Why Do Builder Associations Fight Energy Efficiency Improvements?

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Part 4 of our series on the IECC,  addresses the fact that Americans want homes with permanent efficiency improvement … so why do builder associations fight them?

Home buyers know they want energy-efficient homes and think they are getting them, but efficiency isn’t readily visible.

But the customer is always right, right? If it were so, two significant polls by the National Association of Homebuilders should make it the strongest efficiency proponent in the land:

  • The first, released in 2013, found that 9 of 10 Americans are willing to pay 2-3% more for homes with permanent efficiency features.
  • The second – released for Earth Day on April 22 – is more specific: “When asked about what they would be willing to pay upfront to save approximately $1,000 a year in utility bills, buyers noted they are willing to pay an average of $8,728 more for future utility savings.”

In addition, a poll conducted in the Pacific Northwest found that homeowners believe that when their home was built, it met the most current energy code available (not the IECC edition that was in place in their jurisdiction).

Most significantly, the Earth Day poll highlights the great conundrum of energy efficient improvements: Unlike granite countertops, they aren’t visible.  The two homes pictured in this blog–built by Cobblestone Homes–were constructed on the same Michigan street and are virtually identical, particularly to a prospective new home buyer.

The home (right) was built to meet the prescriptive requirements of the 2006 IECC, while the one (below) meets the 2012 IECC (and the nearly identical 2015 and 2018 IECCs, as well).

The 2012 IECC home cost $1,215.27 more than the other.  (Note: $1,250 is well below the 2-3% added cost threshold that 90% of home buyers were willing to pay for a new home’s permanent efficiency features in the 2013 NAHB poll.) This home will use 38% less energy and will save $10,081 in energy bills over its first 30-year mortgage term after fully recouping the $1,215.27 added cost. And, since many of its 2012 IECC measures are permanent and the replacements for other features are likely to be at least as efficient, those energy bill savings will continue to benefit the home’s owners and occupants over the next 70 years it’s likely to stand.  This home is also more comfortable and will enjoy a higher resale value.

The Path Seems Clear:  Tell Prospective Buyers What They’ll Save

The next logical step is taken by “green” builders across the land. They tell prospective buyers what their future green home is going to save!  A Utah billboard by Garbett Homes showed a homeowner with the tagline “My power bill is $5 a month. What’s yours?”

Green building pioneer Vern McKown – one of the first Board Chairs of the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) and a mentor for other green builders across the county – once told an audience of builders at NAHB’s International Builders Show that if they go to his Ideal Homes’ website, “You’ll see a lot of ‘green’ . . . that’s the color of money our buyers save.”

Ideal Homes’ sustainability promise says it all: “We save you money by innovating our own standard for energy efficiency that spans your entire home. We’re the only builder in Oklahoma to guarantee our heating and cooling costs. If your usage exceeds our guarantee, we’ll pay the difference.”

It isn’t surprising that green home builders fared better during the housing crash of 2008-2012.  By building and marketing homes that reduced monthly energy bills, particularly during extreme heat waves and cold snaps, they increased home affordability and predictability, two imperatives for skittish buyers.

Leading the Charge in Opposition to Efficiency Gains

It’s particularly ironic that one week after the poll’s release, NAHB appears poised to maintain its traditional role as the most vocal and ardent opponent of pro-efficiency proposals at the International Code Council’s (ICC’s) two-week long Committee Action Hearings (CAH) in Albuquerque.

NAHB even holds 36% of the voting seats on the Residential Energy Committee and, if history is any gauge, will direct its representatives to oppose dozens of efficiency proposals that will cut homeowner energy bills, some that will last over the entire 100-year lifespan of a new home.

At the beginning of the last CAH hearing three years ago, one of NAHB’s committee members announced he would be opposing all proposals that increase the IECC’s stringency.  It is unfortunate that “stringency” has become the home builder association buzzword for “efficiency measures that reduce energy bills.”

If the 2021 IECC that’s being developed by ICC Governmental Members this year boosts efficiency over the 2018 IECC it updates, the NAHB and most of its state affiliates will dedicate significant resources to prevent its adoption by states and localities.

If only those resources could be invested in giving potential home buyers what they want.

There certainly wouldn’t be a need for our broad-based Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, which was established to end two decades of meager IECC efficiency gains resulting from their fierce opposition campaigns, and which has been battling with them at all phases of code development and adoption ever since.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of this 9-Part series: “The IECC is the Only Voice for Tenants of Commercial and Residential Rental Properties.”

Bill Fay is Executive Director of Bill Fay leads the broad-based based Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC). Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: 


1 Comment on "Why Do Builder Associations Fight Energy Efficiency Improvements?"

  1. I concur with Mr. Fay. To add to the topic, many of the energy organizations, building science and media too won’t embrace durable energy saving in residential construction when you present the hard data. Even data vetted by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Instead, they allow the spirit and intent of the IECC 2015-18 to be circumvented by builders that uses inferior caulks/films etc. on the inside frame to orchestrate a sham on the PASSING of blower door with little consequence to air sealing longevity!

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