Residential Construction
Codes and Standards
August 4, 2015

Building codes assure that safe construction practices are used when constructing or renovating a building. Modern codes address environmental concerns such as energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and water efficiency.

While these codes have been adopted in some locales, many building construction efforts in these areas exceed code. This relates to builders and homeowners who apply resource-efficient strategies beyond those outlined in building codes. They often work closely with building code officials to ensure that these strategies are understood and approved.

Building codes and permits are complex and vary across the country. Many levels can apply including national, state and local. In addition, non-building code but related requirements and permits may apply to projects for handling waste, runoff and pollution.

Many codes do not directly apply to pollution prevention or green building, however codes can dictate issues such as material selection, energy efficiency, indoor air quality and water/sewer systems. In other cases, building codes directly apply to green building procedures, such as in Washington State, where progressive energy and ventilation standards have been included for residential construction.

Applying Codes and Standards

Knowing local, state, and national building regulations is key to a successful building project. The local Home Builders Association can help to get you on the right track for your location. The National Association of Home Builders provides a list of state and local association contacts. Additional on-line resources for codes and state compliance include:

  • The Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center explains environmental rules for the construction industry. Also provided are links to state regulations and state and local green building programs.
  • International Code Council (ICC) – Formed in cooperation of three nationally significant code professional associations: International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI), and Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc. (BOCA).
  • Model Energy Code (MEC) – The MEC was originally developed jointly under the auspices of the Council of American Building Officials (CABO), Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc. (BOCA), International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards (NCSBCS), and Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) under a contract funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Examples of Green Rating Programs

Numerous programs also establish standards and voluntary guidelines for builders interested in resource-efficient design and construction. They cover everything from whole system design and efficient site-use to thermal, energy, water, and materials efficiency, lighting, appliances and ventilation criteria, landscaping and paving.

The following are a few national, state and local programs that provide standards and guidelines for green buildings. Many green building programs offer home certification, or ratings, as well as technical and financial assistance to builders. Certification generally establishes a home as being beyond code, a builder as being proactive, and sets the stage for advanced marketing capabilities

  • EnergyStar – standards for energy-efficient residential and commercial products; guidelines and a rating program for new homes to achieve 30% more energy efficiency than the Model Energy Code. To receive the Energy Star label, the home must receive third-party verification that the home meets Energy Star standards. .
  • Energy and Environmental Building Association (EEBA) – goals, objectives and specific criteria for energy and resource-efficient residential and small commercial buildings.
  • Scottsdale, Arizona Green Building Program – specifications and guidelines to meet entry level and advanced level requirements of the program are shown. It also provides a rating system for environmentally responsible building with a focus on a desert environment.
  • Seattle City Lights Built Smart Program – specifications and guidelines to implement comprehensive resource conservation in newly constructed multifamily buildings.
  • LEEDâ„¢ Green Building Rating System – LEEDâ„¢ is a self-assessing system designed for rating new and existing commercial, institutional, and high-rise residential buildings produced by the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • City of Portland G-Rated (Green Rated) – strives to provide guidelines, standards and research for the green building industry. Current goals include incorporating green building into municipal buildings and affordable housing. Guidelines for increasing the environmental performance and durability for housing.
  • Built Green Colorado is organized similar to the Scottsdale program. With a checklist of green building options, builders score individual homes to receive a BuiltGreen designation. The Home Builders Association of Metro Denver (HBA) administers this program with support from state and local organizations.
  • The National Association of Home Builders Research Center provides links to local green building programs throughout the nation, as well as information about how to start a program.