National Institute of Building Sciences Celebrates 40 Years
Friday, August 22, 2014
Forty years ago today, the United States Congress authorized the establishment of the National Institute of Building Sciences when President Gerald Ford signed the Housing and Community Development Act into law on August 22, 1974.
It was a different time. President Richard Nixon had just resigned two weeks before. The United States was in an oil crisis. The Vietnam War was ongoing. Three model code organizations were developing codes.
Ten years before, President Lyndon Johnson had launched a War on Poverty. In 1967, as part of that effort, he appointed the National Commission on Urban Problems to study building codes and technology, zoning and land use, federal and local taxes affecting housing and urban growth, housing codes, development standards and ways to increase the supply of decent housing for low-income families.1 Chaired by Illinois Senator Paul Douglas, the body became known as the Douglas Commission. The resulting report was a distress signal to the nation.
The Commission reported, “…alarms sounded over the past years about the building code situation have been justified. They showed that, while the national model codes were reasonably up to date, the lack of uniformity and modernization at the local level was serious. This situation calls for a drastic overhaul, both technically and among various levels of government.”
The report’s recommendations to the President, Congress and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) identified a number of ways to address the problem areas, among them the establishment of a new body, a National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS).
Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), when introducing an initial bill to establish the Institute, said, “The absence of a national source on new housing technology has been a great obstacle to the efforts to meet the goals set forth in the 1968 Housing Act. Moreover the lack of a system of uniform building code standards increases the cost of construction and inhibits innovation in building techniques.” The Senate bill proposed a 15-man board of directors selected by the President [then Richard Nixon] from recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.2
After many delays, Congress created the Institute through the Housing Community Development Act of 1974 (PL 93-383). In a 1969 article in Engineering News-Record, former Rep. William S. Moorhead (D-Pa.), one of the bill’s sponsors, explained that the legislators gave the Institute a $10-million authorization over a five-year period that would decline from year to year until the Institute was on its own. “They had to have money to get started,” Moorhead said, “but they were given no power other than the power of persuasion.”3
On August 22, during his first two weeks in office, President Ford signed the act into law and the rest, as they say, is history.
On June 14, 1984, nearly a decade after the founding of the Institute, the U.S. House of Representatives hosted a hearing to review the Institute’s legislation, past and present activities, future programs and financial plans. “The consensus that emerged from this hearing was that NIBS has made a significant contribution to improving construction standards and building practices,” summarized Rep. Henry Gonzales, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Development, which hosted the hearing. That same year, following a decade of inconsistent funding, Congress terminated the Institute’s annual federal appropriation.
Since its founding in 1974, the Institute has established dozens of councils; developed numerous projects; and brought together thousands of representatives from government, the professions, industry, labor and consumer interests to focus on the identification and resolution of problems and potential problems that hamper the construction of safe, affordable structures for housing, commerce and industry throughout the United States.
The Institute has spearheaded many ground-breaking and well-known projects over its 40-year history. A few are highlighted here:
Seismic Safety Provisions
In 1979, the Building Seismic Safety Council (BSSC) became the Institute’s first (and now oldest) technical council. (Established to serve as a national forum to advance earthquake-resistant design and construction, BSSC has since become one of the world’s most widely recognized authorities on the subject.) In 1981, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), BSSC refined tentative seismic provisions for the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP). BSSC went on to conduct trial designs of draft seismic safety provisions for FEMA, and, in 1985, published the first edition of the NEHRP Recommended Provisions for the Development of Seismic Regulations for New Buildings. Since then, BSSC has published eight updates of the NEHRP Provisions for FEMA. BSSC also has developed related training materials and educational programs for industry professionals. The next edition of the NEHRP Provisions comes out in 2015.
Big Ten Energy Checklist
In 1980, the Institute formed the Committee for Home Energy Conservation (CHEC), and, with partnering organizations, developed the “Check the Big Ten Checklist: to Save More Energy in Your Home” for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which appeared in newspapers across the country. Later that year, President Carter awarded the Institute the National Energy Efficiency Award for the CHEC program.
In 1980, the Institute published the Rehabilitation Guidelines for HUD. The next year, the Institute co-hosted the Building Rehabilitation Technology Conference with HUD to identify technical problems associated with building rehabilitation. In 1985, the Rehabilitation Guidelines became a model for the three code development organizations. In 1987, the Institute published Meeting America’s Housing Needs through Rehabilitation of Existing Housing and Vacant Buildings. The report, which looked at low-income housing in the United States, was distributed to Congress; a number of foundations and corporations; and the White House.
In 1983, the Indoor Air Quality Project Committee formed to address the national concern over the declining quality of the air inside buildings. The Committee commenced the process of identifying standards and regulations relating to indoor air quality. In response to a proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule making, the Institute formed an Asbestos Task Force, which issued the report, Asbestos in Schools and Public Buildings, in July 1984. In 1986, the Institute came out with the Model Guide Specifications for Asbestos Abatement, followed by the publication, Asbestos O&M [Operations & Maintenance] Work Practices Manual in 1992. Over the decades, the asbestos-related guides have become some of the Institute’s most highly sought publications.
Bugs, Mold & Rot
In 1985, the Institute formed the Wood Protection Council (WPC), which released Indoor Sampling Guidelines for Termiticides a year later. The Institute followed up with Wood Protection Guidelines in 1988. The Institute, through what is now known as the Building Enclosure Technology and Environment Council (BETEC), then published the Moisture Control in Buildings manual in 1994. BETEC would go on to hold a series of workshops on the subjects of bugs, mold and rot. The most recent workshop, Bugs, Mold & Rot III, was held in 1999.
Construction Criteria Base®/WBDG Whole Building Design Guide®
In 1986, the Institute developed an automated facilities engineering information system, called the Construction Criteria Base® (CCB), to assist a number of federal agencies with managing and coordinating their criteria documents. Compiled initially on diskette and, later, on compact disc, CCB was first mailed out to subscribers. In 1998, CCB went live on the World Wide Web, evolving into the WBDG Whole Building Design Guide®. In 2000, WBDG received a recommendation from the Secretary of the DOE that all federal agencies use the sustainable building design information available on the WBDG website. In 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Naval Facilities Engineering Command and U.S. Air Force all selected WBDG to be their “Sole Portal.” WBDG launched the ProductGuide™ and Building Envelope Design Guide (BEDG) in 2005; continuing education courses in 2007; the Mechanical Insulation Design Guide (MIDG) in 2008; and Beyond Green™ case studies in 2009. By 2013, WBDG had reached 600,000 visitors and seven million downloads per month.
In 1987, the Institute established the Lead-Based Paint Task Force, which issued a report on lead-based paint a year later. In 1989, for HUD, the Institute published Lead-Based Paint Testing, Abatement, Cleanup and Disposal Guidelines. In 1994, the Institute released the Lead Laws database on compact disc; and in 1995, the Lead-Based Paint O&M Work Practices Manual and Guide Specifications for Reducing Lead-Based Paint Hazard. In 1996, the Institute’s lead-based paint work became the basis for a model code change. As the EPA considers new criteria for lead-based paint hazards, the Institute remains engaged in this important topic.
In 1992, the Institute began developing a geographic information system (GIS)-based software program for FEMA. Hazards U.S. (Hazus) employs state-of-the-art technology to estimate damage and loss from potential earthquake, flood, hurricane and coastal surge events. For more than a decade, the Institute developed the models to support the software, which emergency planners use as a forecasting tool to assess emergency mitigation strategies before a disaster occurs. The Institute continued to develop updates for the software until 2009. Since then, the Institute has provided FEMA with independent development validation and verification (IV&V) for Hazus Multi-Hazard (MH) as needed, directing oversight committees responsible for evaluating the development of the various Hazus-MH tools.
Hazard Mitigation Study
In 1997, the Institute established the Multihazard Mitigation Council (MMC). In 1999, MMC began a national survey of FEMA’s National Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan and initiated the Hazard Mitigation Planning Fellowship Program with FEMA. In 2005, the MMC published its landmark study, Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: An Independent Study to Assess the Future Savings from Mitigation Activities. The report, which was requested by Congress and funded by FEMA, showed the effectiveness of FEMA’s natural hazard grant mitigation program in reducing future losses and documented how every $1 spent on mitigation saves society an average of $4. The study, which looked solely at the economic benefits of federal public-sector investments, has since been quoted by media, industry experts and members of Congress. In honor of the report’s 10-year anniversary, MMC is looking to fund a new, expanded study on the value of private-sector investment in mitigation.
National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities
In 1998, the Institute welcomed the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF) to its programs, and, a year later, the clearinghouse moved online. Over the course of a decade, NCEF became the largest source of school facilities information in the world, developing numerous reports, programs and workshops. In 2009, NCEF released U.S. K-12 School Construction Data 1999-2008. In 2010, NCEF lost its funding from the U.S. Department of Education. NCEF produced a series of five videos on school safety in 2011 and co-released State Capital Spending on PK-12 School Facilities and Federal Spending on PK-12 School Facilities. In 2012, NCEF published A Look into the History of School Design. The NCEF site then moved to an archival state but continues to offer more than 25,000 resources and hosts more than one million visitors per year.
U.S. National CAD Standard®
In 1997, key building design and construction industry organizations with an interest in the development of a national standard for computer aided design (CAD), including the Institute, American Institute of Architects (AIA), Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) CAD/BIM Technology Center, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on development of a CAD standard. Those who already had CAD related-documents, including AIA, CSI, DOD and USCG, agreed to contribute their documents to a consensus process facilitated and financed by the Institute. In 1999, the Institute began publishing the United States National CAD Standard® (NCS), which standardizes how CAD users sort, organize and deliver electronic building design data. In 2000, the U.S. Navy began requiring use of the NCS. By 2006, the NCS had taken broad steps toward industry-wide acceptance. In 2013, the Institute began developing NCS Version 6, which will be released in 2014.
National BIM Standard-United States®
In 2002, the Institute assumed oversight of the International Alliance for Interoperability North American Chapter (IAI-NA), which launched Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), Edition 2 a year later. In 2004, GSA contracted the Institute to support IFC building information models (BIMs). In 2006, the Institute received a grant to develop a precast concrete BIM standard and cooperated with the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) to develop standard industry schemas for exchanging electronic data, known as AGCxml. The Institute formed the buildingSMART alliance (bSa), and sunset the IAI-NA in 2007. The same year, Part 1 of the National Building Information Modeling Standard (NBIMS) was published. bSa and partnering organizations began developing several information exchange standards, including the Construction Operation Building information exchange (COBie). In 2012, bSa released the National BIM Standard-United States™ (NBIMS-US™) Version 2, which references COBie and other standards, and began working on NBIMS-US™ Version 3. NBIMS-US™ Version 3 is expected to be released at the end of 2014.
- Keith, Nathaniel, Housing America’s Low-and Moderate-Income Families: Progress and Problems Under Past Programs; Prospects Under Federal Act of 1968. Prepared for the Consideration of the National Commission on Urban Problems, Research Report No. 7. Washington, D.C., 1968.
- “Building Institute Proposed.” Engineering News-Record. June 26, 1969.
- “Building institute spurs reg reform: NIBS tackles big issues and cites results.” Engineering News-Record. March 26, 1981.