'Build Back Better' Will Aid Buildings


Today (Nov. 15), President Joe Biden will sign into law the largest federal investment in infrastructure in more than a decade. Slated to be joined by several members of Congress, the $1.2 trillion legislation is expected to repair more than just roads and bridges, however.

As potential effects of climate change woe the world, the legislation has recognized that nearly 75% of the nation’s electricity can be accounted for in both its residential and commercial structures, such as housing, stores and offices.

To mitigate the high usage, the Build Better Plan has dedicated roughly $5 billion to various programs aimed at reducing electricity use in buildings, improving building materials and training on design, construction and maintenance for energy-efficient structures.

The bill will also fund a series of problem-solving programs, for issues varying from drafty windows in affordable housing complexes to aged air ducts and outdated building codes.

“If the U.S. is going to lead on climate, our buildings will need to be twice as efficient as they are today. They will also need to be powered by clean renewable energy sources,” said Narada Golden, VP and leader of built ecology at the global engineering company WSP USA. “Accelerating innovation in low-carbon buildings through deep energy retrofits and building electrification are critical steps toward creating the clean energy economy of the future.”

Funding Breakdown

According to reports, the largest chunk of the $5 billion will be utilized for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which aids structures owned or occupied by people with low incomes. The legislation is expected to provide a $3.5 billion infusion for the program, which will be used to fund upgrades such as insulation, windows, roofing, and heating and cooling devices.

Though seemingly minor, the upgrades are expected to result in sizable energy savings.

This portion of funding was previously advocated by The American Institute of Architects in August, when the bill was being debated in Congress.  

“To meet the challenges of the 21st century, our nation’s infrastructure funding needs to move beyond roads and bridges to include schools, hospitals, homes and more, especially as buildings contribute nearly 40% of worldwide carbon emissions,” said AIA 2021 President Peter Exley, FAIA, at the time. “This bipartisan legislation represents an important step toward improving our nation's buildings.”

Another program receiving a sizable amount of funding from the bill is the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. Expected to receive $50 million, the program is a funding tool commonly used by local governments to issue grants for energy retrofits.

Similarly, the bill will also set aside $500 million for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements specifically at public schools, another provision outlined by the AIA.

Although the infrastructure bill will be aiding some preexisting programs, there are several new programs being created because of the approved funding. To help understaffed and underfunded local governments upgrade their building codes, the legislation has allotted $225 million in a new program that will work to help get codes updated to the most recent energy-efficiency standards. Related to this program’s goals, another new program will receive $10 million to provide funding to higher-education institutions to establish centers where students can learn how to assess and maintain energy efficiency in buildings. Finally, a $50 million program will support the use of energy-efficient construction materials in buildings used by nonprofits.

The new programs are expected to help improve the resiliency of low-income organizations while also spurring research into low-carbon building materials.

“Investing in the research and development of materials that are low embodied carbon but also have better energy efficiency is dual purpose,” said Anica Landreneau, Director of Sustainable Design at global architecture firm HOK. “When we develop more efficient materials to build with, that’s energy security.”

However, Landreneau and federal legislative director at the U.S. Green Building Council Ben Evans, alongside members of the AIA, argue that the legislation isn’t enough.

“There are a number of good buildings provisions in there but it’s limited in its impact. It’s not something that’s going to have a transformational impact on the building sector,” Evans noted. “Buildings are responsible for 40% of carbon emissions in the U.S. We’re not going to meet our climate goals unless we do more about buildings.”

As a means to makeup for the legislation’s shortcomings, the AIA is urging lawmakers to ensure that additional funding for building improvements is included in the Budget Reconciliation package. Key provisions the AIA outlines that have yet to be met include:

  • Allocating $1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program;
  • Allocating $500 million for grants established from the Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation Act (STORM Act), which mitigates hazards to reduce risks from disasters;
  • Providing $250 million in funding to establish the Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Fund Capitalization Grant Program, which states could use to improve the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings;
  • Establishing a $40 million grant program to train individuals to conduct energy audits and surveys of commercial and residential buildings;
  • Developing building, training and assessment centers through institutions of higher education and Tribal colleges to train architects, engineers, and other professionals about energy-efficient design and technologies, along with fostering additional research; and
  • Allowing the Metropolitan Transportation Planning authorities to use federal funding to promote more walkable and multi-modal communities. 

“It’s a great first step,” Evans said. “But Congress also needs to finish the job.”

Other Infrastructure Bill Details

With the goal of rebuilding the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges, as well as funding new climate resilience and broadband initiatives, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act reportedly serves to deliver a key component in President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Projects approved in the legislation, according to the White House’s Fact Sheet, will include:

  • Delivering clean water to all American families and eliminate the nation’s lead service lines ($55 billion);
  • Ensuring access to reliable high-speed internet ($65 billion);
  • Repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity and safety ($110 billion);
  • Improving transportation options for millions of Americans and reduce greenhouse emissions through the largest investment in public transit in U.S. history ($89.9 billion);
  • Upgrading airports and ports to strengthen supply chains and prevent disruptions that cause inflation, also creating jobs and reducing emissions ($17 billion);
  • Making the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak ($66 billion);
  • Building a national network of electric vehicle chargers ($7.5 billion);
  • Upgrading power infrastructure to deliver clean, reliable energy and deploy energy technology to achieve a zero-emissions future ($65 billion);
  • Making infrastructure resilient against the impacts of climate change, cyber-attacks and extreme weather events ($50 billion); and
  • Delivering the largest investment in tackling legacy pollution in American history by cleaning up Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaiming abandoned mines and capping orphaned oil and gas wells ($21 billion).

The White House also reports that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, alongside the Build Back Framework, will add on average 1.5 million jobs per year for the next ten years.

“Tonight, we took a monumental step forward as a nation,” President Biden said in a statement following the 228-206 vote. “The United States House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a once-in-generation bipartisan infrastructure bill that will create millions of jobs, turn the climate crisis into an opportunity and put us on a path to win the economic competition for the 21st Century.

“I’m also proud that a rule was voted on that will allow for passage of my Build Back Better Act in the House of Representatives the week of Nov. 15. The Build Back Better Act will be a once-in-a-generation investment in our people.”


Tagged categories: American Institute of Architects (AIA); Building codes; Building materials; Carbon footprint; Commercial / Architectural; Design - Commercial; Emissions; Energy codes; Funding; Good Technical Practice; Government; Maintenance programs; NA; North America; President Biden; Program/Project Management; Renovation; Residential; Schools

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