New products and technologies continue to make it possible to build better homes and buildings. Improved occupant safety and energy efficiency are two of the main reasons that building codes are revised. The benefits of these code changes are reduced operating and maintenance costs, higher resale value and safety.
If these code changes make for better buildings, why is there so much resistance to their acceptance, and what can a building product manufacturer do about it?
There are two reasons why it is difficult to get new codes adopted:
1. Resistance to change. Architects usually embrace change because they are always interested in improvement. They are interested in improvement because their greatest threat is building failure and the effect of such an event on their reputation. Dealers and distributors, however, aren’t usually resistant to change, as they simply want to provide the market what it needs.
In short, the resistance to change comes from contractors. They see change as a problem. They’re used to building a structure with the materials they are used to using. If they have to use a new product or technique, they will probably have problems, as they tend to learn by doing on the job. This means that they will probably be called back to redo some of their work, a sure money looser. If it is a major commercial project, there could even be the risk of a major lawsuit that could put them out of business.
2. Fear of increased costs. Builders and developers see the possibility of increased costs as a threat to their businesses. This shortsighted view causes them to do everything they can to block the adoption of new codes that often benefit the building owner or occupant. They block these codes either entirely or in part, blocking the portions that may add the most costs.
How building codes are blocked:
Builders and developers use their political connections to kill code changes. They’ll claim loss of business and jobs if the codes are enforced, but what they are really communicating to local politicians is that they will lose their support in the next election. In addition, they give the politicians talking points in case anyone asks why they are voting against the code changes.
The terrible tornado disaster that occurred in Moore, Oklahoma, demonstrates such politics in action. You’d think that a mayor’s priority would be the protection of their citizens, but that wasn’t what happened in the case of Moore. Here, the mayor’s priority was the appeasement of the builders, as this story shows: http://kgou.org/post/moore-officials-delay-vote-upgrading-building-codes-tornadoes
How can building product manufacturers change building codes?
Many building material companies, building scientists and code organizations do an admirable job of continually reviewing building codes on a national basis. In addition to advances in materials, practices and products, they are also prompted by accidents and disasters to discover what could be done to prevent or avoid these problems in the future.
These national building codes, however, are only recommendations that each locality must choose to either block or adopt. This is where the battle for new codes is won and lost. And this is where building product manufacturers seem to give up.
There are three things building material companies can better do to support code changes on a local level:
1. Get involved. As code changes start to be discussed by government officials, there is seemingly no voice present in the conversation that counters the opinions of builders and developers. To gain voice in the conversation, manufacturers should use PR to communicate both the benefits of the code change in question as well as the risks involved in not adopting the new code.
Because this message is not currently communicated on a local level, the builders and developers are able to control the media message with threats to the economy and job losses. This gives local politicians cover for a vote against the code.
This message is not currently communicated because the media is understaffed, so they don’t go looking for the whole story on their own. They need to be fed the information. If the media were to tell the whole story about improvements in codes, the public could make an informed opinion, which would cause politicians to think twice before voting it down.
2. Have a disaster action plan. When disaster strikes, whether natural or manmade, building product companies should have a PR plan ready to roll out. This plan should include videos of how the effects of the disaster may have been eliminated or reduced with better building codes.
The videos should feature animations that show what happens to a structure in a fire, tornado, hurricane or seismic event and how a better building code could’ve helped. The media is desperate for content when they are covering disasters, so such content should be sitting on the manufacturer’s shelf ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Another strategy is to have a budget set aside for disasters. Much like storm chasers, manufacturers should have a team ready to go to identify and photograph structures that survived because they used their products.
What currently happens, however, is the manufacturer makes a lame attempt at PR by donating some relief money, which usually has to get so many approvals that it is ineffective. It’s ineffective because it is announced well after the media has moved on to another story. It also does little or nothing to change codes.
3. Show them the benefit. Instead of sending a check that gets lost with all the other checks, manufacturers should donate product for the reconstruction efforts. Since homes and buildings are being rebuilt with the manufacturer’s products, this provides the media with a great story that will put more pressure for adoption of the code.
You don’t have to give to every project, however. You could simply offer your product to the first 10 homeowners who are rebuilding or to a single, high profile commercial project.
You could also go directly to a prominent builder and offer to support them with a modest ad campaign showing why they build better than their competitors. You will soon see the other builders adopting the change just because of real or perceived market pressure.
Building product manufacturers who make homes and buildings perform better should be more aggressive in pushing for code changes on a local basis if they want a more effective path to growth.