PO Box 490, St. Albans Bay, VT 05481
The Association and members have been busy since the end of the legislative session in May, working on the updates to Residential Building Energy Standards (RBES) and participating in several study committees related to Act 250 and housing development.
Vermont statute requires that RBES are updated promptly after the issuance of updated standards from the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). To meet the latest IECC code, the Public Service Department began the process of updating Vermont’s rules regarding energy code a year ago, with multiple opportunities for stakeholders to provide input and feedback, and a targeted effective date of fall 2023.
From the start, an engaged team* of VBRA members have been advocating and contributing from the perspective of builders. Our basic position is this:
· Vermont has no building code and no state agency having jurisdiction over residential construction, therefore no inspection and no enforcement.
· With each rewrite, the RBES code becomes more complex and intricate, with precious few resources devoted to training and no resources devoted to compliance.
· Compliance with energy code - currently estimated to be at 54% - drops with each new code update.
· As the compliance rates drop with each subsequent version of the code, it is unlikely that the state will be able to meet its 2030 goal of “net-zero ready construction” for all newly constructed buildings.
· The new energy code will add an estimated $17,000 - $30,000 to the cost of new home construction. With no oversight the gap between builders who construct to code and those who do not continues to widen, creating an unfair marketplace.
Despite expert testimony from builders, the Public Service Department forged ahead with an RBES update that met IECC code, but did not address builders’ concerns. When an agency of state government is charged with designing rules to implement and enforce the statutes passed by the Vermont Legislature, those rules must be approved and adopted by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (LCAR). Made up of State Senators and Representatives, LCAR's primary function is to ensure that the proposed rules are consistent with the intent and authority granted to the agencies by the Legislature. They review rules to make sure they comply with Vermont law and do not exceed the authority granted to the agencies, and they have the authority to approve, reject, or recommend changes to proposed rules.
Our team* testified at several LCAR meetings and, remarkably, we were successful at persuading the committee that our concerns needed further scrutiny, and they voted to delay adoption of the new RBES until July 1, 2024. We effectively argued that rule adoption should wait until a summer study committee on RBES had finished its work and submitted recommendations on how to increase compliance to the legislature.
We are in the middle of that study committee now. VBRA has several members appointed to the fifteen-member committee. As outlined above, our position is that RBES without underlying building code, an agency having jurisdiction and a system of inspection and enforcement will fail. Moreover, proper training is a must – without it construction under faulty building science will lead to damaged and unhealthy homes.
The RBES study committee expects to finalize its report and recommendations in the next few weeks and deliver the legislature for possible legislation.
*Many thanks to VBRA members Jim Bradley (Hayward Design Build), Jason Webster (Huntington Homes), Collin Frisbie (Sterling Homes) and Denis Bourbeau (Bourbeau Custom Homes). A great deal of credit and special thanks also goes to Sandra Vitzthum, Architect and representative of the Vermont chapter of American Institute of Architects, and a brand new VBRA member! This team has devoted many hours of time to committee meetings, written and in-person testimony, outreach and strategy meetings, all on behalf of the home building community in Vermont. Your membership at work!
Act 250 -
Last session’s housing bill, S.100 (Act 47), made incremental changes to municipal zoning laws that slow housing development. It also allowed more units for a project in designated areas without triggering and Act 250 permit.
S.100 also created several study committees that could impact new legislation this upcoming session, including:
· An evaluation and modernization project on the states Designated Area Programs, to review how well the programs are working and develop recommendations for their future, and how Act 250 figures into them.
· A legislative study on “Necessary Updates to the Act 250 Program,” focusing on how to transition to a system in which Act 250 jurisdiction is based on location, a proposed framework needed to create a municipal delegation process for Act 250, an assessment of the current level of staffing of the Board and District Commissions, and whether increasing jurisdictional thresholds for housing development to 25 units would affect housing affordability.
Pre-legislative session work is being done in anticipation of drafting a bill that may tackle both Act 250 and the designated area programs. Again, VBRA members are participating on these study committees, bringing the important perspective of the building trades to the table.
State and Local Issues Fund –
The Vermont Builders and Remodelers Association is a chapter of the National Association of Home Builders. Home builder associations (HBAs) across the country face residential construction challenges that hamper the home building process and jeopardize housing affordability for all. To help HBAs overcome roadblocks, NAHB's State and Local Government Affairs Committee approves financial assistance for associations through the State and Local Issues Fund (SLIF).
VBRA submitted a grant application to NAHB with the subject of RBES as a challenge to housing affordability and an issue we would spend extensive time and resources working on. We defended our application in May and we’re happy to report that the association was granted $20,000 to assist in our advocacy effort.
Your VBRA membership includes not only access to valuable resources at the NAHB, but allows us to advocate for issues important to you in Vermont. Please spread the word!
The Vermont Builders and Remodelers Association
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