Blogs > Ron Jones > January 2010

Raising the Floor

In a week that has bounced us from images of indescribable devastation resulting from the natural disaster in Haiti-and the subsequent scenes of urban looting in which people were filmed raiding mattress stores in Port-au-Prince to find relief from literally sleeping on the streets-to descriptions of university students in the United States burning mattresses on their campus to protest the defection of their first year head football coach while hopelessly attempting to block his path back to the sunny Pacific shores and golden-haired environs of Los Angeles, I am left somewhat dazed and more than a little disillusioned.

Before you good folks in the Volunteer State start rounding up the feathers and bringing that tar pot to a full roiling boil, let me qualify my position by first reminding everyone that we are talking about a 7 and 6 season (4 and 4 in the conference, despite all the pre-season bravado) and an embarrassing spankin' at the hands of Virginia Tech in a so-so "December" bowl game, but perhaps even more important, please consider that the alma mater of your humble commentator is known in college football as "the coaches' graveyard."

In my lifetime as a long-suffering, loyal and devoted fan I have watched the taillights of multiple "high potential" coaches and their staffs roll off into the night toward the promised land of juicy contracts, state-of-the-art training facilities, and the blindingly bright lights of overflowing stadiums. There may not be another soul anywhere who can so honestly claim to "feel your pain."

Perhaps hell hath no fury like a student body (or a well funded athletic booster club) scorned. Get over it.

First of all, if you've never had your heart broken you have no business reading my newsletter to begin with. I have nothing to say to you. Second, just remember that what goes around comes around and that revenge is a dish best served cold. Even better with sweet tea and grits. Time is on your side.

Besides, this is not about football anyway. It's about looking ahead.

I suppose it's no great surprise that with all that has happened this week a little news story out of California, about how the state has adopted a new green building code-it takes effect statewide at the beginning of 2011-would get lost "below the fold," as the old newspaper guys would say. However, it might turn out to be a bigger deal than it appears at first blush.

Despite the high volume whining from the usual suspects who reside in the camps that have never seen a glass as "half full" and who wrote letters to the decision makers denouncing the proposed adoption of the first building code of its kind (USGBC, for example, claimed that the new code "could result in confusion for builders, local governments and the public" and rejected the notion suggested by many that the organization wants to protect its market share in a lucrative "verification" arena) the measure was passed by the California Building Standards Commission. The Governor lauded it as "the foundation for the move to greener buildings constructed with more environmentally advanced building practices that decrease waste, reduce energy use and conserve resources."

The new Green Building Standards Code (CALGREEN) may sport only California Zip Codes for now but for those who are willing to step back and consider the big picture this may prove to be a shockingly clear glimpse into the proverbial crystal ball.

Remember just a few decades ago, in the good old days of the muscle cars when anything less than a 300 horsepower V-8 was a ride for sissies, and yet California started requiring special smog control devices on units sold/registered in the Golden State?

Well, the winds of change continue to blow predominantly from west to east, and with the approval of the National Green Building Standard (ICC-700) for residential construction in January of 2009 and the announcement a few months later that the International Code Council had started work on a green commercial building code, the International Green Construction Code (due to be available for adoption in the first quarter of 2012), it is only a matter of time until the floor is raised for everybody-that more demanding standards of performance in buildings are in effect nationwide.

Which brings me back to those heart-wrenching news images from Haiti. As one clearly exhausted, sunburned national news anchor pointed out from on-location in his interview on the subject with a former U.S president, perhaps the rebuilding of that Caribbean capitol will be predicated on modern building codes and standards that will provide a greater assurance of security, stability, and sustainability for its residents.

And while it may be a long time before reducing carbon emissions, diverting construction and demolition wastes from landfills, increasing the recycled content of materials, or monitoring indoor air quality are high on the priority list for most of the folks struggling to rebuild their lives and their nation a few hundred miles to our south, raising their floor to at least the level of survivability can be a goal for today.

Let us hope so. Broken hearts of every kind deserve a chance to mend.

Posted: 1/15/2010 12:00:00 AM by | with 0 comments



A Box of Pandoras


Desperate times may demand desperate measures, but be careful what you ask for.

Ever since the President signed a bill last week that included provisions to extend and expand the tax incentive for first time home buyers, and now some other folks as well, the trade associations for the housing industry have been throwing a self-congratulatory message party to convince the nation's home builders, and others in the shelter industry, that their universal interests have been served. The public relations specialists, who actually contrive the wording on their behalf, have the spokespeople for the industry groups reveling like drunken sailors in a daisy chain of back slapping victory celebration.

Not so fast. In an open letter to some of these folks back in March of this year I expressed (in part) the following:
"Publicly, the members of the industry … have predictably circled the wagons and hunkered down under a communal blanket of denial when confronted with the notion that builders themselves, regardless of size, are at least partially responsible for the combination of factors that contributed to the disastrous economic situation we are now facing, along with the rest of the country, indeed, apparently the rest of the world.

While we may not have planned all the courses of the meal—nor anticipated or especially concerned ourselves with the raging heartburn and indigestion that would eventually result from the gluttony engaged in by so many who lapped up the seemingly endless flow of gravy—at best we stood by and did little while we watched as the greediest among us slaughtered and plucked the golden goose of home ownership in plain site of anyone who was paying attention.

To the surprise of some, that bird has been resurrected, not once, but amazingly, twice! Not only that, it has been reincarnated in the form of the federal sow, the mother protector and provider of nourishment for all those willing to overcome the stench of the trough. And when the first teat ran dry, we simply squealed and squirmed until a second was provided to quiet our cries.

It seems that no matter how deeply ingrained the aversion to "government interference" runs in the DNA of the industry (don't we still hold sacred the eternal claim that ours is the most overregulated and persecuted occupation in history?) and how often the choruses of our hymns are sung by the choir as we hold regular worship services for the gods of market-driven free enterprise and the American Dream, we have eagerly added another entrée onto the dinner plate already bearing tried- and-true menu favorites like the mortgage interest deduction and other recipes for topping previous calorie counts of ever-higher home ownership numbers.

The apron strings binding us to the federal government have just been cinched with a new set of tight and very complex knots, which will be difficult to release. In the immortal words of former New Mexico Governor Bruce King, the last of the old-style western cowboy governors: "We might have opened ourselves a box of Pandoras."

When the new supply of government milk and honey runs dry in a few months, will we find ourselves shouldering our way to yet another spigot or do you suppose we can actually wean ourselves off this new source of sweetener and return to our professed preference, free enterprise? In truth, is our current celebration of success going to bear a bitter harvest because these devices actually amount to a premature picking of the next crop of market demand that will only repeat itself down the road?

A wise man once warned me: "We have to be careful to not become what we despise the most." My March letter to the "spokesmen" concluded with the following:
"The 'golden goose' I spoke of earlier is not nested in the windfall profits expressed not so very long ago on those gaudy quarterly reports of the publicly trade building corporations, whose business is really little more than mass producing containers in which to package millions of America's families when the boom is on. Nor does it reside in the glowing, intoxicating bumper-crop lists of housing starts that we all feasted on during the recent fat times.

The real Holy Grail of this nation's home builder is embedded in the American Dream itself, which, in our rush to harvest profits we have helped to plunder by going along with the notion that home ownership is a right, not a privilege to be earned, and that the price of everything of importance can be accounted for in our fixation on first cost, which allows us to systematically devalue the fruits of our labors that have been held so dear, practically sacred, by our fathers and grandfathers, most of whom would never have understood the concept of dollars-per-square-foot or why we would allow ourselves to be suckered onto such a treadmill of destruction designed by someone else for their own self-interest.

If it is not too late already—some say it may be—I encourage … builders to re-establish our credibility … through a return to the values that made home building an indispensable thread running through the fabric of our great nation—its economy, its culture, and its peoples—from generation to generation."

It would be hard to deny that for the housing industry these are, indeed, desperate times. But let's make sure that the medicine we have prescribed for ourselves is not more harmful and habit forming than what prompted us to take it in the first place.

Posted: 1/8/2010 1:22:29 PM by | with 0 comments



About Me

Ron Jones, Co-Founder and President of Green Builder® Media, is recognized as one of the fathers of the green building movement. Instrumental in establishing guidelines and programs through NAHB, USGBC and a variety of regional initiatives, he has more recently worked with the International Code Council in the development of both the National Green Building Standard (ICC 700) and the International Green Construction Code.

He is the charter chairman of the Green Builder Coalition, a grassroots non-profit advocacy group whose goal is to promote integrity in the building industry, and beyond, in an effort to return balance and harmony to the relationship between the built environment and the natural one.

A recognized author and keynote speaker on four continents, his industry credentials and leadership experience, combined with his inspirational message and “take no prisoners” style, make him a high-demand presenter for conferences and events of all kinds.

 

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