When I moved back to Washington, D.C., last summer, I fully expected to become immersed in the political realm. Having lived in the District roughly 10 years before, I knew that it would be almost inescapable. I must admit, however, that I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Within five months, my mind was awash in codes and legislation—specifically building codes and legislation. However, I couldn’t pin this development on my new location, as I was sure I was not alone in my focus.

Just weeks into the new year, building codes became very big news across the globe as Haiti was quite literally shaken to its core by a catastrophic earthquake, which left in its wake a stunning amount of humanitarian and infrastructural devastation. Just more than a month later, an earthquake of even higher magnitude struck Chile. While there are myriad differences between the two events and locales, such as the distance of the quake epicenters to major metropolitan areas and the economic strength and developed status of each nation prior to each quake, the two events have raised much discussion around the globe regarding the importance of building codes and, more specifically, building code enforcement.

In additon to this international focus on building codes and regulations comes an unrelated number of sustainable building code releases and updates. Although these developments are not directly related to the Haitian and Chilean disasters, they certainly relate to overall discussion of the impact of building codes and standards on day-to-day construction and design.

As reported online in January and highlighted in our newsletter last month, California kicked off 2010 with the unanimous passage of its Green Building Standards Code, otherwise known at Calgreen. The mandatory code, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2011, aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and water use, and will affect all new buildings in the state. With its passage came a stream of both positive and negative feedback from the architecture community and this month, Marc J. Cohen, sustainability director at MVE Institutional, a subsidiary of national planning, architecture, and interiors firm MVE & Partners, has penned an opinion piece on the new legislation for eco-structure.com. Read it here.

The beginning of the year also brought forth the release of Standard 189.1, a new standard crafted by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Subtitled the “Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings,” it aims to set mandatory criteria related to site sustainability, water use, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and a building’s environmental impact. Focusing on the total sustainable package of a building, the standard is written in code-friendly language that is intended to facilitate its adoption into local codes. As a quick primer, Eco-Structure asked Kent Peterson, chief engineer at P2S Engineering in Long Beach, Calif., chairman of the Standard 189.1 committee and past ASHRAE president, to provide some background on the new standard. His technology essay, along with a quick snapshot at the basic areas addressed by Standard 189.1, titled “Natural Progression,"is now online.

Plan for code discussions to continue into the spring, too. The middle of this month is scheduled to see the release of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC), an integrated green code for traditional and high-performance green building designed for integration and coordination with international codes already enforced by government code officials across all 50 states. And in other regulatory news, the USGBC released a Top 10 list of pending legislation in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that are set  to advance green building. Included among the list are bills that create financing for home and building owners to make efficiency improvements, increase incentives for improving existing building stock, and encourage job growth and training in fields such as building energy management and retrofits. See the entire list here.