90% of all my new energy audit customers now expect reduced or 'free' service. BPI has sites listing participating contractors who offer free audits. BPI has advertised rates of $250 for a whole house assement and audit.
As a professional who has been in the construction business since 1972; I feel this is an attack on the industry from administrators who are micro mannaging the industry. A blower door with all diagnostic equipment now costs around $6,000. Level 1 IR training and a 120 x 120 pixel IR camera, (one that meets the anticipated RESNET standards0, is approaching another $10,000. Add insurance, advertising and overhead; the $250 audit fee is a major income loss.
Perhaps the audit/sales/install business is what is pushing out the independent auditors. That spells loss of competiton and more expense for the home owner. Handy men and home owners who want to do their own retrofits will be out in the cold.
As with any government run enterprise; This business is going to be over influenced, controlled and limited to the big players at the independents and consumers expense.
It's like going to a marriage counselor who is single.
Do you know what they call the guy that finishes last in his class at medical school?
A knowledgeable homeowner will ask for some credentials and possibly testimonials, but if a newbie is better at marketing than you are, he will get the work. Like any business, the audit and retrofit - difficult as it is to do well - is still the easy part. Getting your name effectively in front of large quantities of people is the name of the game.
We do retrofits for a number of auditors, and several of them are the type that will spend 4 hours in the house and another couple of hours hand holding. Great that they have customer service, great that they feel they have the time to treat everyone as special, but if they only work in 25 houses a year, are they having an effect?
We are continually trying to speed them up so that the house night be 97% complete, not 100%, with 1/2 the time involved. On the other hand, we are also continually trying to get those auditors that are 70% effective up to the same 97%. We can only do so much free work on showing up to a house that is poorly audited.
I've been in the energy efficiency field since 1978 and have spent thousands of hours training folks. Up until a couple years ago there were only a handful of energy instructors around most of us have survived every uptick and downturn in the energy efficiency industry since the first oil embargo, (remember that one?) and overnight every community college and training mill were boasting energy efficiency training programs - get certified in two weekends. Where did these instructors come from all of a sudden? One instructor even took me out to lunch to ask me what he should be teaching in his community college class as he was one month into it and ran out of things to tell people. I actually sat in on a class in another community college to see who they were and what they did and I was shocked - they read out of a book and off a power point presentation that someone put together. Now we have hundreds or thousands of "trained and certified" folks out there repeating the little they learned and how you can reduce your utility bill by 50 - 60% by letting them do an energy audit.
The most effective energy training program I developed and taught required three months of in-class training and three months of in-field hands-on training to get an energy specialist's certificate and I felt that that was the bare minimum amount of training needed. No one is willing to put that much time and energy into training anymore.
On so many levels you are right, but there is one thing I cannot get over. It appears that the industry's "old guard" is reluctant\unable to put forth the time and\or create the opportunities to bring up the next generations of home performance specialists.
In full disclosure, I am part of the next generation of HP pros. My path to get to this point has been rough. Never was an opportunity afforded to me, instead I had to create each one.
Is the idea of an apprenticeship program out of the picture? I have already begun to think about creating my own in the near future. I have met quite a few folks who would love to break into the industry as auditors and HP project managers, but I always have to tell them that their best bet is the 5-day BPI training classes. Most contractors and home builders appear to be unwilling to "go green" in this economic environment, so where else can they go? I've also looked at degree programs across the US and there is really nothing out there that would truly prep one for a career in HP.
So, what can we do to bring up the next generations of HP pros?
I am one of those "old guard" types, having started using a blower door, IR scanner and combustion analyzer in 1981 under the scrutiny of the Princeton University crew that started this stuff in earnest. We, like all of the other early adapters, had to invent what we did and how we did it. We have found our own ratio between new homes certification/consulting and existing home audits/retrofits that works for us. We now have over 45 employees and our long road is finally paying off, so what is my incentive to show you what took so much effort to create?
We have watched the new construction market fail and all those aspiring HERS raters left with nothing to do but cut prices ($95 for an Energy Star certification, V 2.0?) or get a BPI cert. We have watched one of the states we work in go from 3 energy firms to 84 in the space of a year, and now as ARRA funds are leaving, they are all dropping out or cutting prices.
We see 3 types of firms:
The very earnest auditor who wants to do 100% for every customer. He refuses to have his own retrofit crew. This guy is the one who does a very sincere job but complains about all the other firms, and is also the guy who does one audit a week. And he is the guy who thinks he knows everything despite being in the business a year. One of these guys locally is petitioning the state to ban flex ducts!
At the other end of the spectrum is the firm that wants to do mass quantities of work and does a hurry up audit and their crews know how to do the average stuff, but when faced with the oddball situation (every house has at least one) they skip over it. We have re-retrofitted some of these houses.
The third type is the one that wants to do it right, is not the cheapest or the most expensive, and does more work than the work scope from their auditor asks for, understanding that it is difficult and time consuming to find every little item, but easier to find those little things when you get into it.
We now have a glut of HERS raters and a glut of BPI certified people, so who am I going to share my hard earned expertise with? One local Community College has been in the BPI training business for about 2+ years - they are dropping out because of the new requirements for proctoring as they are not getting any requests for new training. But the ones that process dozens of auditors (we have a 100% pass rate!) are the ones that can afford to implement all of the new standards.
As with any business, the one's that will be here in 5 years are the ones that understand marketing first, and then the science of what they do second.
I would suggest that you keep up with the blogs and the conferences as these are filled with people who will share their experience (as I am doing right now).
I am not out to call the "old guard" a bunch of old heads, but I am concerned that the 6-day BPI route will come to rule the day, simply b\c a lack of opportunities for aspiring HP professionals currently exist.
I went the tough route, first getting a degree in energy analysis, then doing some free-lance energy auditing work for a while. I then moved on to working with a custom home builder, and it was during this experience that I really got into the implementation side of things (after watching sub after sub cut corners and tell me things like "I think you guys and your tightening up of houses is simply baloney"). From this experience I moved on to starting my own HP company. I do a lot of audits, I perform most of the work myself, and I have been working tirelessly to bring on good HVAC subs (until this work can be performed in-house).
My point is this: I am young, and I def do not know close to it all. I was blessed to work under the State of Massachusetts' excellent QA providers, who taught all of us participating in the States' energy efficiency programs a great deal about performing top-quality work at an affordable cost to homeowners. And, as a young man, I have the luxury of understanding the past and seeing the future quite clearly. The past appears to have been marred by booms and busts in the industry which allowed very few firms and individuals to establish a foothold and grow their businesses\careers the right way.
The future: Steady improvement in the HP industry, but not enough momentum towards high-efficiency buildings relative to business as usual building and retrofitting. If anyone sees bringing up the next generations of HP pros as a threat to their businesses and careers then we have already lost the bigger battle. Industries\trades\specialties require that the best knowledge be passed on to those who will take the torch up in the future. Many of you are the best and brightest out there in the HP industry, and therefore it is incumbent upon y'all to pass on your knowledge and expertise in a meaningful and holistic way.
We will need the row house experts, the townhouse experts, the historical homes experts, the salt box experts, the raised ranch experts, the new construction experts, etc. to pass on their wealth of knowledge and info. Gentlemen, I spent years in the classroom and now have spent a few years in the field. It all had to start with a sound knowledge of the basics and this involved pretty intense class and field training\education. We need y'all helping the new blood to establish training courses and apprenticeships that immerse aspiring HP pros in the art of building science and proper environmental design and construction\retrofit.
I am waiting to partner with y'all on such training and education programs...will I have to wait another 20 years before I can be the "old guard" bringing up the new?
Please do not misunderstand me. I have great respect and admiration for many (if not all) of you, but your duty to the legacy of this industry is one of the most important you have. If you turn your backs on the future generations of this industry then you will have only succeeded in an ephemeral way. Are we not about real change and real results that will act as the foundation of a more sustainable FUTURE?
I would like to talk with you Patrick. I'm old school and have been building for 29 years now, but the last 7 years have been in EE. I believe your in the Northeast, as am I, although I run around to many states for different things.
Weeks ago I referred to it as a puppy mill and was chastised about the comment. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, they are all "Certified BPI Building Analysts" through the magic of a 6 day course. How do you take someone who has never built, remodeled or retrofitted anything in their life to a Certified Building Analyst? Just pay the fee. BPI has the best marketing strategy of anyone. Change the rules as you go. Eventually it will get to the point where no one will will even care about your expensive and time consuming "Certificates"
It's not about Energy efficiency or saving the planet. It's about Making money and BPI knows how to do that I carry a library card that does not make me a Librarian
You were chastised for calling BPI a puppy mill? I think you were being too kind. Did anyone from BPI respond/defend their practices?
Hard to really argue with that.
I wonder what others have to say to this line of reasoning.
In full disclosure, I am in Chad's shoes as a contractor often performing the audits. I find myself as a combination of Chad's sentiment and that made by David Eggleton for a third party system of auditors as QA for contractors and homeowners.
Yeah, guys and gals, let's not fight amongst us or take cheap shots at others expense.
We are truly in this together, whether you feel so or not. Our ability to come together as an industry, to create a lobby of sorts to fight for us, and to speak as (roughly) one will be our biggest challenge in the years to come.
Appliance standards are changing (or at least being challenged). Homeowners are re-thinking how they heat and cool their houses (and mainly from a dollars and cents point of view). Builders and HVAC outfits are slowly but surely moving into the realm of higher-performing houses. Some building codes are requiring much higher standards for home efficiency. If we work together from our offices, our neighborhoods, from DC, from our State capitols we have a real chance at making ourselves a permanent force in the future.
How many homeowners understand how the price of electricity is going to rise in the years to come, and in many cases the price will rise substantially (with the need for new\updated transmission and distribution infrastructure and the need for more capacity)? Few do. But, that's why my company is literally out there in the communities we live to educate and implement. Depending on how my efforts with a local HVAC outfit go, I may be on to something big here.
Don't loose faith, and don't loose your sense of what we're doing and why.
We have done thousands of retrofits since 1981 using blower door, scanner and combustion analyzer. We have had scorekeeping done by 3 Universities on specific projects and have had friends in the business that have had similar. We have done our own scorekeeping looking at savings in different and then across housing types and ages. I believe we are the only contractor to do blower door testing before and after installing receptacle gaskets. Our area is the mid-Atlantic.
The number is 20% savings in heating fuel for air seal and insulation if well and thoroughly done. We certainly have 5% and we even had a 61% one time, but the average is 20%. If the software your HP Program is using is showing much more than that as an average, there is something wrong. Changing heating equipment might yield an additional 10-12% in heating fuel savings going from a 78% heater to a 94% heater. We don't usually quote A/C savings as they are about 1/4 of heating savings as a percentage, and most people do not air condition for the entire season.
Additionally, until about 2007 there were only a small handful of contractors doing audits and repairs in our area. We did our own audits AND work because there was no other way. Does this mean that all of those retrofits were poorly done or that the customers were cheated? We KNOW we can do better than the next guy so we feel a customer who does NOT use us for our way-better-than-the-other-guy retrofit after our way-better-than-the-other-guy audit is getting cheated for not using us.
To be clear - I feel you must be in the house for the audit, and if you are good at auditing you are necessarily good at retrofitting too, so it makes sense that you do the retrofit. And if it is not your own crews doing the retrofit, it is a contractor that you work with all the time and have some control over and who you learn from as much as he learns from you. And you better be getting a referral fee or you will be out of business quickly.