DC “Green” Codes Serve to Raise the Bar

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Washington, DC is the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to adopt the International Green Construction Code, with DC’s modified version being the 2013 DC Green Construction Code. The commercial architects and design professionals at OTJ Architects expect this – along with several other newly adopted codes – to re-shape the landscape of sustainability in our nation’s capital.

Residents of the district will greatly appreciate the benefits in improved health, increased productivity and reduced operating costs that these types of sustainable design will generate.

The implementation of the District of Columbia’s latest “green” codes is set to raise the bar even higher for sustainability in the city. These codes – part of the new 2013 DC Building Code adopted earlier this year – include the 2013 DC Green Construction Code (GCC) and the new and improved DC Energy Conservation Code (ECC), both of which complement and enhance the efforts of the 2006 Green Building Act (GBA).

“The code was necessary because awareness has grown over the past several years in the general population that started to convince everyone that there was a ‘floor’ for sustainability, a point below which we are negatively influencing the public health and public good,” said Lida Lewis, OTJ’s Director of Sustainability, who provided comments during the development the latest codes. “It’s no longer a niche interest — sustainability is now a universal concern, which makes compliance with basic green tenets elevate to a matter of public policy.”

And DC is a leader in the sustainability world.

“When you look across the U.S., most think about San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and other cities with high green profiles, but I’d put DC as one of the top five cities in the country for awareness of green features and sustainability."

It also helps that Washington, DC, is so heavily influenced by sustainability trends motivated by the requirements of federal government tenancy. General Services Administration (GSA) tenants are required to be in spaces that are either LEED® or Green Globes certified. In addition, mandates now state no federal agency may enter a lease for a building that has not earned the Energy Star label in the most recent year, so locally there is a demand in the market for more and more green spaces.

So what exactly is the main difference between the GBA, ECC and the GCC?

The GBA was first enacted in 2006, so it has been around for a while. “GBA is going to generally apply to public or publicly funded projects or substantial improvements, and it will usually require a project to become certified,” Lewis said. “The DC GCC doesn’t ask for certifications, but it will get you to a basic level of sustainability.”

And while it is only necessary for projects meeting certain funding, project or size types to comply with either the GBA or GCC, following the 2013 DC ECC is a must. The ECC provides the most change for architects and engineers of all the new codes. It requires vacancy sensors instead of occupancy sensors and requires “daylight harvesting” measures.

Careful consideration of lighting controls to meet these measures becomes more of a paramount issue, but should use readily available components. Economizers will now be required for HVAC units of more than 3 tons, and the new ECC has increased envelope insulation requirements. The ECC also requires a minimum solar reflectance value for district roofs, increases air conditioner efficiencies, requires Demand Controlled Ventilation and Energy Recovery Ventilation systems for many projects and the use of time clocks, among other requirements.

For tenant projects that encompass 10,000 to 50,000 USF, the GCC will apply in a milder form, generally requiring products or procedures that OTJ has adopted as its minimum project standard for years. Low VOC paints, adhesives and substrates make sites safer for contractors and occupants alike. The code also greatly restricts or excludes the use of formaldehyde-containing materials, affecting some product selections including millwork and other woodwork substrates and adhesives. Similarly, code requirements for construction waste diversion and Indoor Air Quality management of the site itself will make for more carefully managed construction sites.

“In most experiences, when a construction site is neater and cleaner, it helps to reduce punch list items, streamlines timelines, makes for better building management and neighboring tenant experience and generally results in a higher-quality construction project,” Lewis noted.

For projects that are 50,000 USF and above or Level 3 Alterations (those projects whose work area exceeds 50 percent of the aggregate area of the building), the requirements are more stringent and become more reminiscent of LEED® certification.

Above 50,000 USF, the GCC requires tracking information about recycled content, product manufacturing locations, bio-based content and other product information, which then needs to be submitted to the code office — something previously more typical of a LEED® certification process. Commissioning is now required for this scale of project, which, Lewis notes, “is only logical given the number of new technologies and efficiency requirements the new GCC and revised ECC will require. These technologies will present some level of challenge and learning curve to our building community, which will certainly benefit from the additional oversight a commissioning authority provides.”

These projects will also be required to select from a range of “project electives” – items from which the tenant must select a number of interventions reminiscent of LEED® credits, including long-term bicycle parking and storage, increased waste management and enhanced daylighting strategies.

“Over 50,000 USF, we’ll do more submittals and more research, along with the engineers and general contractor,” Lewis said. “It raises the floor a little higher, which is definitely a good thing.”

The latest code introductions have also introduced some new processes and requirements. Due with a Certificate of Occupancy application is proof of all construction waste management diversions and commissioning reports for projects in the larger GCC construction ranges. A Post Certificate of Occupancy is also now required for the larger 50,000 USF and above and Level 3 Alterations projects. This application includes providing information to the code office on calculations of materials used and additional commissioning information, among other requirements.

While this will provide some cost implications for larger projects and will require a bit of a learning curve for practitioners in the area, such changes should not be cause for apprehension. Some new technologies will increase construction costs, but these costs will decrease over time as these regulations become the norm.

“This will mostly require us to engage in a more collaborative, research-intensive and integrative process with our engineers, contractors and building management partners,” Lewis said.

For smaller projects, the changes should be marginal.

“While change of any kind always causes some initial consternation, I think as more people are exposed to the realities of these regulations and requirements, they will realize they amount to good design and construction practices. Once over the initial adoption curve, we may even wonder why we’ve not been following many of these practices all along,” Lewis added. “Residents of the district will greatly appreciate the benefits in improved health, increased productivity and reduced operating costs that these types of sustainable design will generate. This will only make DC a leaner, stronger city overall.”

Contact OTJ Architects to discuss your architectural needs today.

About OTJ Architects

OTJ Architects is a well-respected national interior architecture design firm that has successfully completed thousands of projects throughout the country. Founded in 1990, OTJ is comprised of five studios headquartered in Washington, DC, with more than 60 architects and designers, many of whom are LEED Accredited Professionals. OTJ is registered in 37 states and is able to consult in all 50 states. The responsive interior architecture consultants create effective environments through listening, understanding and tailored design. These designs focus on helping clients enhance collaboration, company branding and employee recruitment and retention. OTJ’s design teams provide clients with personalized attention to create workplace solutions that reflect their unique, individual needs. For more information visit http://www.otj.com/.

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Liz Marshall
OTJ Architects
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