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Green Building Curmudgeon

When Will They Ever Learn?

Simple measures can dramatically improve building efficiency, but NAHB and NAR are fighting Congressional action to require higher performance.

Once again, the obstructionists are hard at work. According to a recent article in The Hill, a nonpartisan, nonideological daily paper for and about Congress, climate and energy bills currently clawing their way through Congress are meeting stiff resistance from several industry groups, including the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the National Association of Realtors (NAR). In basic terms, the bill would require new homes to be 30% more energy efficient by 2010, and 50% by 2014. In letters to representatives, the various trade groups claim the bill “makes faulty or unproven economic and technical assumptions about the viability of achieving certain energy-efficiency targets for buildings and homes.”

What planet do they live on?

According to the article in The Hill, “The trade groups say they support efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes and businesses but that the codes are better left to local and state officials to set and enforce. Those codes have already been updated. One lobbyist involved in the effort said finding additional energy savings will be difficult.”

The fact that NAHB, which is madly promoting the new National Green Building Standard and its practical and affordable methods, can claim that “additional energy savings will be difficult” is hard to swallow. I wish that the organization would deliver a more coordinated public message.

Are we looking at the next GM and Chrysler?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many builders and remodelers who are well established in the green-building sector are doing better than contractors who are building in traditional ways. Consumer demand is there, the cost of creating more efficient buildings is minimal, and the benefits for all concerned are well documented. These industry groups digging in and fighting against energy efficiency is alarmingly similar to US auto companies spending decades fighting fuel-efficiency standards—and look where that’s gotten them!

I feel that the factions at NAHB and NAR that are fighting increased energy efficiency standards should reconsider those positions, particularly while others at those same organizations are working hard to support more sustainable construction through programs such as the National Green Building Standard. My hope is that we can stop fighting, come to a level of agreement, and allow everyone to benefit from better home construction and renovation.

22 Comments

  1. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #1

    Update - Here is the letter to Congress from NAHB, NAR, etc.
    May 19, 2008

    Honorable Henry Waxman, Chairman
    Committee on Energy and Commerce
    U.S. House of Representatives
    2125 Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, D.C. 20515

    Honorable Joe Barton, Ranking Member
    Committee on Energy and Commerce
    U.S. House of Representatives
    2322A Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, D.C. 20515

    Dear Chairman Waxman and Ranking Member Barton:

    The undersigned groups are in strong opposition to Title 2, Section 201 (Greater Efficiency in Building Codes) of H.R. 2454 - American Clean Energy Security Act of 2009. The proposal, as currently written, makes faulty or unproven economic and technical assumptions about the viability of achieving certain energy efficiency targets for buildings and homes. Additionally, the proposal creates new authority for the federal government to police building codes; holds developers and owners of buildings - including homeowners -- liable for not reaching federal energy efficient mandates even if the buildings are presumably in compliance with applicable local building codes; and establishes a civil penalty for violators of this section of the bill. This measure would have a chilling effect on development and property transfer across the spectrum of real properties.

    Our organizations share your desire to improve the energy efficiency of our nation's built environment. Evidence of our commitment comes from the significant improvements in energy efficiency demonstrated by all sectors of real estate. Despite the major energy efficiency accomplishments gained in recent years, we believe that much more can and should be done. However, these energy efficient mandates require payback periods well beyond what is considered feasible for owners and developers and in many cases will create an economic deterrent to the construction of new buildings.

    Despite our understanding that this bill would encourage and support states to update their building codes, this new draft actually mandates state compliance with very real and severe penalties. Ultimately, states that are not in compliance with the new building codes will forfeit emissions allowances under this bill and other federal funding if they determine that the targets of the national building codes are too aggressive. Developers, owners and sellers of buildings and homes that are in compliance with a state or local building code, but not in compliance with the new national building code, will face unspecified federal civil penalties - even the prospect of having sales transactions rescinded by a federal court.

    For the reasons stated above and until such time as we have the opportunity to agree upon a workable approach to the issues raised, we must oppose enactment of Section 201 of Title 2 in this legislation. We hope to work with you and your respective staffs as this legislation moves forward in the hopes of addressing these concerns.

    Sincerely,

    Building Owners and Managers Association, International International Council of Shopping Centers, NAIOP, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, National Apartment Association, National Association of Home Builders, National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, National Association of Realtors, National Multi Housing Council, The Real Estate Roundtable

  2. jeffrey24 | | #2

    NAHB
    No one should be surprised. The NAHB has never done more than greenwash. The GBI is an attempt by industrial homebuilders to benefit from "green" marketing without any real change. Like we used to say about the US Forest Service, "The appearance of careful management is really the careful management of appearance."

  3. user-282515 | | #3

    No, They Will Never Learn
    The NAHB will always act in the economic interest of the homebuilding industry. Currently, the homebuilding industry is doing everything they can to cheapen their already questionable products, and the NAHB will be their lobbying voice to aid and abet this offense.

    Case in point, the following is a letter I recently received from Drees Homes:

    Dear Trade Contractor,

    As you all know, we are currently suffering through the worst economic crisis since the 1930's. Every company's goal in these unprecedented times is simply to survive. The Drees Company has the ability to withstand the onslaught being dished out by our customers, provided we can drive costs out of our product to help us sustain a reasonable level of sales activity. We have notified many of you in the past about the serious and competitive nature of what is happening in the supply and labor markets. We have recently had to make some excruciating decisions to replace some long time trade partners and friends because they did not take the warning that was given seriously enough. In an effort to protect your business with Drees, I feel it is best to simply be direct.

    We are currently in the middle of an aggressive price shopping exercise, involving all trades, in order to see what the market has to offer. We are finding some sobering realities in most areas. Our goal is not to lose you as a partner. We have decided that rather than have you guess and submit to us reductions that you are comfortable with, we will tell you where you need to be, to not be at risk.

    We need a 10% reduction in the cost of our homes. If your company cannot give up 10% from your existing purchase orders, there is a strong likelihood you will be replaced. This is not meant to sound cold, but rather to give you an opportunity to make a conscious decision about whether you can afford to maintain our work. I know this will be a difficult time and one without profitability. I can assure you we are in the same predicament. I can also assure you that with every downturn there is an upturn and those who are left standing will have great opportunities and profitable years ahead. If you choose not to come forth with the 10% reduction in price and roll the dice that your pricing is at a market low, consider this letter fair warning. There will be no other notice if you do not engage in our cost reduction efforts. If we have not received your commitment to contribute 10% by June 1st, we will assume you are willing to forfeit your work with our company for another qualified contractor who is willing to perform the work for less money and with comparable quality standards.

    These are difficult times beyond what most of us have faced in the years past. I hope you can realize that I am sending this letter in an effort to maintain you as a business partner and not to threaten you out of being one. I want nothing more than for your company and ours to survive this downturn together so we can once again enjoy the certain good times that lie ahead. I will also understand if your company cannot withstand this type of concession and will in no way take your decision personally.

    I hope you will take this letter in the strictest business sense. Drees will survive this downturn and I hope you will be there with us along the way.

    Sincerely,

    Ronald M. Schroeder,
    President, Nashville Region

    Collectively, homebuilders are “driving the costs out of their products” by further cutting quality, durability, efficiency, indoor air quality, specifications and workmanship. Furthermore, they are fully aware that the price they are willing to pay for work will not result in any profitability for the contractors performing the work. Are these the conditions under which anyone would want to have a home constructed?

    For the past few years, it has been bad enough that consumers did not care about the lack of quality in the homebuilding industry because they were profiting from it. Imagine what we will get now that builders are intentionally and purposefully reducing the quality of an already questionable product. Throw in the fact that the subcontractors who were somewhat qualified to work on these homes are being driven out of the market and are being replaced by less qualified subcontractors who are guaranteed to not make a profit, and we have a real recipe for disaster.

    The uneducated public will think they are getting the deal of a lifetime. They will be wrong.

  4. MICHAEL CHANDLER | | #4

    "Never done more than greenwash?"
    Jeffrey

    I certainly agree with you that no one should be surprised that the official NAHB stance is for business as it used to be. But I think you are painting a complex and multi-faceted organization with an awfully broad brush to say that we've never done more than greenwash.

    The NAHB is no more a uniform culture than the state you live in. We have inept and backwards members, and forward thinking and committed members and folks who are just in it for the discount on the workers comp insurance. The evolution of the green building initiative has been thoughtful and significant and bringing the building inspectors to the table for the creation of the National Green Building Standard was brilliant.

    Climb down into the trenches and take a good hard look at the state of the building industry today and the work that needs to be done to educate and motivate folks to build better and you'll have a better understanding of the challenge those of us working within the NAHB are facing ever day.

    Yes, the original GBI was very simplified. But it did get a lot of builders into the green building game and the vast majority of those were small regional builders, not big industrial builders, and we have been very successful at getting a message out about the value of third party certification and stepping beyond Energy Star (motto: "15% better than criminal")

    The simple fact is that it's difficult to measure your performance and make thoughtful improvements without third party certification. It's hard to get people to pay money to take a test that they are likely to fail. We've created a system where it is easy to get a "D" and seems possible for any conscientious and motivated individual to raise that score to a "B" and maybe even an "A" given the right client and team.

    Sign into my webcast next Thursday and hit me with your most skeptical questions. I'm part of the NAHB and I'm not a greenwasher.

  5. michael anschel | | #5

    Let's not fool ourselves
    Are there many faces to the NAHB? Yes.

    Are there good people there? Yes (I like think I am one of them).

    Are they all Green Washers? No.

    Is the issue confusing because the many faces of the NAHB are all presented as being NAHB. Does the Green standard that was developed to mesh with ICC code language carry the name NAHB? Yes.

    Is the NAHB Green standard a highly flawed document? Yes.

    Is it really tantamount to Green Washing? Yes.

    Is the Green Approved Products (which was developed based on the standard) a huge Green Washing exercise? Holy crap, Yes.

    Is it hypocritical for the NAHB to say "take our standard seriously we really want to build Green" and then go out and oppose legislation based on the false claim that the ability to build 30% better than 2006 energy code is "technically unproven"? (seriously folks, do I need to answer that one).

    The fact is that the NAHB Green standard is EXACTLY like the code. It represents a "D" in Green building. As Carl has rightly pointed out, one of the biggest concerns is that well intentioned builders will "think" they are building Green when in fact they are not.

    Come to think of it, can anyone think of another industry that would promote or accept a "D"? Imagine if the best we asked of our children was to get a "D" in school. "Well Timmy, a "B" would be nice, but that would require study, preparation, testing.." How did we ever convince consumers to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for a "D" and get away with it? At least when you bought a Yugo you knew what you were buying!

    And please, don't bring up the ANSI consensus process as some kind of legitimizing feature. The only thing it does is confirm that a process was followed in creating the standard. It does not speak to content. Design by committee is the surest possible way to destroy any potential impact and meaning. All you get is: White-tasteless-soupy-mush that delivers the bare minimum nutritional value required to live made with the cheapest possible ingredients, and approved to not do too much harm. Come to think of it, that sounds like the NAHB Green Standard…

  6. homedesign | | #6

    PassivHaus
    Why don't we all quit wasting our time and just adpot Passivhaus?

  7. michael anschel | | #7

    PassivHaus folly
    Because PassivHaus is limited in climate range and is not suitable for the way the majority of American's live their lives. We should build with AAC! Or better yet, quit building....

  8. MICHAEL CHANDLER | | #8

    Lets not fool ourselves
    Sounds like I'll be facing a lynching squad when I do my talk next Thursday. I think I'm ready for it. Seriously, I see the NAHB standard as training wheels for green building much more that green washing.

    I certainly don't consider Energy Star to be green washing just because it's threshold is a meager 15% better than criminal. It's done a lot of good and I believe that the NAHB standard will do a lot of good as well.

    It's no substitute for, or competition to, LEED-h or DOE Builders Challenge or Passivhaus but I see it as an important part of a solution to a very big problem in the same way as Energy Star has been a very important player in improving the way America builds homes and appliances.

    Let me tell a brief story about why I believe in this "training wheels standard" so strongly. For many years I've been good friends with a third-generation home builder from Chicago. A few years back I cringed as he complained about the city raising wall R-value minimums from 13 to 15.

    Recently he took my class and got his GBP and I got a few phone calls about spray foam and indoor air quality. And then I got an E-mail where he talked about starting in the building business with his dad some forty-five years ago and he said "this green building stuff has really opened my eyes, I haven't been this excited about building since I first started."

    We're not going to get through to guys like that with LEED-h or Passivhaus and somehow even Energy Star didn't connect for him. But NAHB spoke his language and now he's getting his homes certified and he's excited about making them better.

    I'm glad the way you build has no use for training wheels. I'm beyond that too. But I only build four or five homes a year and no matter how well I build them they can only have a minimal impact on the problem. We need to get green building out to the multitudes and criticizing people who use training wheels is not a part of the solution.

    We have 15 minutes dedicated to Q&A at next week's webinar, sign in and let me have it with both barrels.

  9. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #9

    Training wheels
    Michael - My issues with the NAHB standard are not that it has an easy entry point. What worries me about it is that it allows builders to go as far as Silver, and possibly even Gold without any performance testing, and obtain points for things that are no better than code, and in some cases not even remotely green, such as installing garbage disposals. If they required performance testing rather than just visual inspections, I would feel much differently about it. As I said, if a builder wants to create a high performance home under the standard, they definitely can, but many builders, some unwittingly, may build homes that they can have certified that simply do not meet any reasonable definition of green. And I don't believe I have been criticizing the riders of those bikes with training wheels, rather my problems are with the people who make those training wheels, because while bike training wheels probably help kids learn how to ride, I am concerned that the Standard may be hindering rather than helping builders learn to build green the way it is currently written.

    Hopefully there will be some changes that will step up the minimum standards. And if Congress passes the energy bill as it is currently written almost all green building programs will have to be revised to stay ahead of new building codes. Looking forward to some shootin' next week.

  10. user-282515 | | #10

    2nd Place Is the First Loser
    I am an NAHB Accredited Green Building Verifier and I tell builders that I work with that building to the Standard is only one small step on a long road. I don't even really consider the Standard to be training wheels - because 99% of all builders ask me the same question: What is the least amount we can do to be able to call ourselves green builders? The general answer I tell them is that if their houses do not perform, then they wasting their (and my) time.

    So, this brings up another question - Do we need to be aggravated at those that make the training wheels, or those who are afraid to even get on the bike?

    The vast majority of "builders" don't really build anything, at least in a technical sense. All of the physical work is performed by subcontractors. From an article titled Chasing Ground by Jon Gertner, published October 16, 2005:

    “These subcontractors answer to a team of Toll executives at every site who are trained to see a community's physical manifestation as part of the larger process of packaging and selling the American dream. ''We're really a marketing company that happens to build houses,'' Doug Yearley told me.”

    To me, this IS the heart of the problem. Training wheels are fine for those that want to learn and improve. Practice makes them better at it. The desire to get an "A" instead of accepting a "D" is required keep improving. Doing what it takes to get an "A", well that is what separates the leaders from the wannabes. Marketing firms have no business building anything.

  11. MICHAEL CHANDLER | | #11

    Performance testing
    So do you actually know of any NAHB or other certified green builders who are not also Energy Star builders? I don't. If by performance testing what you mean is duct blaster and blower door testing then that is covered by the HERS rater when they do Energy Star which all the green builders I know who are in our system do as a companion to the NAHB program and get points for as part of that program.

    I have an open access account at http://www.NAHBgreen.org
    Log-in as "[email protected]" password "chandler"
    Create a new project, and show me how you can get to silver without blower door testing.

    I've got a project called "Danny's house" there that is what I believe is the cheapest you can do to get to bronze without blower door testing (It does require flow hood testing which could be part of the HVAC spec.) Light green? sure, it's training wheels. Greenwashing? I honestly don't see the point in calling it that.

    I think "Danny's house" is pretty close to Energy Star. Certainly it's a big step up from code minimum and I think there is value to getting builders to pay for a report card even if it is only a hundred and fifty bucks.

    Maybe the dis-connect here is that I feel confident enough about the homes I'm building that I'm not threatened by the guy cross town who has subs assembling log home kits with low VOC finishes and a demand water heater and getting them certified as green and Energy Star. We can't educate him if he's not in the class room getting a report card.

    As far as marketing companies building homes, well I'm no fan of Toll Brothers but Sam Adams makes pretty good beer and Suburu makes a pretty good car. Both of those companies were marketing companies that hired subcontractors to build their products.

    Stay aggravated at NAHB, they're constantly cringe-worthy, but stick with the battle because it's not going to be won by folks like me who only build four or five homes a year.

  12. user-282515 | | #12

    Winning the Battle
    Even though there is a difference of opinion on the best path to get there, I believe all of us here have the same goal in mind – build better quality homes. Like it or not, the big production builders (marketing companies) build the vast majority of homes in this country, and their focus is on marketing, not quality construction. You are right that the small builder will have little impact on changing the way things are done and we should all keep focused on the overall goal.

    When working with builders, we are not asking them to go from using conventional building techniques that are often haphazard and wasteful with little forethought and planning to the pinnacle of being green. We are telling them they should simply start by building homes that provide protection, safety, comfort, durability, good indoor environmental quality for the occupant’s health, and energy efficiency to minimize operational costs. The problem that I run into is that most builders do not care about these things because they benefit the end-user. This is short-sighted, I know, but we are working with an industry that is only focused on maximizing profit or increasing shareholder value. Change does not come easy, unless it happens to drive cost out of the end product.

    Personally, I think building green involves much more than the starting points listed above. I kind of like Janine Benyus’s idea that when we build, what we build should perform equally as well as the ecosystem we are replacing. Try asking a builder the following questions and watch the look on their face:

    1. Does this house improve human and ecological health, resilience, and viability?
    2. Does it increase natural capital, biodiversity, and ecosystem goods and services?
    3. Does it increase secure access to food and water?
    4. Does this house enhance urban space for both people and natural processes?
    5. Does it help to transform our infrastructure from fossil fuel-driven to solar/wind powered?
    6. Does it conserve open space, wilderness and natural resources?
    7. Does it increase life quality and substantive life choices for present and future generations?

    Simply put, we would never get a builder to participate in a green building program that used these 7 categories as the rating criteria. That leaves us with training, and maybe training wheels. The consumer needs to know the differences in rating systems (bronze is not as good as gold) and an Energy Star certification with a HERS rating of 85 is the bare minimum score to qualify. I think the problem, if there really is one, with NAHB or any other rating organization, is in building credibility and establishing differentiation without transparency and proof points. Over-hyping the achievement of reaching the first couple of rungs on the ladder has the potential to hurt the relevance of what we are doing.

    Much of my work involves production builders, and that is often the source of my frustration. I do not understand why anyone would not want to work under a philosophy of continuous improvement. It is refreshing to see some, like Michael, that do.

  13. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #13

    Certification without Testing
    Michael - I am a verifier, and I am currently working on a multifamily project that is slated to meet Silver certification without any performance testing. The visual inspections I am performing are definitely stepping up the quality of their work, particularly in the area of grade 1 insulation, air sealing, and duct sealing, but as the developer is very cost conscious, they have opted to go the prescriptive path, allowing them to certify without blower door and duct blaster tests. I am requiring that they meet all the criteria of the program, but it is not my place, or even my responsibility, to make them exceed any program minimum requirements. I wish that they were required to go further, but the Standard, as it currently exists, is what we are certifying to. My client is well intentioned, but they have found a path to certification that fully meets the criteria of the Standard, and, while economical for them, is, in my option not stringent enough.

  14. bsismymo | | #14

    Get on the Train, or Get Hit by It
    One of the strongest images for me that came out of this year's NAHB Green conference was during a panel session, in which a builder came up to the mic and asked point blank if the NAHB would fully get behind green building and help design effective energy and green building legislation, because legislation was inevitably coming. He had been building for 30+ years in New Mexico, was a 2030 advocate, and had been bought in to energy efficiency and better building practices since before I was born. His point -- if builders do not want to see the government creating green building legislation, why don't the builders do it themselves? If anyone has the body of knowledge to pull from and members with decades of experience building energy efficient, "green" homes, its the NAHB. As he spoke, he looked to me like a conductor pointing to a train coming down the tracks and offering us two options. A whistle could have blown in the sobering pause that followed.

    Legislation may very well turn the tides and get all these programs to up their game, at least in terms of Energy Efficiency. But I currently work with over 40 builders all persuing green certification for their homes, most of them building their first "green" home. I agree that the National Green Building Standards needs improvement, but its already an improvement from the Green Building Guidelines. YET even under the Guidelines, every builder I have worked with has had to change something in order to qualify.

    If you can figure out how to participate in LEED, you will build a pretty good green house. Lord knows they have rules enough to make sure you do. But LEED is not transforming the market, and at least training wheels get you on the bike. Get on the bike, steer on over to the USGBC and get some fancier tires. That would be a nice ride.

  15. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #15

    Thanks for all the Great Discussion
    I'm glad that I was able to stimulate such excellent discourse on this important subject. One thing that I want to clarify is my position on builders vs. the NAHB, as well as groups within the NAHB. The main point in the original post was the organizational schizophrenia I see there. They invest time and money developing and marketing green programs and training members, and a contingent within the organization is honestly and seriously dedicated to improving the quality of housing. Then they have the old guard, protectionist contingent that fights tooth and nail against any changes to the status quo that might require the industry to make their product better. It is that contingent that I have a problem with. Although I would like them to support the energy bill, I would be happy if they just didn't fight it. If they would stop being obstructionists and, as Jamie said, just get on the train, I would be happy. Unfortunately for them (and us, if they succeed), if they don't they will end up like the domestic auto industry, most of which seems to just have been hit by a train.

  16. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #16

    Check out this link for another take on the subject.
    http://www.remodeling.hw.net/blogs/postdetails.aspx?BlogId=manschelblog&PostId=87634

  17. homedesign | | #17

    NAHB Bashing
    Michael C... as usual you are a voice of reason.
    I just have to say that I am frustrated with what I see at our local continuing ed classes at the HAB ...
    There are a handful of builders that get it .. but for the most part they are there for the designation not the education.

    Usually there is no test given at the end...if there is a test... the questions are a joke or the instructor gives out the answers wink..wink
    I have seen a high ranking "certified" builder build a tight home with an open flue water heater inside the conditioned space.
    I had to bring the snafu to his attention.
    Maybe we should "keep our enemies close"....before somebody dies
    And yes..even incremental improvements are improvements .. so we can not just give up

  18. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #18

    Part of a pattern
    For those who missed it, here's a link to a news story on NAHB's vigorous lobbying to defeat the proposed Thirty Percent Solution last summer in Minneapolis:
    https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-news/energy-code-gets-slightly-more-stringent

  19. MICHAEL CHANDLER | | #19

    If it was easy...
    If we care about climate change and improving the way America builds and remodels homes we need to be willing to go shoulder to shoulder with many different types of people and to endure some losses and humiliation.

    Its great fun to build elegant, high performance homes and thankfully they are still selling well in my market. And it's easy to throw rocks at the obstructionist elements with in NAHB and God knows they deserve it. But the right thing for me at least is to get in shoulder to shoulder with the folks who aren't yet building green and drag them onto the train.

    What do we have to gain from criticizing our fellow builders for not building up to our definition of green-ness? It's fun, sure, and we get to feel even better about the cool stuff we build. But how much more do we all have to gain by working with them to help them improve their systems?

    We all dream of a day when every home will be a green home. To get to that point requires hard work and a strong stomach. It's not enough to be on the train, we need to reach out and pull others in with us.

  20. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #20

    I Know it Isn't Easy
    Michael - I appreciate all the effort you put into promoting sustainable buildings. I try to do as much of it myself. In the process, I attempt to point out the problems in the process that I see while trying to avoid criticism of individuals or groups that are making an honest effort to do the right thing. It seems as though the intent of this original post has been distorted from a valid criticism of a position the NAHB has taken (against the energy bill) into a slight against builders who are learning to build green. It is nothing of the sort. I have problems with the NAHB standard, as well as LEED, and most of the other programs out there, but I do believe that they are all attempting to accomplish something. I think that pointing out flaws in these programs is important to make people aware of them as well as push those with the power to make needed improvements.
    When I teach green building classes to professionals, I put my heart into it, always aiming to ignite in them the passion I have for it. During the review process on the Standard, I applied to be a member of the team but was not selected, and I made several suggestions and comments on various parts of the document during development. I am working hard to improve the industry the best way I know how, which includes criticism of groups that take positions I believe are counterproductive.

  21. marc.kleinmann | | #21

    Baby steps
    I just read through all the comments above and all of you have arguments that are correct. I agree that it is frustrating how many "holes" the new standard has and to see how much influence the large volume builders have in the NAHB. But let's not forget that any progress is better than no progress. I have my NAHB "Certified Green Professional" certification - took me two courses and a laughable test to get it. Currently studying to take my LEED AP at the end of the month - and it is brutal in comparison. But again, any progress is better than no progress. I can tell you that most of the guys that sat in my NAHB class were there because their boss forced them to, some of them very very argumentative about some of the programs features, a few were genuinely interested - BUT at least they were all there - the class was full. Same goes for the rating system. They started with the guidelines and now we have the standard, which I think nobody will argue - is a good step forward. Again - baby steps! My grandfather always used to say "slow down... Rome wasn't built in a day...". The one point I strongly agree on though is the NEED FOR PERFORMANCE TESTING. I think any building that shoots for certification, no matter from what rating system, should be allowed to carry a "green" label without it. In my case, we test all buildings no matter if they are going for a certification or not. It is the first step to identify the buildings weaknesses and should be used by anybody performing work on buildings.

    To end my post, a word about the big builders: Sometimes I think it would be beneficial if the large volume builders had their own association, because what they build and what I and I would argue a majority of small to mid-size companies build is a completely different product - even if they're all called houses.

  22. carpeverde | | #22

    Similar Observations at our Local Green Building Program
    Build San Antonio Green (BSAG), San Antonio's green building program, city, county, and utility funded, independently written, and endorsed by the Greater San Antonio Builders Association, experiences the same kind of accolades and brickbats that are apparent in the previous posts. I am an architect, and the technical coordinator of the family of BSAG programs. In the formative years of the process, I was fortunate to be chosen to be one of the 60+ stakeholders who co-wrote the NAHB Guidelines six years ago. From my perspective, I'm generally pleased with the resulting NAHB program and believe it's well targeted in it's initial form. Our first BSAG program, launched in 2004 came out of an eighteen month effort between my staff, homebuilders, utility representatives, and consultants from many fields. In the first year since launch, we were only able to certify four houses! I think around 8000 houses were built in and around San Antonio that year, so "abysmal" would be a generous way of summing up our results the first year out. The original program, still available, had great reviews from those in the green building movement who looked it over for us. It was a solid program, but it didn't have the "training wheels." In 2004, there was zero demand from the homebuyers asking for modest increases in housing costs that would result in more efficient, durable, healthier houses, and builders had no incentive to raise their costs even five to ten percent to deliver houses that might have approached what's now considered the Builder's Challenge target of 30% better than code-built. That would have been too risky for builders in the light of their competition, and I can't say as I blamed them. Besides, at the time, builders were enjoying being able to fairly easily sell everything they would build. I had to go back to the builders to find out what kind of changes they would like to see in our program to get them interested. The general response was something like, "Steve, you know that I'm going to build with non-FSC studs on slab on grade. Rather than trudge through the options in your program, you tell me what I need to do to get the minimum score necessary for you to consider the house being certified in your program." Our response was a slimmed down (but not greenwashed) version of the original program listing 32 requirements (including achieving an ENERGY STAR HERS Index of 85) allowing for substitutions in some of those 32 requirements if necessary. It's called the Level 1 program. That's our "training wheels," and it is now gaining acceptance. It's targeted for production builders and affordable/subsidized builders, but not limited to those markets. For houses priced for entry-level buyers, Level 1 certification is more accessible for projects that simply cannot afford going through the LEED-h process. It's flexible enough to cover the full range of new construction. For example, last year's Parade of Homes required Level 1 certification for all entries.

    Critics of our program or NAHB's program just have to understand the current market is not prepared for green building programs to start with a requirement for a minimum 30% improvement over code-built. It's too much to ask for now and still get wide participation. Codes will change. Demand will change. The best construction strategies for each climate zone will be documented and become widespread. New codes will require improvements from all builders, and green programs will adjust to stay ahead of the curve. Expansion of government and utility incentives in the form of tax credits and rebates need to be there as well to help fuel the train.

    It's the rate of change that's the question. No one knows for sure what the new automobile and truck fleet is going to perform like in the upcoming years. Same goes for housing patterns. Undoubtedly the rate of change will be too quick for some and not swift enough for others, but change is here. Buckle your seat belt.

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