The importance of off-site construction and energy codes
To start off Building Safety Month, Ryan Colker spoke on the importance of off-site construction and energy codes
To start off its 42nd annual Building Safety Month — a campaign led by the International Code Council and its members and partners every May to raise awareness about the importance of building codes and the role of building safety professionals in ensuring our communities remain safe, sustainable and resilient — Ryan Colker, vice president of innovation at the International Code Council, spoke on the importance of off-site construction and energy codes during a Facebook Live chat with Maxie Mottlowitz, social media manager for the Code Council, on Monday, May 2, 2022.
Here are excerpts of the conversation, edited for clarity and length:
Mottlowitz: Hello, everyone and thank you to whoever’s watching out there. My name is Maxie and I am the social media manager for the International Code Council. Today, I have our vice president of innovation, Ryan Colker, with us and he’ll be talking about the theme for week one of Building Safety Month: planning for a safe and sustainable tomorrow. We’re glad to have you here today. How long have you been with the Code Council?
Colker: Happy Building Safety Month. I’ve been with the Code Council for a little over three years now, serving as the vice president of innovation, which really means I get to look at some of the cool things that are going on within the industry and really support folks within the building safety community to address some of the challenges that we’re seeing out there.
Mottlowitz: Can you tell us a little bit about green building and what it is?
Colker: Yes, green building is being deliberate about the performance of buildings, relative to sustainability. It’s thinking about things like water conservation, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, the impact that buildings have on the site and surrounding community, and even thinking about the impact that buildings have on the occupants themselves. It’s about really being deliberate and ensuring that buildings are not only meeting the needs of today but also addressing some of the challenges that we’ll face in the future.
Mottlowitz: And how does green building support energy efficiency and innovation?
Colker: People are looking at new opportunities to address sustainability broadly. And they are thinking about new materials and new processes, but also diving specifically into energy-related issues and really looking at delivering the necessary services that buildings provide every day; but using less energy to do it. They are looking at things like zero-energy buildings where the building itself generates as much energy on-site as it uses. So that at the end of the year, you’ve offset all of your energy use through the deployment of things like renewable energy, solar energy and those sorts of things.
Mottlowitz: And what is off-site construction? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Colker: Off-site construction is really one of those innovative strategies that help address many of the different challenges that communities are facing. At its core, off-site construction is about developing the building project itself within a factory setting, whether that’s a panelized system or a volumetric system where everything is done in the factory itself and then shipped to the job site and assembled. If you think about things like affordable housing challenges, off-site construction can really help address some issues by getting more housing to the market quicker. Tiny houses for instance, can be a form of off-site construction. And looking at some of the other broader issues that the building industry is addressing — such as the availability of a workforce — a factory setting is a much more conducive environment than hanging off the side of a skyscraper in Minneapolis in the middle of winter. And then, there are the sustainability benefits that off-site construction provides as well. If you’re constructing in a factory environment, you can be much more deliberate about the materials you’re using; making use of what would normally be considered waste products. And you also don’t have the challenges of keeping materials out on a job site; subject to rain, snow, spoilage or other challenges that may ruin materials. You also have increased job site safety in a factory where you have a deliberate step-by-step process, whereas on a site-built project, you may have multiple tradespeople working in the same space, which could lead to job site safety challenges.
Mottlowitz: And touching base on the safety part, what special safety considerations would you say there are for off-site construction?
Colker: Speaking toward a factory setting, off-site allows for much more deliberate safety and training of specialized workers within the factory to advance safety. Typically, you have assistive technologies — cranes, forklifts, pneumatic tools and all of that — within the factory itself. Inside a factory, the most workers need to climb is a six-foot ladder. That’s really a benefit on the safety side. And of course, the assembly process itself at the final job site where you are able to leverage those technologies. If you think about a complex project in an urban area, you may have workers and equipment moving around that site for years, but the off-site construction process is really less disruptive to the community. You can get buildings up relatively quickly and that cuts down on incidents and safety-related issues as well.
Mottlowitz: Overall, we’ve talked about off-site construction, green building and energy efficiency. Is there anything else that you want to add?
Colker: Certainly, there are lots of exciting things going on within this space and within the industry to address a whole host of different challenges. Sustainability and off-site construction are the core of that. But there are also initiatives around community resilience as well; looking for holistic opportunities to support communities in the advancement of their resilience. We’ll certainly see continued resilience activities throughout the month and we’ll be providing a great opportunity to share what’s going on within the Code Council and the building safety community itself.
Mottlowitz: Well, thank you so much, Ryan. And thank you to everyone for watching.