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Advancing Toward High-Performance Homes and Communities

Photograph of two workers affixing a solar panel to an array of solar panels on the roof of a midrise building. The tops of a midrise and a high rise building are visible in the background.
Including building features that provide renewable energy, such as rooftop solar panel systems, can also help to stabilize operating costs. Image credit: Marcia Cassidy Communications.
The link between the nation’s housing stock and the National Institute of Building Sciences (Institute) goes back to the Institute’s establishment. Congress established the Institute in the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 alongside provisions that still impact housing today. Since then, the Institute has been tackling important issues and bringing together the public and private sector to share best practices and support development of criteria and guidance to advance the nation’s building stock.

Fostering Resilience and Mitigation

While much of the Institute’s work has focused on the design, construction, and operations of structures in the commercial and multi-family and single-family sectors, it is becoming increasingly obvious that a wider approach incorporating community-level considerations is necessary. Achieving high-performance, resilient communities that support a local economy and can withstand natural and manmade hazards requires both community and individual level action. Building codes and standards, along with other policies at the state and local level, establish the community’s expectations for the common protection of its citizens.

In many communities, code departments struggle to maintain the fiscal and personnel resources required to adequately enforce these norms established by the community—thus potentially limiting the community’s long-term resilience. A recent study by the Institute for the International Code Council examined the aging of the code official workforce and found some disturbing trends that, if left unaddressed, could impact the safety of communities. The Institute, working with codes and standards developers, code departments and other industry stakeholders, is developing resources to support a robust and effective codes infrastructure at the state and local level.

Almost ten years ago, the Institute’s Multihazard Mitigation Council (MMC) conducted a study for FEMA on the value of federal agency investments in mitigation. The study found that government saved four dollars for every dollar it invested in mitigation. Incentivizing investment in mitigation remains an important issue today and the MMC continues to examine effective pathways to realizing cost effective investments in our building stock and in our communities to help avoid the potential devastating impacts of future disasters. The Institute continues to advance the implementation of cost-effective programs aimed at improving the resilience of buildings and communities.

In 2014, the Institute joined with nearly two dozen other building-related organizations to sign an industry statement on the importance of resilience and to support a common approach to implementing resilience strategies across the built environment. Working together, the organizations plan to develop resources to advance the resilience of the nation and its building stock.

Advocating for a Collaborative Building Codes Program

The Institute’s Consultative Council, which brings together leading organizations from across the building industry, provided several recommendations in its 2014 report to the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress specifically related to codes and standards.

One recommendation in particular cited the need for multi-agency, public-private efforts to advance the adoption and enforcement of codes. The Council recommended that HUD, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the U.S. Department of Energy partner with industry, including insurance companies, to develop a collaborative program to support the adoption, administration and enforcement of building codes. This program, the Council advocated, should “focus on providing scientific and economic data associated with the effectiveness of building codes and their impacts on communities, education and training for code professionals, technical assistance and evaluation tools for code department effectiveness.”

Guidelines and Resources for Sustainability and Performance

In 2014, the Institute’s Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC) released the sixth edition of Beyond Green: Guidelines for High-Performance Homes. These guidelines provide builders with information on best practices, standards and rating programs and resources to address a number of issues, from minimizing construction waste to optimizing passive solar strategies.

The Institute’s WBDG Whole Building Design Guide (www.wbdg.org) offers a plethora of resources to support the effective delivery of high-performance residential structures. Much of the information included in the Guidelines for High-Performance Homes has been converted to resource pages available for free. In addition, the recently launched Code Taxonomy developed by the Institute’s National Council of Governments on Buildings Codes and Standards can help builders, homeowners, and code professionals navigate the numerous policies, departments and requirements impacting residential construction.

Building enclosures represent one of the most long-lasting elements of a structure and can greatly influence energy use and indoor environmental quality. The Institute’s Building Enclosure Technology and Environment Council (BETEC) focuses on optimizing the building envelope. Past BETEC events have focused specifically on the needs of residential structures. Local Building Enclosure Councils (BECs) bring together builders, architects, engineers, code professionals and others to discuss enclosure challenges within their regions.

To learn more about the Institute, its activities, and how you can get involved, visit http://www.nibs.org.

The Institute is a non-governmental, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

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Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council, 2014, pg. 6. Released January 8, 2015. http://www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/CC/MovingForward-_Final.pdf

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See Green Principles for Residential Design, http://wbdg.org/resources/greenprinciplesresdesign.php.

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Learn more about BETEC and the BECs at http://www.nibs.org/?page=betec and http://www.nibs.org/?page=bec.

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