Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council 2013 Report Summary
Buildings are becoming increasingly complex. At the same time, the businesses, policies, and
participants that support the built environment in the United States make for an industry dynamic that is also complex. Despite these complexities and numerous priorities, the U.S.
building industry has come together under the National Institute of Building Sciences’ (NIBS’) Consultative Council to address challenges, identify findings, make recommendations, and
seize opportunities to improve the nation’s buildings and related infrastructure, and, thereby, the thousands of communities that depend on them. The Consultative Council has issued a
number of reports highlighting the industry’s annual priorities. In 2013, the Council focused specifically on priorities in several key areas, and provided clear recommendations for
action. These areas are discussed below and are in addition to recommendations from past reports that still remain relevant.
The Building Workforce
There is a growing concern—within building-related disciplines and the building industry as a whole—about the dearth of new entrants to the workforce and, in particular, the
lack of new candidates for the skilled trades. Despite the fact that the building industry has made significant advancements in the utilization of technology over the years and industry
professionals have the ability to earn a quality living, young people (and their parents and other influencers) appear fixed on attaining careers in other sectors of the economy.
While the Obama Administration and others have focused on the implementation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education programs as a means to interest
students in scientific and technical careers, few such programs specifically highlight the building sciences. The Institute’s engagement with the National Aeronautical and Space
Administration (NASA) and the Total Learning Research Institute (TLRI)—which is introducing students to building science and building systems through their participation in a
Facility Operations Challenge on Mars City—can serve as an example for linking building sciences with other STEM-related efforts.
Over the past few years, changes within the educational system (particularly at the high school level) have seriously influenced the ability of the building industry to attract students
to pursue building-related careers. The shuttering of industrial arts or “shop” classes and other hands-on training facilities at the high school level has limited the opportunities to
expose large numbers of students to the buildings trades.
The shifting focus of parents, guidance counselors, and federal, state, and local departments of education on promoting a 2- or 4-year college degree in lieu of a trade school has
proved detrimental—this shift has come despite the fact that trade school graduates often have lower student loan debt, are employable and productive immediately, and can earn
Therefore, all building industry participants should make it a priority to recruit and mentor young entrants into the building professions, skilled trades, and related fields. In
addition, the Department of Labor and the Department of Education should work with stakeholders to develop a comprehensive national workforce strategy that includes technical education,
continuing education, and engages K-12 students, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors.
Use of Non-Potable Water
Though not suitable for drinking, non-potable water can be used for many other purposes. Yet, even though much of the nation has suffered a severe drought in recent years, in many
states—due to the lack of clear guidelines for usage—this valuable resource is literally going down the drain. However, national criteria have not yet been established to
address the minimum microbiological and chemical properties required of water for various end uses.
The Consultative Council recommends that the U.S. Congress pass legislation granting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to set uniform national water quality
criteria for all appropriate end uses of non-potable water in much the same way it does for potable water under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency should also establish appropriate
monitoring and assessment criteria and techniques for each end use. Such action will enable rapid increases in the use of non-potable water throughout the United States, reducing demand
for potable water and the energy used to transport and treat it. Removing the current patchwork of regulations will also permit the development of non-potable water technology,
facilitating growth of an industry with a potentially worldwide export market.
The Energy-Water Nexus
Energy-water nexus is a term increasingly used to describe the interdependencies between water and energy resources. Huge volumes of water are consumed in the energy sector for
generating electricity and extracting and processing natural gas and other fuels used in buildings. In addition, the processes to pump, treat, heat, and deliver water all require the
expenditure of a significant amount of energy.
However, the energy-water nexus extends beyond the generation of energy and the distribution of water, and its implications need to be better understood in order to provide guidance to
standards developers on beneficial strategies for the efficient management of energy and water in buildings.
Detailed evaluation, measurement, and verification (EM&V) protocols already exist for analyzing energy-efficiency performance, but these protocols need to be revised to properly
address the embedded energy savings emanating from water conservation and management programs. These protocols need to properly document where interactive water and energy savings occur,
and greenhouse gas emission-reduction calculation methodologies need to be revised to correctly recognize the contributions coming from the saved embedded energy in water supply,
treatment, pumping, and consumer end-use consumption. (See the sidebar: Mechanical Insulation and the Energy-Water Nexus on page 16.)
State and Local Regulatory Infrastructure
State and local governments serve an important function in keeping their communities safe. Unfortunately, many jurisdictions have undergone significant reductions in budgets in the past
several years and do not have the resources to fully support their building safety departments. Having the federal government help support that important function, through the provision of
technical and financial resources such as education and training, technical assistance, grants, and incentives would help local communities while advancing the national priority of having
resilient, efficient, high-performing buildings.
Current funding mechanisms for code departments do not reflect their importance to the community. In many jurisdictions, building departments are expected to cover all expenses through
funds collected through permit fees. When construction activity is robust, departments are generally able to maintain adequate funding and save contingency funds for future slowdowns in
construction. However, when the economy (and thus state and local revenue) declines, any surplus maintained by the department is seen as a source of revenue for the general fund, thus
leaving departments unable to maintain personnel and training. Establishing code departments as independent enterprise functions that can support themselves and assist local residents and
businesses—no matter the jurisdiction’s budget challenges—may be an opportunity to circumvent these cyclical impacts.
Code departments need to market their value to change how they are perceived in their communities. Many departments are seen as an adversary to development, when instead, they have the
opportunity to serve as advisers to designers, contractors, and owners. Up-to-date building codes and strong code compliance can impact a community’s resilience to hazard events. This, in
turn, affects the affordability of insurance for citizens and businesses. Jurisdictions need to develop and communicate these merits in an understandable way to their citizens. In
addition, federal agencies should ensure that any grants given to the states in support of community development, resilience, housing, etc. include requirements for up-to-date building
Private Sector Mitigation Investments
Responding to climate change and other hazards is a cross-sector endeavor with implications for health, safety, and economics. To achieve national resilience will require those
professionals responsible for national infrastructure, from across all levels of government and the private sector, to work cooperatively to map out a course of action. A multi-hazard,
multi-stakeholder approach is required in order to achieve the nation’s resilience goals.
With the growing incidence of hazardous weather events occurring across the United States and globally—and the increasing costs associated with recovery and reconstruction
following such events— there is growing interest and support from all levels of government and the insurance industry for investing in mitigation, whether through building codes or
other methods. In 2005, the Institute’s Multihazard Mitigation Council conducted a study for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) entitled “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: An
Independent Study to Assess the Future Savings from Mitigation Activities.”1 This study identified the value of federal investment in mitigation. However, the value of the
private sector investing in mitigation activities has only been identified anecdotally.
This study—which found that every federal dollar spent on mitigation saves society an average of 4 dollars—highlighted the need to assess and understand savings beyond just
those that accrue to the federal government, such as those that go to state and local governments and the local economy. The Institute should revisit the Mitigation Saves report. To be
worthwhile, a new assessment of the value of mitigation should examine and explain the decision-making process for investments, but it also must look beyond the individual investments and
resultant savings made at the building level and look at how individual investments can benefit communities as a whole. This would support multi-stage, multi-sector approaches that will
likely prove effective and financially justified, in contrast to a project-by-project approach to identifying and funding mitigation.
As federal, state, and local governments, building industry organizations, and industry practitioners work to improve the built environment and address their many priorities, the
Consultative Council is pleased to provide the above recommendations to advance the industry and the nation. In the coming year, the Council will continue to refine these recommendations
and identify other important issues before the industry. To view the full 2013 Consultative Council report, including all of the recommendations, visit www.nibs.org.
Mechanical Insulation and the Energy-Water Nexus
The energy-water nexus refers to the relationship between energy and water conservation efforts. In many parts of the country, water is in short supply and conservation of water is
becoming increasingly important. Of course, the conservation of energy resources is a top priority across various industries and for the federal government. A tremendous amount of energy
is utilized to collect, treat, and deliver water to users, and to treat waste water for disposal; similarly, the production of energy requires large quantities of water. Thus, conserving
energy conserves water, and conserving water conserves energy.
Mechanical insulation is commonly used to reduce heat flows and energy consumption in mechanical systems and equipment. What is often overlooked is insulation’s role in water
conservation efforts. As an example, domestic hot water systems are often insulated to reduce the heat loss. In addition to saving energy, insulated piping can reduce the time required for
the temperature at fixtures to reach acceptable temperatures. The time savings translates to water savings as less water is wasted while an individual waits for water to reach the desired
Thermal insulation (pipe insulation) is routinely used on hot water delivery systems. All current energy codes and standards require some degree of thermal insulation on potable hot
water piping. However, the requirements between codes vary and except for the newer “green” codes, most requirements are normally considered minimum levels.
The value of water has never been considered in making the business case for additional pipe insulation on hot water piping, thickness, or scope of work. While energy efficiency has
been considered, the overriding consideration has been short-term economics, which depends on frequency, duration, and pattern of usage.
Thermal insulation for mechanical systems is a simple and cost-effective technology for reducing heat losses and gains in building systems and manufacturing processes. As energy codes,
standards and associated regulations—prescriptive and holistic—become more stringent and building owners, operators, and tenants strive for higher performing and more
sustainable buildings, designers and owners should be focusing on how and where to use more, not less, insulation.
The expected useful life of buildings can be 50 years or more. It is significantly easier and more cost effective to plan for and install proper thermal insulation systems at the time
of construction than it is to retrofit or upgrade the insulation systems later. Likewise, when facilities are being renovated or repaired, the opportunity to upgrade pipe insulation and
other insulation systems should not be overlooked. Efforts to “trade-off” thermal insulation levels to minimize initial costs are counterproductive and are better focused on examining the
long-term performance of building systems.
A study is needed to determine the impact of thermal insulation on both energy and water use on potable and other hot water delivery systems, and to examine the business case and return
on investment of that opportunity. Before regulators, code officials, designers, owners and others will consider the advantage of expanding the scope of pipe insulation, the impact on
energy efficiency, conservation of water, and the business case and economics, need further supporting data. The National Insulation Association’s (NIA’s) success in including mechanical
insulation language in the recently enacted Farm Bill, and the successful passage of H.R. 4801 the Thermal Insulation Efficiency Improvement Act by the House of Representatives, both offer
opportunities to provide the data we need to further substantiate the benefits of mechanical insulation to these important stakeholders
NIBS, authorized by public law 93-383 in 1974, is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that brings together representatives of government, the professions, industry, labor and
consumer interests to identify and resolve building process and facility performance problems. Its Consultative Council brings together leading organizations from across the industry to
develop Moving Forward: Findings and Recommendations from the Consultative Council, a report which is transmitted to the President of the United States and the U.S. Congress as part of the
Institute’s Annual Report. The full text of the Consultative Council’s 2013 report is available at www.nibs.org.