Home Innovation Insights

Training trades, consumers, manufacturers, code officials may help solve builder issues.

Ed Hudson, MBA
January 25, 2019

Education & Training Key to Overcoming Builder Challenges With Energy Codes

Two weeks ago, I blogged about a summary of findings to a builder survey, where more than 250 write-in responses to the question, “What are your biggest challenges in constructing homes to meet current energy codes?” were received.

Responses varied widely. In an attempt to summarize the breadth of responses, I would say they indicated that building more energy-efficient homes means the home building industry has to change, and change can be painful — particularly painful when the industry is producing at near capacity, labor and materials costs are rising, and both management and jobsite labor are in short supply. The 85% of respondents who indicated having challenges seemed to convey that the fast pace of building code changes is disrupting the design and construction of homes, and they are trying to sort things out.

Aside from increased price and labor pressures, virtually all remaining challenges mentioned could be solved by, or at least benefit from, more thorough education and training of the industry and homeowners. This includes training and education of…

  • Subcontractors. A frequent comment was that subcontractors are not adequately trained to implement the energy improvements required in the building code. Often, builders said they resorted to training subcontractors themselves and overseeing their work personally.
  • Suppliers. Builders noted suppliers were sometimes a little behind the curve, particularly in supplying solutions that help builders respond to changing energy-efficiency requirements. Wait times for products and materials for non-standard solutions were also noted. These issues can be compounded in non-metropolitan areas, which seemed to be the last to get access to a regular supply of products and materials.
  • Builders. Faced with too many options and not enough knowledge or modeling tools to allow them to optimize selection of systems and materials, builders themselves could benefit from training. But, with an almost infinite number of choices, where do they start? A more efficient building envelope through more insulation and airtightness? Windows and doors? How about more efficient HVAC systems, appliances, and fixtures? Solar energy? What’s the optimal combination of all these? Guidance would be welcomed.
  • Homeowners and homebuyers. Energy upgrades are universally sought, but who is paying for the additional materials and design cost? Builders sometimes find it difficult to convey the value of energy improvements, especially when there is a cost associated with it; particularly if they need to sacrifice features or functionality in some other area of the home to make the budget work.
  • Manufacturers. Builders noted looking for HVAC solutions that take into account aspects of tighter homes — i.e., ventilation, proper sizing of HVAC systems, and removal of humidity from the air. A few mentioned having issues with thicker insulation on foundation walls and integrating this seamlessly into the building envelope using currently available materials. 
  • Appraisers. There were concerns expressed that improvements in energy efficiency results in a higher cost of construction that could not directly translate into higher appraisal value for the new home.
  • Building officials. Some responded that their solutions to meet new energy codes were not met with approval by code inspectors and officials who they felt were not keeping up with the pace of technology changes.

Reviewing the verbatim responses of builders is particularly rich in insight. I’m happy to share these with manufacturers who might be interested seeing how they might be able to help with one or more of the challenges builders are facing.

Speaking of getting a lot from builder responses, there’s a perfect opportunity to do more of that with focus groups at the upcoming IBS/KBIS in Las Vegas. But, with less than a month before the show, we only have a limited number of slots available. I’m also available to meet up at IBS to discuss how our marketing research expertise can help you identify needs and plot solutions to our ever-more energy-conscious industry. Just get in touch and let’s discuss how we can best meet your needs.

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