There is an inherent tension between building codes and sustainability. Building codes have largely been generated as reactive documents; that is, they exist in reaction to problems that have arisen with buildings in the past and attempt to address issues to prevent reoccurrences. Builders concerned with sustainably tend to be looking forward, planning buildings to achieve goals that are not necessarily in the scope of most building codes. Put simply: sustainable builders often choose new materials, technologies, and assemblies that have little or no precedent in the codes. This can lead to problems, but it doesn’t have to. You will, however, have to consider code compliance very carefully. Important questions to consider include:
What elements of your building are considered“accepted solutions”?
Does your local code recognize each material, system, or assembly you are proposing?
What elements of your building are considered “alternative solutions”?
Does your code include a reference, appendix, or standard that covers the material or system you are proposing?
Does your code have an “alternative compliance pathway” for handling new materials or systems?
Are there local or regional precedents for your alternative solution(s)?
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Are there nearby code-approved examples of the exact material, system, or assembly you are proposing?
Are there nearby code-approved examples of similar materials, systems, or assemblies?
Are there code-approved examples in the same country? Internationally?
Do you understand the “threshold of evidence” required for alternative solutions in your jurisdiction?
What does your building department require of you in order to consider your alternative solution?
Have you researched tests, standards, and/or codes from other jurisdictions that would be admissible?
Do you have advocates who can help you with your alternative solution application?
Are there manufacturers, engineers, architects, or other knowledge-holders who are able to assist you?
Are there costs associated with obtaining this support?
Do you understand the procedure for alternative solutions in your jurisdiction?
Are there specific forms and/or steps involved?
What is the timeframe for having alternative solutions reviewed?
What is the appeal process should your application be denied?