Joe Boutin: Laws require training for energy audits, but not for building a whole house

This commentary is by Joe Boutin of Sunderland, a contractor in a business partnership with his two sons. He has been in construction for 51 years and has worked in five countries, under EU and Norwegian code regulations.

VTDigger states that bill H.157 is the “first-ever certification process for construction.” The bill would “mandate registration for contractors working on projects costing $2,500 or more.”

For years I have advocated for regulation around the construction industry. This is as far as Vermont has come in all those years. The lawmakers are debating on registering, can one believe it, just registering if a job is over $2,500. Nothing stating that insurance must be provided, some standard of qualification established, proof of knowledge of Vermont codes, including energy codes, or even registration of good standing in the state. 

The Vermont legislative majority consciousness just doesn’t seem able to move out of the past, when anyone with a pickup and a hammer should be able to take on a construction project.

Does not our Legislature realize the necessity of trade education, certification and licensing? Do legislators think the carpenter wants this because he/she thinks it will increase the wages? 

The reality is that increased wages are already here and only destined to continue to rise in Vermont. The days of hiring for $12 an hour are long gone. Try $25, $35, $55, and more. Enter the ones who see what’s going on, with no training, no insurance, no certification, but who’s to stop them from taking on your project? Not the state of Vermont.

To work with Efficiency Vermont with the state-backed Home Energy Loan initiative, you have to be a member of the Efficiency Excellent Network. For a carpenter, one way to do this is to take a course with the Building Performance Institute to be certified. I spent hundreds of dollars in 2014, spent a week in classes and had to pass two examinations to gain my certification. The Legislature allows Efficiency Vermont to demand this level of certification. 

So, I was able to do energy audits, blow insulation and help people get rebates for state-funded initiatives because I had gone through this training. But, to build a house, do renovations and to agree to thousands of dollars’ worth of work on someone’s home, I need no certificate, no training whatsoever, nothing in the state of Vermont. 

This seems close to insanity to me — that the laws will demand training for energy audits, but not to build an energy-efficient house. 

But keep your eyes open. With the push in the State of the State address for more housing, my bet is that, for a builder to participate in a state initiative, one will have to be certified by Efficiency Vermont. A slick way to avoid industry-wide licensing and regulations. Of course, for people wanting renovations, additions, and such, they get what they can.

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