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user-270695 | Posted in General Questions on

I will be writing an article on an energy retrofit and wanted some feedback. Here is an article I had published in the past. I hope to get comments/criticisms of my writing style and the content so I can improve.

“Business: Getting Certified for Home Energy Audits

by Robert Post

As the owner of a remodeling and handyman company, I have been very careful to stay focused on our core offering. Over the years, we have resisted the temptation to take on larger projects such as additions and new construction. We have also resisted the opportunities to offer specialty products and services such as garage systems or replacement windows and siding.

Our company has, however, been involved extensively with remediation work resulting from energy audits and home inspections. I have worked closely with these professionals since the 1990’s and have been educated in building science by them and by periodicals such as JLC. I have always been very interested in building science and energy efficiency, and feel that the shift to sustainable building practices is inevitable. It is with this background and prompted by the economic downturn, that I decided to pursue the Building Analyst Certification from the Building Performance Institute (BPI) and offer energy audits and home performance contracting (HPC).

The Investment of Time

The investment of time was considerable. The BPI coursework that I undertook consisted of a 2 month, web based prep course from Saturn Online. They offer, “guaranteed test prep”, and it was very helpful. I spent approximately 4-6 hours a week working through their material and taking the weekly quiz. This time may vary depending on ones prior knowledge of building science. The course is based on a textbook and manual, which they sell. This is a valuable course, which I would recommend to anyone on this path.

Following the online course, I took a weeklong BPI course which was an 8 hour a day affair. It was a classroom setting and involved 2 outings. One was for an audit, and one was to the facilities HVAC live demonstration room where they had several different systems for observation and testing. The course was fairly intense and conveyed a lot of information. The instructor, Hap Haven, was fantastic. He really demonstrated a mastery of the subject and presented the material with enthusiasm. As a business owner who is billable in the field half the time, there was a cost associated with the loss of revenue during this week. The week culminated with a 2-hour 100-question test requiring a score of 70% or higher, and was followed up with a proctored field exam where I performed an energy audit on an actual residence. The field exam was pass or fail. One needs to pass both aspects to achieve BPI certification. Every three years one is required to be recertified. There are a variety of ways to satisfy this, one of which is 30 hours of qualified continued education.

The Financial Investment

I chose a BPI training package, which included the online course, weeklong classroom course, and both tests. It cost approximately $1200. The textbooks cost about $95.00. As a business owner who spends about half his time in the field and directly billable, there was the loss of production to include in the costs. The equipment kit to start auditing using the BPI protocol starts at about $7000.  There are many hardware add-on possibilities to consider after you get comfortable with the basic kit, but they are not necessary to meet the BPI standards.

Entering this niche was a natural move.

Over the years, I had experience working with auditors and the remediation process. As a result, our small field staff has developed a good basic understanding of the typical flaws in residential structures and their remedies.

In general, these remediation projects are similar in size and scope to the remodeling jobs that represent much of our core business. In fact, these projects require the same accounting to ensure profitability and logistical procedures. Consequently, we did not need to change our systems to accommodate HPC.

HPC requires excellent insulation and HVAC contractors, and we already had those relationships. Our Subcontractors were already accustomed to delivering on best-practice specifications such as high thermal requirements, extensive air sealing, and insulated and sealed ductwork.

With this new service, we continue to be focused on the challenges of working on existing homes.  Remodeling and HPC requires us to be keenly sensitive to the ongoing needs of the homeowner. As this work is being carried out, the sanctuary of the home and the routine of family life must be respected. In both disciplines, managing clients’ expectations are critical to achieve a successful outcome. By remaining focused on these primary concerns, we have seen how the addition of energy auditing and HPC has enhanced, and not detracted from our core offering.

HPC, however, is not without significant challenges.

As an auditor, a thorough understanding of the process is essential. BPI training is also a necessity. The training is an important step to becoming an effective auditor. Following certification, proficiency in the auditing and reporting process must be gained through repetition and experience.

Despite the recent emphasis on a “green” economy, the demand for energy audits and HPC is currently limited. The cost of bringing older homes up to current energy standards is substantial. Moreover, these projects lack the appeal of a new kitchen or finished basement. Public awareness of the potential for savings and importance of energy efficiency is modest. Frankly, energy audits can be a really “tough sell”.

My BPI training further opened my eyes to the problems with our existing housing stock. Attention to detail and quality control during remediation is critical. The results of this work are quantified during the “test-out”. This enables you and your client to know immediately how well you performed. Therefore, installers who understand the goals, methods, and materials involved with HPC are essential.

The entire industry has been hampered by the economic downturn. Even with the tax incentives, HPC is no exception. Consumers still have to find the resources to undertake these projects. With low consumer confidence, financial institutions’ tight lending practices, and so many people unemployed or insecure about their current job status, there is reluctance to spend what may now be a security blanket of limited savings.

A measured expectation of what HPC can and can not offer

This economic landscape has vastly changed the experience of securing new remodeling projects. Having the BPI building analyst certification has helped me distinguish myself from the competition and secure projects with good profit margins. On one occasion, I’ve closed on a significant project by offering a complimentary energy audit.

BPI certification and HPC do not offer immediate opportunities to enter into a full-time, new business. The challenges outlined above, coupled with the initial outlay in equipment costs, are significant.

I run a small remodeling company and we have never advertised. Instead, I have relied on “word-of-mouth” referrals. While advertising and marketing might yield different results, we view HPC as a slow-growth offering for our company.

For some time, I have wanted my accumulated experience and building knowledge to allow me to play a more consultative role as I age in the industry. Becoming a BPI certified building analyst has helped me grow in understanding of building science and is an important step toward that end.

As builders and remodelers, we are in serious need of a paradigm shift as it relates to sustainable building practices. By observing the common building flaws and implementing their costly solutions I have become painfully aware of the obsolescence of many conventional methods and materials.

I have attempted to be “out in front” of this shift in mentality and I believe that the BPI training has aided me in this pursuit.

Summary

If energy auditing and HPC are natural extensions of your existing core offering, BPI certification should be a wise addition to your credentials. While this work will not provide any short-term windfalls, it represents a good long-term strategy to be a beneficial part of the evolution of our industry.”

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Replies

  1. user-723121 | | #1

    Robert,

    Your post is well written and thought out and I congratulate you on your commitment to excellence. One thing you might include in your sales presentation for energy retrofits is the top down approach to air sealing and insulation. Ice dams are real, cost homeowners money and is generally #1 on their list of home related headaches. The attic is where weatherization starts anyway and typically gives the best return on investment. You might consider a staged energy retrofit, cover first the areas that will prevent physical damage, give the best ROI and work towards items of lesser importance.

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