Has NAHB Lost Its Advocacy Mojo? 

A broad coalition of stakeholders rose up to wrest the 2021 IECC building code process from special interest stranglehold.

A special kind of mental makeup and extraordinary self-discipline are required to truly immerse in the code development process.  For those with the aforementioned attributes, the whole undertaking can be fascinating and stimulating, like solving some intricate three-dimensional puzzle. But for everyone else, it would be hard to come up with an example of another activity that is as tedious and exhausting as sitting through long hours and endless days of sifting through data and information, parsing every word and sentence, and enduring the acrimony that inevitably results from having so many cooks in one kitchen at once.

With very few exceptions, the microcosm we know as the development process has reflected the way things are pretty much done in the wider world.  Namely, that those with something to gain or lose, with a promise of a bountiful harvest or an ox to be gored, enter the fray on behalf of their constituents, their companies, their communities, or their own passions, while the vast majority of everyone else is content to remain on the sidelines or completely ignore the spectacle entirely.

As a result, there is perhaps no better illustration of the stranglehold that special interests have on the eventual outcomes than the one we witness in this arena.  For most of the three-year cycles in recent memory the process and the final product have generally reflected the power of established players who have dedicated tremendous financial and human resources in efforts to protect their assets.  The 2021 IECC provided an altogether different result, and none of the usual participants was stung quite as severely as the homebuilding industry, or more accurately, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the portion of the industry they speak for.

When the dust began to settle after the online voting, NAHB, long a domineering presence casting a shadow over the proceedings, found itself in the unusual position of having taken a resounding beating.  Suddenly the code development process had come to the attention of other formidable entities.  States, municipalities, public sustainability departments and their employees, environmental groups and a wide variety of additional stakeholders joined energy efficiency advocates in pushing for higher energy performance in buildings.

NAHB, which had successfully controlled and stymied the rate of progress in residential energy efficiency by stubbornly preserving the status quo and even by repeatedly attempting to roll back performance standards in each code cycle for most of the past two decades, and who embedded into the building lexicon terms such as “onerous,” “government overreach,” and their own variation of “affordability” (their go-to substitute for “profitability”), has been left scrambling for explanations, alibis, and someone outside the organization to point the finger at for their failure to emerge victorious yet again.

On Monday, April 20, the association dispatched the following message:

ICC to Move Forward with 2021 Building Codes Despite NAHB Objections

The International Codes Council recently released its Final Action Report on proposed changes to Group B of its International Code, notably the International Residential Code and International Energy Conservation Code. The report did not address significant issues identified by NAHB after the online vote on the codes last fall and NAHB plans to appeal the decision.

NAHB sent a letter on Feb. 14 to ICC CEO Dominic Sims and President Greg Wheeler urging the building codes body to carefully reevaluate the validity of many approved voting officials, to reject two specific proposals as not meeting the intent of the energy code, and to reform some of its voting processes while retroactively reconsidering proposals that should not have been on the final ballot.

The results from the 2019 Online Governmental Consensus Vote, to determine 2021 building codes proposals, included several irregularities and discrepancies, specifically proposals for the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

Some aggressive energy efficiency proposals that had been defeated at prior committee hearings and public comment hearings were approved in the online vote. When proposals are defeated at both hearings, they must get greater than a two-thirds majority in the online vote to overturn past results. It’s a bar so high, no previous proposal had ever met the threshold with the online vote. But in this code cycle, 20 IECC proposals cleared the hurdle and came back to life.

The ICC Final Action Report left the results as reported after the online vote. The ICC found that all of its procedures had been correctly followed in the Group B development process.

While NAHB agrees that existing procedures were followed, staff believe those procedures were exploited, putting NAHB in a position to ask ICC to reconsider these proposals through their appeals process. Further, NAHB remains concerned that many of the codes changes will greatly reduce the functionality of the 2021 IECC and significantly impact housing affordability.

The deadline for an appeal is May 8.

NAHB is looking ahead to the development cycle for the 2024 codes, and is hopeful that the shortcomings of this cycle will be corrected so that the integrity of the ICC code development process, as well as the codes themselves, can continue to be the preeminent resource they are today.

For questions about the codes development process, please contact Craig Drumheller.

 

The newsletter provides readers an opportunity to submit comments.  Accordingly, I offered this response: 

 

In the opinion of this observer, what actually happened here is that NAHB simply got outmaneuvered and outworked. Once again, NAHB failed to authentically serve the best interests its members because it was outsmarted and beaten at its own game. The organization needs to take ownership of what it conveniently now refers to as “shortcomings of this cycle”.

Despite the early and ongoing concerns expressed by many familiar with the process, that online voting is a double edged sword which could come back to bite the association, NAHB had a questionable strategy in place to recruit building officials sympathetic to its positions and policies in order to further slant the playing field in their favor, trusting that it would benefit from “business as usual” as the code development cycle largely flew under the radar.

Instead, they laid their own trap by underestimating the vast number and inclinations of interested stakeholders out there who disagree with NAHB and who have code concerns that go well beyond the bottom-line financial interests of the organization’s core constituency. That arrogance and overconfidence ultimately came home to roost.

Despite the fact that NAHB enjoys an unfair advantage in the number of voting committee members it seats, as well as representation by a member on the powerful group that determined the fate of the challenges, someone who should have recused himself during those deliberations, the association now finds itself trying to recover from a resounding and humbling defeat in the recent code update cycle.

Sadly, and predictably, rather than taking ownership of its failed initiatives, NAHB now pursues a shameful strategy to discredit legitimate voters by questioning the validity of their participation and indicting the very process it has manipulated to its advantage for so long. It appears to be more about saving face after being humiliated than actually questioning the integrity of the results of the proceedings.

Yes, NAHB should feel embarrassed, but more importantly, it should be ashamed for this feeble attempt to shift the blame for its own miscalculation onto others who have just as much at stake as the industry and its trade groups.

Not surprisingly, my contribution has not been posted at this point and likely will not be going forward. That is not what really matters in this discussion.  What does matter and is worthy of our attention is the growing interest and involvement of public and private groups and individuals who see that there is so much more at stake than the profit levels of companies who cling to the arguments that focus only on first cost and the next sales cycle rather than full cost and the 1,200 energy bills that current and future owners, occupants and tenants will receive over the course of the projected 100 year life of those buildings, whether residential or commercial.

It has been suggested that a cat is hard to put back in the bag once it gets out. Now that the code development process is firmly on the radar screens of a whole new universe of stakeholders, it seems likely that these new participants will only become more active, not less, as time goes on.  All the denial in the world will not alter the fact that buildings, including homes, are essential to any future energy strategy that addresses environmental impacts, carbon emissions, climate change, and, yes, shelter that is sustainably affordable and secure. 

Members who are paying dues to NAHB for advocacy may want to rethink the value of their investment and give consideration to whether or not the archaic positions and policies peddled by the organization are being effectively promoted, and even more importantly, whether these obsolete and misguided strategies from the previous century accurately represent their best interests or even genuinely reflect their true positions.  Home building does not exist in a vacuum.  It is well past the time when the industry and those who would represent its practitioners accept responsibility for the full spreadsheet, not just the profit figures.

1 Comment on "Has NAHB Lost Its Advocacy Mojo? "

  1. Douglas Keaty | April 25, 2020 at 12:18 pm |

    Thanks Ron, As a former builder and HBA member I saw this coming. We have been pushing back organizations that want every super efficient product in all new houses, and that want it NOW! The cry has been affordability and shaking the status quo. As we all know change is exceedingly difficult in the building industry, I know a guy that still uses double 2X12″ headers on 2-Ft. wide windows. As we older builders step aside I’m hopeful that the younger men and women are educated in these new codes but also understanding of the need for affordability which should include the cost of running your new home over the years. I, like many others are embarrassed about what we used to build in the 70-80-90’s. But, I’m happy to say that we can build a house that is extremely comfortable, super-efficient and reflects our efforts and need to save the planet.

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