When you live on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and spend several days shoveling one of the biggest snowfalls on record, as I did last month, your thoughts naturally turn to the political. If you’re a Democrat, you thank all your taxpayer-paid public services for plowing the roads and keeping the hospitals open. If you’re a Republican, you give thanks that the storm shut down the federal government for several days and thus temporarily kept the feds from inflicting more grief.

But the snowstorm also produced something else: good feelings among all the people I saw shoveling elderly neighbors’ walks and generally enjoying the opportunity to share in the winter wonder. One stranger was so happy she high-fived me as we passed each other in the middle of a snowy street.

Experiencing crises together remind us that, at its heart, government is a formalized product of what happens after a community is born. For all that this nation celebrates mavericks, it also succeeds because we’ve agreed to rules in which the strong give consideration to the weak. If we didn’t think that way, auto drivers would be running over thousands of pedestrians at intersections every day.

Of course, world history also is full of examples of government regulation run amok. Citizens are right to cherish their freedoms.

And that brings us to this month’s issue (read the cover story). Whenever I attend a remodelers’ meeting devoted to regs, attendees’ exasperation levels rise so high that it’s easy to question why they’d ever want to be in this business.

But I also notice several other things that encourage me. The first is that remodelers almost always agree with the core concerns that prompted the regs. Unlike, say, whether global warning is a threat, most remodelers can come to a consensus that exposure to lead paint is a bad thing. Remodelers want their employees to work in a safe environment, not in deadly sweatshops. They believe in building safe housing and putting in an honest day’s work for a decent wage.

That general support for health and safety means that most complaints I hear about the regulatory environment don’t question whether a reg should exist at all, but rather how it should be implemented. The challenge thus becomes finding a way to achieve the general objective. To that end, you should note all the qualifiers I put into this and the previous paragraph—“almost always” and “most” and “general support.” That’s because one of the big problems remodelers face is that a small number of bad guys are poisoning our reputation. The scams and outrages committed by these con artists and shoddy contractors leave regulators with little choice but to write rules that lots of remodelers regard as overkill.

On the other hand, I also could use those same qualifiers to describe remodelers’ involvement in the governmental processes that create those regulations. Most remodelers don’t belong to their local professional communities—chapters of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry or NAHB Remodelers. An even greater number don’t reach out to their local, state, or federal governments to help them write rules that achieve commonly desired goals in an effective way. I just about always hear more complaining than constructive proposals.

Professional remodelers’ livelihoods depend on them being in a community; otherwise, you wouldn’t have any customers. And what you do helps make that community better. By influencing how regs are written and enforced, you can do even more.

Read the cover story »