New Administration Promises Change for Industry

Julie Ruth
March 14, 2009
COLUMN : Code Arena | Energy Efficiency

President Barack Obama, in a January speech on energy and the economy, said “These are extraordinary times and it calls for swift and extraordinary action.”

Translation—I am an astute enough politician to understand that the reason I have been elected as the president of the United States is that there are a whole lot of people out there who are unhappy with the situation, or more specifically, with their own situation. These people expect me to make changes–right, wrong, or some combination of the two. They expect me to shake things up. And I intend to do so.

“It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil, while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs,” the President said in that same speech. “We hold no illusion about the task that lies ahead. I cannot promise a quick fix; no single technology or set of regulations will get the job done. But we will commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is free from our energy dependence and empowered by a new energy economy that puts millions of our citizens to work.“

Translation: Alright, I gave you a little indication this was coming in my inauguration speech. Don’t think I was going to let you forget it.

“First, we must take bold action to create a new American energy economy that creates millions of jobs for our people. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan before Congress places a down payment on this economy. It will put 460,000 Americans to work, with clean energy investments and double the capacity to generate alternative energy over the next three years. It will lay down 3,000 miles of transmission lines to deliver this energy to every corner of our country. It will save taxpayers $2 billion a year by making 75 percent of federal buildings more efficient. And it will save working families hundreds of dollars on their energy bills by weatherizing 2 million homes.”

Translation: I recognize that I am in the unique position of both having the capability to get huge acts of legislation passed and implemented and also the responsibility. I can and will push for something major.

Specific Provisions
There have been those who have compared Obama’s proposed American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan to Roosevelt’s New Deal. I have to confess, I was not around for the New Deal, and I am really not in a position to make a comparison. What’s clear is the bill, as approved by the U.S. House at the end of January, included some provisions that could impact our industry. Among them:

  • $6 billion for the construction, repair and alteration of Federal buildings, for projects that will “create the greatest impact on energy efficiency and conservation.”
  • $12 billion for "better performing" public schools and institutes of higher learning. At least 25 percent of this $12 billion is to be spent for “modernization, renovation or repairs” that are certified, verified or consistent with the LEED Green Building rating system, Energy Star, the Collaborative for High Performance Schools criteria, Green Globes, or an equivalent program adopted by the state or jurisdiction authorized to use the funds. To achieve LEED certification, the building envelop, at a minimum, must comply with the 2004 edition of ASHRAE 90.1, with extra points available if the building performance, as a whole, exceeds those requirements. Green Globes also awards points for fenestration that meets the requirements of ASHRAE 90.1-04, with additional points available for other aspects of building fenestration, such as effective use of daylighting or achieving a visible light transmittance to SHGC ratio (VLT/SHGC) greater than 1.55.
  • $6.2 billion for weatherization of housing, including increasing the total funds available under the current program from $2,500/unit to $5,000/unit.
  • $2.5 billion for energy retrofit investments in housing under HUD. The investments are to include “rehabilitation of units using sustainable materials and methods that improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs.”
  • $8 billion to implement various programs that were created or authorized by previous Energy Policy Acts, or to audit how the funds appropriated under this act are spent.

Some are complaining that this act is “just a drop in the bucket” and is not enough to really stabilize our economy. Others are alright with the total amount ($819 billion, as of this writing) but feel more of the money should be going to a specific area that is of special concern to them. Still others feel that the total amount being proposed is excessive. They may be in agreement that some money should be spent to stabilize our economy, but are not necessarily in agreement with the amount being proposed, or how it is being allocated.

“This is the boost that our economy needs, and the new beginning that our future demands,” Obama said, in urging passage of the stimulus plan. “I want to be clear from the beginning of this administration that we have made our choice. America will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes, and a warming planet. We will not be put off from action because action is hard. Now is the time to make the tough choices. Now is the time to meet the challenge at this crossroad of history by choosing a future that is safer for our country, prosperous for our planet, and sustainable. Those are my priorities, and they're reflected in the executive orders that I'm about to sign.”

Translation--I want to get this done within the first 100 days of my administration, so that when historians and other political analysts look at my administration, they can say ‘He showed us what his administration was going to be like right from the beginning.’” Or, another possible translation—“Hang on folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Green No Longer in Doubt
The provisions in the final version of the stimulus plan are likely to be quite different from those outlined above, and the eventual bill that passes may have less direct impact on fenestration. What does seem obvious is that the green train has left the station. Politicians want to talk about green. They want to talk about increasing energy efficiency and reducing our dependence upon foreign oil.
Perhaps even more significant to our industry, and what is becoming abundantly clear, is that if our industry is to receive any benefit from the passing of an economic stimulus act, much of it will be tied directly to increasing energy efficiency.

That is not necessarily true for funds that might become available indirectly, of course. If more people are working, then more people will have money to spend on their homes, and that money may or may not be tied to increased energy efficiency. But the act itself is intended to increase energy efficiency. The push to increase the efficiency of ASHRAE 90.1 and the IECC continues to be felt, and it is backed up by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Congress, and apparently now by our chief executives. These are forces that cannot be ignored.

ICC/NAHB Green Standard
The National Green Building Standard, known as ICC-700, was approved on Jan. 29, 2009 as an American National Standard. The new standard was developed through a cooperative effort of the International Code Council and the National Association of Home Builders. The scope of ICC-700 is limited to residential construction, including both new and renovated single-family to high-rise residential buildings. The minimum energy performance requirements of the standard are considered to be 15 percent above the baseline requirements of the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code.

Code Arena is brought to you by the America Architectural Manufacturers Association. Julie Ruth may be reached through AAMA at 847/303-5664 or via e-mail at julruth@aol.com.