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Q: Can you help me understand how building code–mandated sustainability requirements are affecting construction demolition and waste?

A: Two existing building codes are having a significant impact on how construction demolition and waste will be handled at construction sites. One of the codes in question is the International Green Construction Code, which was developed and maintained with the International Code Council. The second is a voluntary code known as LEED® v4. Depending on how these requirements are administered, they could have a significant impact on how contractors approach construction demolition and waste.


Construction demolition and waste is covered in Chapter 5 of the IgCC. The primary goal is to divert construction materials from going to landfill. Section 502 of that code has a requirement to divert at least 35 percent of the construction waste. Section 502.1 also allows for local jurisdictions to increase that amount to 50 percent and up to 65 percent. There is also a requirement for areas on the job site that must be provided for the collection and storage of recyclable post construction phase waste materials.


LEED® v4 can be considered to be more restrictive. LEED®, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was authored by the U.S. Green Building Council. Because it is voluntary, there is no mandate for municipal adoption. LEED® is a single number rating system with the intent of recognizing specific construction projects for adhering to established sustainable design and construction principles. LEED® points are attained based on design and construction activity that ultimately brackets the final number into specific levels of certification: certified, silver, gold or platinum. LEED® v4 takes a hard position on diverting construction waste from landfills. It actually makes certain portions of construction waste management a prerequisite to achieve any points under the “Materials and Resources” section.


Meeting these requirements is a matter of planning and documentation. Critical to this is understanding and timing. Predicting that gypsum panels, cold-formed steel framing and acoustical ceiling systems will be targeted materials, it follows that contractors who install these materials will be impacted.


The LEED® rating system covers many types of construction, including new commercial buildings from either a core and shell approach or interiors only. Focusing on new construction, there is a very specific requirement for establishing and implementing a construction and demolition waste management plan. The plan must identify at least five building materials that will be diverted from going to a landfill. Included in the requirement is a calculation that approximates the percentage of these five materials to the overall waste on the project. Also, there must be a specification drafted that covers whether the materials will be separated or commingled. Further, the plan must cover a written strategy on how this diversion will be accomplished. This includes where the five materials will be taken, which recycling facility will be used and the final disposal of those materials. The plan must culminate in a final report that describes all the “major waste streams” that are generated, which includes “disposal and diversion rates.”


The owner may decide to aggressively pursue the optional two points that will trigger an increased level of participation and documentation. This will require extensive calculations that can be based either on the volume or the weight of the waste being considered. The only stipulation is that the study must be consistent on the unit (weight or volume) that is selected.


There are several options to consider when choosing to pursue the potential one or two points. For one point, 50 percent of the total construction demolition and waste material must be diverted, and this diversion must be in at least three material “streams.” For two points, the diversion must be 75 percent of the total construction and demolition waste materials, and it must be from at least four material “streams.” The last option for two points sets a limit on the allowable waste, by weight, based on the total square footage of the building.


Documentation plays an important part in achieving the prerequisite and to earn the potential two points. The template reveals the information that is required, which includes the material type and “stream.” The amount of diverted material must be tabulated, and documentation must show where it went and for what purpose. The total construction waste of the project must be calculated only to determine if the percentage thresholds are met.


Contractors would be well advised to learn as early in a project as possible if LEED® is being pursued. This acknowledges the fact that although these same requirements are found within the IgCC code, the code itself is has not been adopted in many locations, whereas LEED® is national in scope. Should the project be going for LEED® recognition, then the contractor should understand what will be required. This communication is between the general contractor and the contractor and should be held early in the bid process.


Although this task may appear daunting, contractors who are knowledgeable in the process at an early stage can potentially add value to the GC and, at the very least, meet their responsibilities at the appropriate times.

Robert Grupe is AWCI’s director of technical services. Send your questions to, or call him directly at (703) 538.1611.

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