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NAHB is preparing to comment on a series of programs outlined in a Nov. 9 announcement by Vice President Joe Biden designed to bring new life to the home weatherization and retrofit initiatives now stalled in Congress.
If successful, the programs would result in more jobs for the construction industry and a more energy-efficient housing stock. Among the components:
- The Home Energy Score program would allow pre-selected, certified energy raters to score existing homes and help home owners decide what energy improvements to make.
- PowerSaver, a financing program backed by the Federal Housing Administration, would be piloted in select markets to offer low-cost loans to help home owners pay for energy-efficient improvements such as insulation, new windows and high-efficiency heating equipment.
- New guidelines have been proposed for training and certifying the construction industry members making the energy-efficient upgrades and protocols to safeguard the indoor environmental quality of a home when the upgrades are being made.
The initiatives are based on recommendations from “Recovery Through Retrofit,” Biden’s October 2009 report on how to combat rising unemployment while reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
Some of the Administration’s new proposals reflect the findings of an NAHB task force that after studying the Biden recommendations issued a report last winter on financing options, training and education needs and potential problems such as the new lead paint requirements that have since been put into effect by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The initiatives give “American families the tools they need to invest in home energy upgrades,” said Biden. “Together, these programs will grow the home retrofit industry and help middle-class families save money and energy.”
Home Energy Score
Energy raters certified by either the Building Performance Institute (BPI) or the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) will be eligible to perform Home Energy Score testing in a limited number of markets.
After testing the home, the raters will assign a Home Energy Score between one and 10 to help home owners understand their home’s current efficiency level and how it compares to other homes in the area.
The raters will also give the home owner a list of recommended improvements, with estimated annual savings and an estimated payback period for each upgrade.
Home energy ratings were proposed but then striken from a bill that Congress passed in June 2009 after intensive lobbying by real estate brokers, who feared that existing homes would not fare well in the market when compared to new, energy-efficient homes. The 1-10 rating scale only compares existing homes with other existing homes, avoiding that comparison.
Charlottesville, Va.; Allegheny County, Pa.; Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard, Mass.; Minnesota; Omaha and Lincoln, Neb.; Indiana; Portland, Ore.; South Carolina; Texas; and Eagle County, Colo., have been chosen for the pilot sites. After this initial phase ends in the late spring of next year, DOE expects to look at the results and launch the program nationally.
Administration officials are seeking lenders to participate in a new financing program backed with $25 million in FHA guarantees. If successful, the program is expected to produce about 24,000 loans.
Home owners will be able to borrow money for terms as long as 20 years to make energy improvements of their choice, based on a list of proven, cost-effective measures developed by FHA and the Department of Energy.
The loans will be available in Austin, Texas; 16 towns in Maryland; the greater Chicago area; and the communities participating in the Home Energy Score pilot.
PowerSaver financing will be similar to a home equity loan that must be paid off at the time of sale, or in some cases, when refinancing occurs. It will use the existing FHA Title 1 program, with additional incentives and requirements.
The combined loan-to-value ratio of the mortgage and energy refit loan cannot exceed 100% and will require a valuation method that has not yet been determined. Participating home owners must have a minimum 660 credit score and the total debt-to-income ratio cannot exceed 45%.
NAHB is seeking input from members as it prepares comments on the proposal, which is due Dec. 27. For information, e-mail Steve Linville at NAHB, or call him at 800-266-8366 x8597.
Workforce Guidelines for Energy Efficiency
The guidelines, which now apply only to single-family homes, address a perceived shortage of skilled workers by developing standards for four specific occupations: energy auditor, retrofit installer/technician, crew chief and inspector/quality assurance professional.
Standard work specifications define the performance requirements for high-quality work and the minimum conditions necessary to achieve the desired outcome. Technical standards encompass current industry standards, regulations and codes developed by government, industry or third-party standards development organizations.
Job task analyses identify and catalog all of the activities a worker performs in a given job, along with the minimum amount of knowledge, skills and abilities a worker needs to perform high-quality energy efficiency retrofit work.
Proposals are expected soon for manufactured housing and multifamily buildings.
While the workforce guidelines are designed to prompt training organizations to meet the minimum standards put forth in the document, training experts said they may not be necessary.
“In the current residential construction slowdown, we don’t believe there is a worker shortage,” said John Shortt, director of education, training and apprenticeship at the Home Builders Institute (HBI), the workforce development arm of NAHB.
“One aspect missing from the current draft is a job performance gap analysis, which would highlight which skilled trades, with additional training, could become weatherization installer/technicians and crew chiefs. This analysis would prove helpful to residential contractors and skilled workers thinking of changing fields within the industry,” he said.
“HBI has already developed weatherization standards for entry-level and skilled-level installation technicians and uses these standards in our training programs,” Shortt said. HBI will incorporate the remaining components of the Administration’s guidelines once they are final.
Healthy Indoor Environment Protocols
Established by the EPA, the draft protocols address worker safety concerns as well as the health and safety issues involved in retrofit work with such substances as lead paint, asbestos and radon.
The protocols are intended to inform private contractors and state and federal energy assistance programs and their clients about the potential environmental and public health risks of retrofit projects in older housing stock.
NAHB remodelers have advised Congress, the White House and the EPA that such protocols can backfire. For example, many home owners are balking at the costs of renovation under the Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule, the EPA’s lead-based paint regulation that applies to all pre-1978 homes.
The protocols do not establish any new federal regulatory standards, obligations or guidance, nor do they replace any existing federal training and certification requirements.
Additional information on the Administration’s initiatives is available at the White House website. NAHB plans to submit detailed comments on all the components of the program.
For more information, e-mail Calli Schmidt at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.