NAHB Makes Year-End Review of Environmental Issues
The many regulatory issues involved in storm water management are at the top of the list of environmental topics now being addressed by NAHB, its volunteers and environmental experts. NAHB staff met with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency this month to continue efforts to streamline the permitting process and clear up language that stymies builders and engineers who have been trying to remain in compliance.
Among other issues of interest to builders at the top of the NAHB agenda:
- Green Building. While seen as a niche issue, green building advocates have moved into the mainstream in many markets, especially in the Southwest. Last January, NAHB unveiled its Model Green Building Guidelines, which can be adapted by local associations to establish their own program. The goal is both to anticipate consumer demand and to preempt attempts by local jurisdictions to set unwieldy or overreaching building standards. The guidelines are available at www.nahb.org/gbg.
- EPA ‘Star’ Changes. The overwhelming success of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, which labels appliances that surpass government standards for energy efficiency, has led the government agency to move forward with voluntary branding programs for water conservation and indoor air quality.
NAHB wants to ensure that the programs remain voluntary to keep the cost of housing down.
In its Energy Action Plan announced last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said it would include Energy Star in all HUD-built homes. This is a concern for NAHB because a previously voluntary energy efficiency program is now being mandated by a government agency for low-income housing, greatly affecting affordability.
In response to comments from NAHB, EPA did strike the inclusion of the ASHRAE 62.2 ventilation standard, which would have added up to $1,000 to the cost of a home, required whole-house mechanical ventilation and back draft testing, and wasted energy by permitting 174 cubic feet of outside air to be blown into an average house every minute.
Additionally, EPA has agreed to reference the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC) Supplement, saving builders from having to deal with myriad issues associated with the adoption of the higher insulation values in the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This is the first time that the IRC has been referenced by EPA for the Energy Star program and represents a trend toward allowing builders to build to a voluntary above-code program standard with a single code book, the IRC.
“This is a significant victory for NAHB since 2006 versions of the IECC, the IRC, Energy Star, the qualification table for the new homes portion of the Energy Tax Credit and the Home Energy Rating System will all reference the same relative stringency and related cost-effectiveness,” NAHB said in a statement.
Clean Water Act.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
has jurisdictional authority over all navigable waters of the United States. At the end of 2005, NAHB has been awaiting word on a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling on whether and when a non-navigable and even man-made feature, such as a ditch or storm sewer system, can be considered navigable under the Clean Water Act and thus be subject to federal permitting requirements.
When it created the Clean Water Act in 1987, Congress defined ditches as point sources, or channelized features to transport water and sediment from, for example, a subdivision and into a storm drain. Under the act, a permit is required to control sediment and other pollutants that leave a ditch and flow into navigable water. Requiring a permit before the water and sediment even reach a ditch, which the builder himself dug to construct a housing project, is much more onerous than the intent of the original legislation and doesn’t offer a corresponding benefit to improve water quality.
This month, NAHB filed a ‘friend of the court’ brief asking that the Supreme Court to rein in the Corps’ authority. Requiring permits on the assumption that all these ditches are navigable and subject to regulation and permitting makes no sense and would be prohibitively expensive to administer, NAHB said. “Congress could not have intended such an absurd result.”
- Lead-Based Paint. In 1992, Congress passed a law to reduce lead-based paint (LBP) exposure to children in all residential structures built before 1978. Since then, federal regulators and more than a dozen states have issued regulations concerning disclosure of the possibility of LBP in homes, worker training and certification of LBP remediation firms, and defining how much paint can be disturbed before a hazard is created.
The EPA convened a panel of affected businesses, including the NAHB Remodelors™ Council, to examine the economic impact of a proposed remodeling work practices rule. The agency suspended work on a mandatory rule in 2001 after receiving an estimate that it would cost remodelers $2-$4 billion annually to comply.
NAHB recommended the development of voluntary and cost-effective lead-safe work practices for homes built between 1960 and 1978 that could be universally employed by multifamily property managers and remodelors. Additionally, NAHB said that if EPA and HUD were to issue mandatory rules, their efforts should focus solely on pre-1960 housing, which studies show have a much higher potential for containing lead hazards.
NAHB has worked with the EPA to develop a set of voluntary LBP safe work practices and has suggested that contractors try these out as an alternative to mandatory regulations. But EPA first wants proof that these voluntary practices will work; the agency has conducted no scientific research to prove that they do. As a result, a budget request was approved at this fall’s NAHB board meeting authorizing money for research on the effectiveness of the lead-safe work practices in typical remodeling jobs.
Meanwhile, various public interest groups are clamoring for the EPA to issue clear regulations, whether the agency is ready or not. In response to political pressure, the agency had planned to release them by the end of the year. This required NAHB to step up its search for remodelers to participate in testing safe work practices so it could provide its findings to the EPA.
By the middle of this month, few NAHB members had volunteered job sites meeting the criteria for testing. NAHB was pursuing opportunities to study the work done in a large scale refurbishment of military housing, as well as to work with some NAHB Remodelors™ Council members with access to properties slated to be torn down.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.