Home builders—some still smarting over a controversial ballot-stuffing event six years ago—have launched a campaign that seeks to produce building codes they believe will favor builders and homeowners, not special interests.
The initiative by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) follows the International Code Council’s (ICC) decision to approve changes in construction and energy codes based on votes collected online from all eligible participants rather than solely from those voters who traveled to a hearing. NAHB’s campaign presumes that local code officials—particularly those outside the biggest cities and those who care about construction issues—will be sympathetic to home builders’ attitudes toward code changes, particularly when they force up construction costs.
The change is profound, in two ways. The first involves participation: Instead of as few as 150 voters showing up and settling an issue, as many as 20,000 voters could end figure in a decision, predicts Neil Burning, the NAHB's vice president for construction, codes and standards.
The second change involves perceptions. Many building officials, particularly in smaller cities, lack the funds to go to ICC hearings and cast a vote. Thus, it stands to reason that those who do attend either have the strongest opinions about proposed changes or else have the budget—or backers—to travel.
One of the most notorious examples of suspect balloting came in 2008, when hundreds of fire officials flew to Minneapolis and cast ballots for codes that mandate sprinklers in homes. “With their travel expenses paid, these first-term voters were able to overwhelm the process and control the voting,” NAHB declared in November 2008. It appealed the ICC decision but lost, and builder groups since then have battled across the nation to keep sprinkler requirements out of local codes. ICC standards are hugely influential in the codes that local jurisdictions decide to enforce, but updates to the general code don't automatically get put into effect; Burning says a few areas still are using codes from 1997.
Sprinklers aren’t the only example of what NAHB regards as inappropriate code-writing.” A lot of the energy provisions that got into the 2012 and 2015 codes have paybacks of 50 years plus,” Burning says. “We don’t consider those cost-effective changes.” In those cases, many of the hearing rooms were filled with officials from agencies that worry about energy conservation, not deal with construction, he says.
The first step in NAHB's campaign calls for association members to build relationships with their area’s code officials and elected leaders. After that, the effort shifts to getting those code officials to set themselves up so they can vote in the ICC’s program, called cdpACCESS.
“Seek opportunities to discuss, spotlight building technology and codes,” the association urges in Step 3. It tops off the campaign by calling on members to champion NAHB positions on proposed code changes.
“It’s up to us to make sure that these voters know which code change proposals will result in better homes—and not just line the pockets of the manufacturers who are pushing them,” an NAHB campaign sheet declares.
The voting system will take effect starting this October, when hearings will take place regarding the next three-year update to the International Green Construction Code, Burning said.