The NAHB, along with a coalition of building-oriented trade groups, has serious questions about the energy-saving goals and administrative provisions included in the House version of energy legislation passed last August.
The House bill is backed by John Dingell, the powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has stated that the proposed law is about “as easy and as mild” as Congress could make it.
The proposed legislation, which will be in conference this fall with the Senate-side energy bill, grants the federal DOE broad new powers to develop and amend building codes if they do not meet the new standards as set by the law.
The House's proposed law would require all new construction to be 30 percent more energy efficient by 2010 and 50 percent more efficient by 2020. The Senate energy bill deals with overall energy efficiency, but other than setting energy goals for federal buildings, has no specific provisions that focus on private commercial and residential construction.
“Our industry is suffering through a market correction and these proposed regulations on new construction have our members even more concerned,” says Elizabeth Odina, the NAHB's federal legislative director, who says the builders really question if the DOE has the resources to develop and manage building codes.
“If the DOE is allowed to write code language, it takes the responsibility from the private sector and puts it in federal hands,” says Sara Yerkes, senior vice president of government relations for the International Code Council, the voluntary standards group that's responsible for developing and updating commercial and residential building codes.
“About 15 or 20 years ago, there was a huge movement to change from government-developed standards to a voluntary consensus,” explains Yerkes. “There's a history that the federal government can't keep up with the changes in science and technology,” she adds.
The Alliance to Save Energy, a Washington-based environmental group that lobbied hard for the Dingell bill, says that if the bill is enacted, in 2030 the new codes will have reduced total energy usage by 5 percent, which would save consumers $50 billion in energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 million tons of carbon.
“This is like taking 70 million cars off the road,” says Lowell Ungar, director of policy for the Alliance to Save Energy.
“People don't always realize that the typical home results in more greenhouse gas emissions than automobiles,” he explains, adding that more than half the electricity generated nationwide is from environmentally unfriendly coal plants.
Odina says that while the trade group supports saving energy, the builders question whether the 30 percent and 50 percent goals are workable and technically feasible.
For example, significant above-code increases require homes to be more airtight, which make ventilation specifications (added exhaust fans) extremely important, often mandatory, thus reducing energy savings. Another concern is that the benchmarks set by the bill far exceed a variety of already successful programs, most notably the Energy Star program managed by the DOE.
“Energy Star homes are significantly below the 30 percent and 50 percent levels, as are Energy Star windows,” says Odina, who points out that the vast majority of windows on the market today would not meet the goals specified in the bill.
“Builders can't [add] on several thousand dollars worth of efficiency upgrades and just pass them on to home buyers,” she concludes, adding that builders met personally with Dingell when the House bill was in markup and are hopeful that some of the points they raised will be considered.
WHAT THE DINGELL BILL MEANS Here are some of the concerns the NAHB has regarding Dingell's energy bill.
Economic: Using average incomes and mortgage qualifying information across the country, the NAHB has determined that every $1,000 increase in the cost of a home prices out 240,000 potential home buyers.
Administrative: The DOE gains new authority to amend any updated code or standard that does not meet the efficiency targets set in the new law, thus undermining the existing voluntary consensus system.
Technical: The benchmarks set far exceed a variety of successful existing programs. For example, most green building programs would not reach the 50 percent benchmark set for 2020.