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Why We Dropped Our Home Builders' Association Membership

April 26, 2017

 

This year, we dropped our area home builders’ association membership.  The pricey $1,000 annual fee was certainly a consideration – no small expense for a professional membership.

 

But the bigger reason is that the parent organization, the National Association of Home Builders, is a deterrent and reversionary agent against building practices, codes and regulations that reduce carbon emissions and thus, climate change.

 

Last year alone, the NAHB was in the top 3 percent for lobbying, spending $4.4 million to push the organization’s agenda.  In fact, the NAHB opposes nearly any improvements that require change – like sprinklers in multi-family buildings, safer ventilation for airtight homes and raising homes in flood plains.

 

This is particularly true when it comes to the energy efficiency of buildings.  The NAHB doesn’t like building-code jurisdictions telling its members what to do, and the organization comes out hard against anything mandatory, especially when it comes to sustainable building. 

 

The words “voluntary” and “energy-efficiency” are so intertwined in the organization’s policy handbook, they’re practically hyphenates.   The word “voluntary” pops up 25 times throughout the 82-page document – 18 times alone (72 percent) in the energy efficiency and sustainable building practice section.

 

ECONOMIC JUSTIFICATION - The construction sector is a gauge and cornerstone of economic well-being.  Yet the NAHB routinely uses the terms “technical feasibility and economic justification” as rationales to thwart advancement in any part of the residential building codes, especially energy efficiency. 

 

The term “economic justification” is fuzzy and presents false, incomplete accounting, presumably meaning the first costs for builders (i.e., NAHB members).  Some of the major costs of carbon and energy missing from the NAHB calculus are higher energy bills for inefficient homes (thus increasing the risk of mortgage default), a price-per-ton for carbon emissions (currently traded on voluntary markets here in the United States), and social costs of carbon (like more respiratory illness and related healthcare costs, decreased agricultural productivity, and property damage from super storms).  All of these subsequent costs and considerations occur after a home or building is finished and sold.

 

On the contrary, we routinely see builders build highly efficient homes and buildings, a number of which are net-zero energy (energy use completely offset by renewables), and remain price-competitive in the marketplace.  

 

NATIONAL FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM – The NAHB pushes back on design features to protect homes in flood plains, like raising the level of homes two feet.

 

The dirty little secret about the NFIP, overseen by FEMA, is that taxpayers foot the bill for the deeply discounted insurance.  As of 2014, the NFIP was $24 billion in debt, and yet NAHB resists measures that safeguard homes built in high-risk areas, especially with increasing frequency and severity of super storms and king tides.  If a vulnerable home lies at grade and gets flooded by storm surge, too bad.  The cost to replace the home has been offloaded to taxpayers.  (2016.8 No. 3)

 

FIRE – The 2015 IRC (International Residential Code) requires sprinkler, fire-suppression systems in all new residential construction.  While a number of folks (us included) question the necessity of $15,000-plus sprinkler systems in single-family homes, NAHB comes out against something as seemingly non-debatable as sprinklers in multi-family structures (2002.6)

 

CLEAN POWER PLAN – NAHB supports the current administration’s dismantling of the CPP.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency created the Clean Power Plan to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  The plan is intentionally vague about how emissions are reduced, though it’s largely targeted at the biggest sources – power plants and generators.  The NAHB supports the rollback of the CPP, citing that it will drive up the cost of home ownership.

 

Several studies have been conducted on the price of electricity under the CPP, however, and most agree that the price of power will actually drop.  This makes big sense given the backdrop of solar electric’s plummeting costs.  In fact, renewable energy is currently levelized with fossil fuels in 20 states, and by 2020 (the end of the current president’s term), will be at parity in 42 states

 

NAHB supports the status quo, averse to possibly higher standards for building energy efficiency, with no supportable view about the cost of power – left in the lap of homeowners post closing.  (NAHB Now)

 

UTILITY OVERREACH – Unless you’re Tesla, being in the utility business right now is challenging to put it mildly.  Solar adoption is growing faster in the United States, with “behind-the-meter” batteries set to follow the same meteoric adoption arc. 

 

As carbon-based fuels have come uncompetitive with renewable energy, utilities are stuck with dirty, coal-fired power plants and inefficient transmission lines, which needlessly lose power as heat.  The conventional utility model is a sinking ship, and those that intend to survive are reinventing their businesses - fast.

 

The NAHB supports ALL utility ratepayers share in the recovery cost of “stranded investments” (those 20th century dirty-coal power plants).  What NAHB is effectively saying is that new-energy customers (solar and wind) shouldn’t get off scot-free for the utility’s aging, inadequate infrastructure, regardless of whether the utilities are upgrading their analog facilities.  (1997.1 No. 15)

 

DECLAW THE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY – NAHB advocates stripping the Department of Energy –the source for all things energy – of the ability to create national energy-efficiency codes or prescriptions.  This has historically been the domain of the DOE.  Ironically, the push for greater energy efficiency in homes and buildings began in 2006, under President George W. Bush – a Republican cozy with the fossil-fuel industry.  (2009.5 No.1)

 

Not only does NAHB not advocate for homeowners beyond the sale of a home, it asks that punishment be levied against over-achieving sub-national entities (states and individual building-department jurisdictions) seeking to raise the bar.

 

WITHHOLD HUD GRANTS & LOANS – If a home or project surpasses building codes, the NAHB has asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development to withhold grants from those states. (1992.5 No. 19)

 

ARRA FUNDING – Back in the early days of the recession when President Obama was trying to jump-start the economy, states receiving American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money were required to raise their levels of energy efficiency to the 2006 energy codes for homes and 2007 for commercial buildings.  NAHB opposed this, too. (2011.9 No. 3)

 

Do we believe the NAHB is a good organization for its members?  Probably, for those comfortable with convention.  But with climate change's looming tipping points, intransigent stances such as these are positions we can no longer afford.

 

 

PHOTOS:  (mid) NAHB Chair Granger McDonald and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at a meeting in March 2017.  (low) Clip from NAHB Now about the administration's decision to roll back the Clean Power Plan.

 

 

 

 

 

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