PATH May End Early

With a shrinking federal budget, the construction technology program faces extinction just as it hits its stride.
By Patrick L. O’Toole, Senior Editor | April 30, 2001
The Partnership for Advancing Technology, the 21/2-year-old construction technology program operated through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, faces extinction next year just as it is hitting its stride.

In the tough competition for a slice of the shrinking federal budget, the Bush administration omitted the $10 million in PATH funding despite the program’s record of helping bring steel framing, structural insulated panels, solar-power technologies and other advancements to more new homes. At a time when the need for high-tech, energy-efficient homes is growing, the question for many builders and material suppliers is how to get the program put back into the final budget.

"We’re writing letters and making phone calls to members of Congress," says PATH industry steering committee chairman Michael Chapman of Chapman Homes, Santa Fe, N.M. He says he is seeing strong support from builders to save PATH. Underneath it all, he says, is the feeling that the program offers tremendous value to the public.

"Most home builders," Chapman says, "tend to feel that the industry is better off if government stays out of our business, but PATH is a case where we are making very efficient use of a small amount of government support."

John Wesley Miller, a noted builder of sustainable homes in Tucson, Ariz., agrees. Through a PATH program run by the NAHB Research Center, Miller’s company is field-testing the combined use of tankless and solar-powered water heaters at a community being built on an infill site in Tucson. He says that PATH, through its affiliation with respected organizations such as the Research Center, not only offers builders technical assistance but also lends a crucial element needed to spur the use of new technologies—credibility.

"Technology traditionally has not been adopted by the building community as early as it could have been," Miller says. "If we give up PATH, we lose the opportunity to quickly transfer technology from early adopters like me to the rest of the industry."

Larry Zarker, vice president of marketing for the Research Center, sees potential for even greater acceleration of housing technology as a result of a nearly complete Technology Roadmapping process underwritten by PATH. The Roadmapping project has brought together industry experts for a series of three two-day workshops. Each workshop centered on a particular theme: information technology in home building, advanced panelization systems, and whole-house, building process redesign.

"The Roadmapping process," Zarker says, "is linked with PATH’s goals of increasing affordability and durability of housing generally. When it is completed, we will be able to look at what needs to be done over the next 10 years to put the industry in the position where it can achieve those goals systematically."

Former NAHB president Roger Glunt, who once led PATH’s steering committee, says he hopes funding for the program will be restored but gives it only a 50-50 chance.

"I’m frustrated," Glunt says. "Once you get something rolling and then it goes off track, it is hard to get started again. And if that is the case with PATH, a lot of the investment will go by the boards."