resubmit the proposals for the next version of the IGBC, with additional information requested by members of ICC’s sustainable building-technology committee.