This is a look at some of the recent changes & challenges facing BPI I originally posted on my site:http://blog.sls-construction.com/2012/bpi-at-the-crossroads-exams-n...

Lately BPI (aka Building Performance Institute, Inc.) has been growing exponentially and making plenty of waves in the certification field. Just this last July they had 25,000 “active” certifications and closed out 2011 with 31,662. Originally there growth while slow was also pretty steady as shown on this chart of BPI accredited contractors. Enter in the HPwES program, Home Star, etc… and an organization that only processed 350 certifications in 2005 processed over 13,000 last year. Needless to say, this has brought them some growing pains, raised some concerns, and dare I say brought them to an interesting set of crossroads.

Is it a bubble or just the start?

As an organization that has taken a few pages from the USGBC playbook, this growth might just appear to be the start of a great pattern. On the other hand, paying attention to how many individuals have fallen off the train (HomeStar, Recovery WAP, etc…), and by listening to &/or talking to those certified, the picture starts looking a little different. In many respects the growth & statements by many are eerily similar to the commercial, tech, oil, housing & banking bubble collapses that many of us have lived through.

In my opinion BPI is pretty close to hitting a plateau as any growth will be equal to or outweighed by those that are no longer in the field or those of us choosing not to renew our certifications. Whether they continue to learn, grow, and adapt like USGBC did or implode is completely dependent on BPI looking at some issues, seeing how quickly they can adapt, and dare I say listen to those of us in the field.

Exams:

In many ways, this path has already been decided when they instituted some new testing protocols like videotaping, requiring someone beside the teacher to do the field testing and raising their fees. While I am generally not one to tell someone they are charging too much, $250 for a 50 or 100 question test taken via the computer is high. For example:

  • ACCA tests are $65 a piece
  • Microsoft is $150 a piece (and some of those are 4 hours long)
  • Cisco varies from $125 to $315 depending on level of the test being taken
  • IBM is a flat $200
  • To become a licensed Alabama Residential builders costs $96 which comprises of two written tests (4 hours)
  • The Alabama HVAC test runs $150
  • Alabama Commercial Trades is $192 (6 hours for some)while the GC runs $10 more

I don’t think $500 for a field test is unreasonable (or is this just the fee charged to the testers?), nor is having a different instructor do it. What is pushing it though is the cameras and the differences that the instructors bring. If you are worried about the testers, have someone be “tested” by a “tester” and grade or QC them once a year anonymously. Along those lines I hope the training instructors are more up to snuff than I have seen – if my second one would have judged me on what the first one taught, I probably would have failed as he left out a few important steps. Along those lines, for an organization dedicated to health & safety… letting a student walk away without knowing what they need to improve on or they failed on is not only irresponsible.

New Certifications:

I guess congrats are in order for being chosen to do the pilot program for four new certifications tied into the Recovery thru Retrofit & National Workforce Retrofit Guidelines. I do have to give you some props for having an experience requirement now being there, especially compared to your other certs.

With that said, I do plan on digging into the full specs later but the initial impressions are not good. Seriously you are going to grade one on “penmanship,” “dedication to the cause”, and sales abilities – sorry but you really need to rethink what some of these positions really do & how they are done.

Along the lines of adding in more certifications you might take this opportunity to start thinking about streamlining & improving your existing certifications. For example this was recently posted on the Home Energy Pro’s site; “The Energy Auditor certification is not replacing the Building Analyst certification. Rather, it will be the next step in the career ladder from Building Analyst. The BA certification verifies that the worker has a foundation in diagnostic and analytical building science needed for a variety of career paths in the home performance industry.” While this might be technically correct, the way it has been marketed isn’t and there is a huge inconsistency in the training & standards in this regards.

Speaking of “next steps”, you might take a page from Cisco’s playbook which has a progressive level of testing. Once a person passes the first level they have three years to re-certify (hmmm that sounds familiar), however if during that three years they take a higher level test, that lower level cert is automatically updated for the next three years. Assuming they decide not to pursue the next higher level (thus automatically extending everything for another three years), all that is required is for them to complete one re-certification test which covers all the certs. If they let everything lapse, well then they get to start the process all over again but at no time do they actually lose the fact that they held the certification.

Standards:

I really would love to know this – who is responsible for you still using & listing the 1989 standard for ventilation? Is it the same person that says that someone with just a “foundation” in diagnostic testing should be drilling holes into exhaust pipes? For the first item, let me just give you a hint – drop the 89 moniker and list the newest ASHRAE standard. If you still feel strongly about .35 simply state – the house must meet the higher of ASHRAE standard, the local AHJ code or our .35 standard. No one cares if you take a harder or better stance on a standard (just look at the spillage one, you guys say one minute max while the industry was still stuck at 5 minutes) simply adopt it as your own while still paying head to all the changes & developments in the industry. Right now you remind me of, and give the appearance of some building departments that don’t want to change or adopt to the newer codes.

Moving onto the second question, for a standard that you built your entire reputation on; why is there still so much confusion on which vents can or can’t be drilled? Why is there no standard method for plugging them if this is required? Shoot, why are you pushing for an untrained & unqualified individuals (as defined by at least 32 states *or was that 40* and numerous local jurisdictions) to work on, test, or diagnose equipment that is beyond their abilities &/or in some cases illegal to do? Why do require testing that is contrary to not only the vent manufacturer’s directions but even the few appliance manufacturers testing procedures I have seen? Shoot while we are at it (as I just saw this one on the Linked In board from yesterday), why is there so much confusion on if the CAZ door should be opened or closed?

For more on my thoughts & the answer to the B-Vent question, I hope you will check out the rest of the article & leave your thoughts

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Comment by Sean Lintow Sr on March 30, 2012 at 9:54am

Leslie - thank you for the response & creating an FAQ for the program - that does help answer some questions.

I got to admit that I am shocked to see that 2007 memo; not about what it reads, but the failure of BPI and others from providing that info to those taking the classes, stakeholders, etc... Clearly after reading that & thinking about the terms being used now for BA & EP graduates ("entry-level"), you should really consider removing a significant portion of the testing & pushing for those qualified to do the testing to do it (which in most states is licensed HVAC contractors only)

As for the field test feedback - while I understand your answer, I got say that just does not fly and unless you have openened it up some, no one gets feedback. All someone basically knows is that they have passed, not that they might need to bone up or train more on any one aspect which leaves them thinking they have it all down right. With that thinking they keep on doing the wrong thing all the time & teaching others the wrong way to do things which leads us to some of these discussions we see on this board & numerous other ones.  

Randy - shhhh, be careful about feeding Bud... but yes you are both right in many regards

Glen - thanks & thanks, when I first looked at it, it appeared to be another DTWBS & apparently I am not far off. If you don't mind, when I do get a chance to really dig into it & write up a post or two on it, I would love to include some of your comments

Bud - sorry but BPI isn't to blame for the "creating" 4 new certs as those fall under the recovery through retrofit program (though they did have a big hand in that on-going fiasco.) As I mentioned they won the award for creating & managing the certification (which we can easily argue about the merits of what they propose & even if they are qualified on one of them).

I don't think we have lost site of what we want to accomplish, I think everyone keeps on trying to re-invent the wheel & they keep on making the same mistakes &/or piling on top of the original ones. The other issue is that everyone wants to apply a manufacturing style teaching & certification system to houses which are infinitely more complicated than that system allows for.

Heh as for the "savings to investment" you know my feelings on that when it comes to construction, but as it relates to this - I would dare say they are easily in the red if the are using actual numbers and not the fluffed up numbers that are used typically.

Comment by Leslie McDowell, BPI on March 29, 2012 at 2:14pm

Sean, thank you for your thoughtful comments on BPI’s growth. We are gratified to see such strong growth in the industry, even during this challenging economy, as reflected in the number of people earning BPI credentials. Please see BPI's answers to your questions and comments below:

Regarding BPI’s growth and increased exam fees:

Administration:  BPI issued its first certifications in 1996 and has never raised prices in the history of the organization. In 2005 we processed 350 certifications. Last year we processed over 13,000 certifications and nearly 32,000 certification exams. Meeting this administrative challenge has been expensive. Three years ago we had the foresight to begin an investment into IT database development in order to automate more of our systems. We are nearly $1 million into that effort, and have been able to cut processing times from over six weeks to less than two. 

Standards Development: BPI is now engaged in over 20 standards development activities. BPI’s standards are free and available for download to support the industry (unlike many other Standards Development Organizations).  All of these are extremely important to the industry but don’t actually provide BPI with any revenue. However the industry depends on and looks to us for these standards. There are significant and rising costs associated with convening Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) from across the industry and country to develop standards using a consensus-based methodology. In addition, as a developer of American National Standards through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), we are required to consistently adhere to a set of procedures that govern the consensus development process. These procedures require outreach to SMEs, broad-based public review and comment on draft standards, consideration and response to comments and strict record keeping and reporting requirements.

Staff:  In 2005 BPI employed six staff members to develop standards, work with affiliates to develop certification exams and process applications. Today we employ 40 staff members engaged in developing standards, delivering certifications to the workforce and accreditation and third party quality assurance to contracting companies. Staff also works with test centers to provide guidance and quality assurance in the proctoring process.

Regarding BPI’s new Home Energy Professional certifications: BPI has posted answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the new certification on our website: http://www.bpi.org/pilot. The new certifications are not replacing BPI’s existing certifications. The new certifications are for experienced industry professionals, not new comers to the field. The certifications are tailored to the specific job tasks of each role: energy auditor, retrofit installer, crew chief, and QC inspector, and have significant work experience prerequisites attached to them. As experienced BPI certified professionals’ certifications come up for renewal (every three years), they may want to go for one of the new certifications  that correspond to the role they are playing within their company. BPI’s existing certifications will remain important building blocks for gaining this experience and for ensuring technicians have the broad building science knowledge they need to build their careers.

Regarding providing feedback immediately following the BPI field exam: BPI follows ANSI protocols on testing to ensure consistent and fair procedures for all candidates. According to these protocols, BPI proctors can and should provide feedback on general areas of the exam, but should not point directly to what a candidate did wrong. The exam verifies that a candidate has the breadth of building science knowledge he/she needs to perform diagnostic assessments correctly (in the case of the BA exam). Specific actions that may be performed incorrectly during a field test are tied back to core principles of combustion safety, integrity of the building envelope, determination of R-values and much more. Performing related diagnostic actions incorrectly frequently indicates a deeper level of misunderstanding, thus requiring a deeper level of study than simply correcting the action itself.

Regarding referencing ASHRAE 62.2-2010: BPI standards are referenced by over 120 state, local and utility programs nationwide, some of which are a result of legislative mandate while others are voluntary or market driven. Such programs take months and up to a year to adjust to changes to existing standards and practice. Last February BPI asked contractors at ACI’s regional New York conference how much time they would need to adjust and be able to implement 62.2-2010 in their work. The response was six months. Strong training infrastructure must be in place to support technicians and contractors who will be implementing ASHRAE 62.2-2010. BPI has been told that some training organizations have begun including this standard into their curricula, so we are now working to include ASHRAE 62.2-2010 in all standards, certifications and accreditation requirements. BPI will be adopting ASHRAE 62.2-2010 within the last quarter of 2012, and will make this announcement soon.  

Regarding which vents can be drilled: BPI cannot prescribe a standard method for drilling B-Vents because methods differ according to B-Vent manufacturers. Please click on BPI’s Guidance on Drilling B-Vents and one manufacturer’s response to this question: Simpson Dura-vent’s® Drilling B-Vent Procedure. We advise contacting the B-Vent manufacturer in question for specific instructions.

Regarding whether CAZ door should be opened or closed: The technician conducting CAZ testing should determine baseline and worst case depressurization based on occupant behavior and existing conditions. If future research determines a specific door orientation for establishing baseline is needed, BPI will investigate referencing such a procedure at that time. 

 

Comment by randy tolowski on March 29, 2012 at 11:28am

Two phrases come to mind "bait and switch" where one thing is advertised but when you get there they don't have what was advertised (JOBS) but they will sell you this other product (New Certification). the other is "ponzi scheme" where there must be new investors to continue the charade (training) It is becoming  like the government where anything they get their hands on has to have 400 pages of "regulations. Another bloated bureaucracy where rules change whenever someone comes up with a bright idea without thinking it through. Bud is right

Comment by Glen Gallo on March 28, 2012 at 6:43am

Sean

Excellent  blog

I reviewed the requirement as well for the energy auditor and had some thoughts which I sent in to BPI. My email copied and pasted below.

I think that in domain 1  bullets 8 and 9 selling client services and or packages and obtaining lead form is in direct conflict with the code of ethics Appendix B section I item A It is a slippery when performing an audit as a contractor. Is this a sales call or an audit? That line can be sometimes blurry. In my view it is not a sales call. Informing the client up front that you are trained as a building performance contractor should be disclosed before the audit process even begins. This report should be separate from that and yet of course they are related.  The audit should be a standalone report that the client can take and run with it. Should the client wish to entertain retaining your services afterward should be left open not required.

 

In domain 2 the task for tax and permit information seems to be invasive to the homeowners privacy. We are not government inspectors so why would this be of use to an Energy Auditor?

 

Task 3 ask that we inspect adjacent buildings. I think that this is a good idea yet will not always be possible due to a number of reasons. While a good suggestion when possible it should not be a requirement

 

I would certainly fail the penmanship portion in this digital age this requirement is antiquated.

 

Task 5 blower door While I agree a Thermographic Imager is useful tool to a Energy Auditor I do not think it should be required. Without level I training the unit simply takes pretty pictures. Images can be easily misinterpreted even by those that have proper training. A good audit can be done without one

 

I see several references to code. As code changes from State to State and even has some local jurisdiction, what code is being referred to? Here in California code for ventilation is the 2007 ASHRAE 62.2    BPI is still using 1989 ASHRAE 62.2. They are different which will be on the test? Is the answer from a California Energy Auditor different from that in New York Auditor? While this complicates matters I would think the answer should be yes. Learning a standard that does not apply to your area to pass a test would seem unproductive.

 

With all that is needed for a field test I hope that there is a reasonable amount of time allotted

Comment by Bud Poll on March 26, 2012 at 6:16pm

So where do you think they will stop?  The 4 new certs sound more like a beginning than an end.  When I first looked at software some 8 years ago, Canada was offering for free their HOT2000 (now HERS tested) software.  Today they still use that same foundation.  To this, they have added its baby sister HOT2XP for a quick and simple audit and the big brother HOT3000 for a bit more power.  All three are vertically compatible so data you enter at the bottom can be expanded upon by uploading to the next level. How many software programs would you say we have here in the states?  How many of then are compatible?  How many of them are free and supported by our government?  If memory serves me, HOT2000 uses a DOE engine.  I will admit I haven't looked for several years so perhaps Canada has been infected by our open competition approach, but I doubt it.

The point I'm trying to make is we seem to have lost sight of where we should be headed.  Instead of spending tax dollars and home owner equity on a huge research project that wants to try this and try that, we should be promoting the fundamentals to everyone at what would be a lower expense to everyone.  Add to all of this that the big picture has changed with the grave concerns about energy starvation almost gone. 

And one more question.  Since we are a "savings to investment" type of organization, how much is our multifaceted approach costing us and how much is it saving us?  I bet Canada would let us compare numbers.

Bud

Comment by Sean Lintow Sr on March 26, 2012 at 4:45pm

Thanks for chiming in Bud though I am not sure that the oversight exhibited is anywhere close to what the NRC does. I got to say though that when you are dealing with government programs & money history has shown they do need some major oversight though sometimes they can go overboard / monitor the wrong items

Comment by Bud Poll on March 26, 2012 at 6:05am

Sean, great blog and I think bubble is correct, at least with their current direction.  The questions being raised are valid and, by all indications, BPI isn't done yet.  I just don't know who has decided that weatherizing a house has to fall under the scrutiny of a Nuclear Regulatory Commission level of oversight? 

Bud

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