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How Codes and Standards Are Changing

Energy-efficient buildings with great acoustics? It’s your job to know all about it.

My iPhone’s operating system has more updates in one year than the I-Codes developed by the International Code Council undergo in 10.


Building code evolution is slow, and so is code adoption. In fact, states and local jurisdictions can take years before making latest code the requirements mandatory.


Of course, the ICC is not the only code-writing body out there. But, according to its website, the ICC develops the most widely used set of building safety codes and standards in the world. And it overhauls them every three years.


Last October, the ICC released its 2021 International Codes, or I-Codes, which are a family of 15 safety codes and standards that protect buildings against disasters like fires, weather-related events and structural collapse. The I-Codes include the International Building Code, International Energy Conservation Code, International Fire Code, International Wildland-Urban Interface Code and more.


The next code development cycle—Group A of the 2024 I-Codes, which includes the 2024 IBC—began in January, when the ICC accepted submissions of proposed code changes to the 2021 Group A codes. Those proposals were discussed at ICC hearings held virtually in April and early May, when code officials, architects, builders, engineers, designers and contractors gave their input.


ICC is working on the 2024 I-Codes? The 2021 codes just got published? And, your jurisdiction may use the 2015 IBC? Certainly, you have time to catch up on code details, right?




Designers can mandate specifications on projects well before the local codes call for such treatments. Building inspectors can demand compliance for things not written in the local codes. And you probably feel the pressure to help designers and owners boost their buildings’ energy and acoustical performances and lessen the waste heading to landfills.


“We’re not the designers. It’s the role of the architects and engineers to act on the codes,” says Saied Alavi, senior director at Marek in Texas. “But as professionals, we need to know the codes. There could be an accidental omission of something, and we can bring it to the attention of the designers to make sure the products and buildings delivered meet all the proper code requirements.”

Becoming More “Granular”

Robert Grupe, AWCI’s director of technical services, says the original IBC years ago focused on structural engineering and fire prevention. As time passed, the model code became broader in its treatment areas and more robust in its requirements, so that now it encompass non-life-safety issues—sound attenuation, sustainability and waste separation—in addition to building safety.


“The codes never talked about energy performance or indoor air quality,” says Grupe. “What we’re seeing is the codes getting more sophisticated, more in-depth. They’re going beyond structural safety and the life safety of inhabitants and are becoming granular.”


An example of this is the growing importance of acoustical performance.


“We see in current proposals for this code cycle an increasing emphasis on better acoustical performance, or higher STC values,” says Michael Schmeida, MSc., LEED AP, director of codes, standards and research at the Gypsum Association. “Not that they will make it in [the 2024 I-Codes], but those proposals are being brought forward, and the architects are starting to pick them up, too.”


Schmeida says that Sound Transmission Class ratings of STC-45 and STC-50 are in the current code. However, the requirements in the more stringent codes, such as the International Green Construction Code and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers 189.1 standard, suggest that STC-55, even STC-60, may become the future standards for sound control.


Do contractors need to know these details? Yes.


Off-Site Standards? On Hold

The AWCI e-newsletter, AWCI’s Codes & Standards Digest, June 2021 issue, reports that proposed International Code Council standards for off-site construction have been disapproved.


The proposed ICC standards for off-site construction—ICC 1200, Standard for Off-Site Construction: Planning, Design, Fabrication and Assembly; and ICC 1205, Standard for Off-Site Construction: Inspection and Regulatory Compliance—failed to make it past 2024 International Building Code committee hearings.


The committee, the newsletter says, felt that the scope of the proposed standards, which would have provided regulations on all forms of off-site construction, including panelization, was too broad to implement at this time.


An upward trending acoustical performance requirement in building codes and the standards those codes reference mean framers and drywallers will need to bid on and install assemblies with more layers of material. They may need to use different products and systems altogether to meet a project’s sound performance requirements.


And even if the current acoustical proposals don’t make it into the 2024 I-Codes, designers could, if they wish, specify special STC ratings between dwelling units and between dwelling units and corridors.


The Gypsum Association’s GA-600-2021, Fire Resistance and Sound Control Design Manual, contains hundreds of fire and sound-rated systems for interior partitions, shaft walls, exterior walls, area separation fire walls, horizontal membrane systems and more. The manual, which is available from the GA website, can help subcontractors build walls that meet STC rating expectations.


“Every drywall hanger should have a copy of the GA-600 and know how the systems work,” says Susan Hines, LEED Green Assoc., GA’s director of industry issues and external affairs. “That’s where you find the appropriate STC rating to satisfy the performance in the specifications.”


Are more stringent sound performance standards being specified?


“That has been the expectation for a long time,” Alavi says. “Definitely, the end users demand better acoustics. But unless it’s a design-build environment, and most of our work is not, we are building what the designers specify.”

Focus on Energy Conservation

Another important area influencing the code-writing bodies and local building code commissions is energy performance. In fact, many building jurisdictions are ramping up their energy conservation efforts by adopting “green” construction codes.


The California Building Standards Commission website says CalGreen—the California Green Building Standards Code—was the first mandatory building code focused on sustainability in the country. The latest edition, the 2019 CalGreen Code, went into effect in January 2020.


In May 2020, the District of Columbia adopted a new suite of codes, the 2017 DC Construction Codes, which aim to help fulfill the district’s net-zero energy and carbon neutrality goals. The 2017 DC Construction Codes consist of the 2015 I-Codes, the 2014 National Electrical Code and 2013 ASHRAE 90.1, as amended by the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations.


Sources say the IgCC, which borrows language from the ASHRAE 189.1 standard, is also getting lots of attention. The IgCC has strict requirements, well beyond those found in IBC versions, and many of the IgCC requirements are being picked up and adopted by state building commissions. California, as noted already, has CalGreen. Virginia, Maryland, Arizona and other states have all adopted the IgCC in some form, sources say.


In July this year, the ICC began accepting code change proposals for the development of its 2024 International Energy Conservation Code. The process for changing the code has itself changed, and now involves great numbers of participants and more collaboration than ever before.


“Through the new framework and IECC development process, all committed parties—from energy advocates to government officials and building safety professionals—will collaboratively determine the provisions of future editions [of the IECC],” says Dominic Sims, ICC CEO and chief business officer.


Proposals to alter the 2021 IECC can be submitted online through Oct. 12 this year, the ICC says.


Should wall and ceiling contractors pay attention to IECC code cycles? Again, yes.


A Tale of One City

“New York is always a late adopter. Things go from West to East,” says Lee R. Zaretzky, president of Ronsco, Inc., in New York. “We are pretty lax here. We don’t even have framing inspections in the city like I have [with projects] on Long Island and in New Jersey.”


Zaretzky says New York City, like everywhere, is politically driven, and the pendulum is shifting to bigger government and more regulation. Still, he is happy to see the New York City Department of Buildings’ recent move to upscale contractors’ safety training requirements. The new city requirements mandate site safety training certification for all employees on large projects, supervisor safety training of 62 hours per person and more.


“Being good union contractors, with safety training at our core, we already had the infrastructure in place,” Zaretzky says. “The union guys do it right, don’t cut corners and have fewer accidents. It’s proven math. The other guys are ‘yah, well, but’ and take a chance on safety.”

Such codes affect exterior wall assemblies. The energy codes will encompass stricter requirements for exterior systems, sources say, and they will likely mandate field testing of exterior walls. Subcontractors should be prepared to act on the test results and, if needed, to make required adjustments to installed assemblies.


“The energy code is really the big picture,” says Lee R. Zaretzky, president of Ronsco, Inc., in New York. “It has more to do with the mechanical contractors, but earning LEED points can also be done with our products.”


Zaretzky points out that gypsum board is largely recyclable. It’s a mineral. Many wallboard products use synthetic calcium sulfate, which is made with flue gas desulfurization technology at coal burning power plants. Many wallboard plants are located within 500 miles of project job sites, which helps those projects earn LEED points for material proximity.


“Manufacturers try to differentiate themselves to get out of a commodified world,” Zaretzky says. “They are creating products that help us achieve LEED ratings. I can’t tell you the last time I was on a project where my standard submittal wasn’t sufficient for the LEED tabulator to know where to plug us in.”

Thermal Bridging and Resiliency

Grupe says AWCI member contractors and other builders should review the latest iteration of AHSRAE 90.1. That standard, he says, looks into thermal bridging, which is a major source of energy loss for buildings. He believes thermal bridges will be regulated by codes and standards going forward.


Thermal bridges are “holes” in a building’s exterior envelope, created when one material conducts heat more efficiently than other materials around it. An example of a thermal bridge is the steel lintels used to attach an exterior veneer material.


Grupe says AHSRAE 90.1 discusses special design features that go into exterior walls.


“The ball falls in the architect’s court to design a proper system,” Grupe says. “But the wall contractor needs to know about thermal bridges, because no matter what solution is put in the construction documents, it will have an impact. If nothing else, it will impact the sequencing of a project.”


Resilience is another trend area to follow as building codes evolve. Resiliency involves preparing for, absorbing, recovering from and successfully adapting to adverse events.


Cold-formed steel, for example, is a resilient building material. It’s non-combustible, durable, strong, has corrosion resistant coatings and so forth. However, framers may not realize that standards in the steel framing industry are changing.


Specifically, steel framing is transitioning from ASTM to AISI standards, and the 2018 IBC reflects this change. While ASTM is still referenced widely in the 2018 IBC, it is not referenced relative to cold-formed steel.


Thus, wall contractors will want to double check that design specifications for their projects reflect the AISI S220 and AISI S240 standards documents referenced by the 2018 IBC. The 2018 IBC also references AISI S202, AISI S230 and AISI S400, which apply on certain projects. The Steel Framing Industry Association’s ebook, “Specifying Cold-Formed Steel Framing: A Guide for Architects and Engineers,” explains these details and is available for free at


Also, framing contractors can refer to the SFIA Guide Specifications Section 054000 Cold-Formed Metal Framing and Section 092216 Nonstructural Metal Framing for the latest metal framing specifications before bidding a project. They can also be used to alert an architect when specification discrepancies exist on a project.


Resiliency is also a feature of the International Wildland-Urban Interface Code, or WUI (pronounced “woo ee”), which sources say is getting a lot of attention of late. WUI reflects the ICC’s push for more resilient structures. It contains, the ICC says, “provisions addressing fire spread, accessibility, defensible space, water supply and more for buildings constructed near wildland areas.”


So, if a forest fire occurs, and your building does not burn down but remains standing, you have helped the building to achieve resiliency. You don’t have to rebuild it. This is the point of the WUI 2021 code, which requires wall contractors doing exterior work to build wall assemblies that meet special requirements for woodland-urban interface areas—where wildfires are prone to occur.


Schmeida says California has already adopted a version of WUI, and so has Florida. The code is getting noticed elsewhere, too, he says.

Finding Safe Work-Arounds

As building codes change, AWCI member contractors may find themselves stepping in as code experts on a job.


“The codes are critical in health care and high-rise buildings,” Alavi says. “But sometimes designs come in that can’t be built. Let’s say you are building a rated partition around an elevator, and you can’t build the assembly exactly as required. Our job is to find a work-around, but one that can still be built safely.”


Being the code expert means sharing new, code-compliant products with local building code authorities—authorities who may not be as up-to-date with codes and the new products. Building manufacturers continuously do research and test and introduce new products. New fire-stop caulking for header walls. New products and systems that reduce labor requirements. New wallboards.


“The gypsum board may be white, and the next board used may be purple,” Alavi says. “The inspector says, ‘What’s this?’ And you have to explain, ‘This satisfies the code.’”


Source-Separate Your Waste

Sources for this article say material waste recycling is getting greater emphasis in the building code development process. So, for example, subcontractors will have to source separate their clean cut-offs from everything else, if they’re not already doing that.


It means having not one Dumpster on a job site, but many—each for a specific waste stream. General contractors will make the arrangements, and subcontractors that fail to comply could be subject to fines and surcharges.


“This may require a cultural change at your company,” says Michael Schmeida, director of codes, standards and research at the Gypsum Association. “You may have to police the Dumpster lot until source separation becomes natural for your crews.”

Sometimes a code authority making an inspection may come up with some special requirement, which is not required by the manufacturer.


“They’ll say, ‘I’d rather you build it this way,’” Alavi says. “We have to convince them that it’s not necessary to build it that way, or we have to just do a little extra and build it that way to move the process forward.”


Alavi says such extra work happens infrequently, perhaps less than 10% of the time on projects. But he says Marek will often ingratiate the inspector and do the extra work.  Doing so can help lower the inspector’s guard for those times when rebuilding something would be costly—and unnecessary—to meet the code.


“We want to be a good builder. And you don’t get to be a good builder over 80 years unless you do it the right way,” Alavi says. “We want to do it right the first time, and that means we need to train our workforce [on the codes] and have a sustainable workforce of craft professionals.”

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via

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