On June 21, 2023

The housing crisis challenge for the residential home building industry 


By Guy Payne

Editor’s note: Guy Payne is the executive director of Sustainable Energy Outreach Network in Brattleboro.

Did you know: Vermont’s Energy Code is the law, yet many builders and homeowners are unaware or choose to ignore it? 

Vermont’s housing crisis has highlighted not only the lack of adequate housing in the state but also the lack of an adequate workforce to build new homes. We will need thousands of new builders to join our existing contractor community. Along with the challenges of doing so comes the opportunity to help builders, new and old, learn new techniques, get better training, and build the most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly homes possible. Vermont’s Energy Code is a key piece of this effort. We need builders to know it and adhere to it. Consumers need to know it so they can demand compliance and get the best home they can. And Vermont needs it as we work towards reducing greenhouse gases and battling climate change.  

As a buyer of service, you as a consumer have a significant say in ensuring that your home is safe, comfortable, healthy, durable, and energy-efficient, while also utilizing products that absorb carbon — all of which are hallmarks of high-performance buildings. “High-performance buildings”  should be the new standard for home building and we need to help builders achieve that standard.  

To guarantee that your project can withstand the test of time, it is essential to hire a high-performance certified builder to prevent potential disasters in newly built or retrofitted houses.  Although referrals can be helpful, they may not be adequate to ensure long-term durability and performance. Poor work performance, such as inadequate water, air, and thermal control layers, insufficient flashing around windows and doors, and lack of attention to exterior water drainage, can lead to severe consequences. 

Continuous learning is non-negotiable when it comes to high-performance building. For Vermont builders, there are many organizations that offer information and training on basic carpentry skills, high-performance building strategies, Energy Code updates, and high-performance certifications.  Additionally, there are nationally recognized conferences, online learning opportunities, and nonprofits with a wealth of knowledge to help guide builders and carpenters. 

Despite Vermont’s Energy Code being excellent, many builders are unaware of the code, do not build to conform to the code, do not have the skills to build to the code, or provide documentation of their work to the owner, town clerk, or the Public Utility Commission (PUC). Which brings  us back to the question “Do you hire a company knowledgeable of the code, capable of  understanding the code, believing in its relevance and purpose, and capable of building according  to the code?” Remember, poor evidence of compliance with the code comprises any sale of your property.

But you, as a homeowner or future homeowner, can be proactive and smart. You can start by asking these questions to make sure your project is up to code so your home will be comfortable and safe for you for years to come — and one of the homes that help make a big change on a local level in our heavily, carbon footprint world: 

Are the architects/builders/carpenters (not just the owner) up-to-date with high-performance certifications or in the process of learning best practices? 

When did they take the training (should be updated every 3 years) and who conducts the training (reputable)? 

What percentage of the work crew, from top to bottom, is engaged in continuous learning? 

Is your builder aligned with state or nationally recognized Energy Star/high-performance building? 

Is your builder registered with Vermont’s Office of Professional Regulation? 

Research the record of Energy Code comwpliance of the builder’s last few projects. You can go to the town clerk’s office for evidence of compliance. 

Inquire as to the registration of the builders’ crew in ongoing learning. Ask for certificates of attendance/completion. The knowledge base of high-performance building must be deployed throughout the crew. 

Finally, read this article about interviewing your building professional, written by one of Vermont’s most highly-recognized high-performance builders, Peter Yost: buildingscience.org/interviewing your-building-professional.

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