ACCA Existing Residential Building Improvement Standard: Some Thoughts

My company, Building Efficiency Resources  (www.TheBER.com) is--among other things--a HERS providership.  We see a tremendous opportunity now and into the future for Raters on the retrofit side, and we are devoting considerable effort to exploring and developing ways for our Raters to seize that opportunity.  We bring to that task a clear understanding that not all Certified Raters are highly knowledgeable about existing homes, and that the farther back we travel in time, the less confident they are.

 

Sample question:  What clearly distinguishes a home built just before WWII from one built in 1946?  Answer:  plywood in the original construction of the 1946 home.  Although  the history of laminated wood goes all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, plywood was not used in residential construction until the military refined the product and the manufacturing process to make gliders, PT boats, and probably other war materiels.

 

I've just spent the better part of a day reviewing the draft version of the ACCA Existing Residential Building Improvement Standard.  Even though I'm an English major, I submitted a few suggestions, but those are not what got me thinking.  On the whole, the document is well on its way to becoming a gold standard.

What's the catch?  I have come to know quite a few Raters and Building Performance Contractors, as well as guys in the trenches and licensed Home Inspectors. 

The key question for me at the end of the standard is based on a larger question, not on any particular details:  Who is qualified to do these audits and specify the improvements?

I think I could do so with a reasonable degree of accuracy, but I've been in literally thousands of homes in the last 39 years (since you ask, yes, I was two years old when I started). 

Since the end of the last century, I have done so not only with battle scars but also with a pretty good handful of earned certifications.

Now let's imagine someone with a bit less experience, such as--let's see--a person seeking a new career in a challenging economy?  How can this person be trained to understand the content (much less the interactions and synergies of components) involved in such an audit?  How about the creation of a workscope to address the findings of the audit?

I'm thinking that the audit has a level of complexity at least as great as engineering this roof framing with a slide rule  and a pencil: 

Ed Mazria spoke on his Architecture 2030 concept at a Southface Greenprints conference a couple of years ago, and I asked him this in the question-and-answer period: Where are we to find the people to do the work that needs to be done, but who can also pass a drug test and a police check?  There is of course no answer.

 

To that I add this question:  How do we create the audit force that can deliver according to this standard, and make that force large enough to do the work that needs to be done?

 

To quote from an unlikely source, the wonderful musical The King and I:  "Is . . . a . . . puzzlement."

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Tags: ACCA, audit, building, performance, retrofit, workscope

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Comment by Ed Voytovich on April 26, 2011 at 9:25am

Well said, David.  The puzzlement just keeps self-replicating.  I'm sure you have noticed (as heaven knows I have) that candidates to do our work who also meet your ideal (which is the same as mine) make hens' teeth seem readily available.

This is the first question that needs to be addressed, and in my worldview it comes way ahead of green building and passivhaus construction.

My own fantasy would be to bring the military home, train them to do excellent retrofit work, run projects like battles, create officers and non-coms who can lead their troops, pay for it by slashing the need for foreign energy, and share the approach with other developed nations.  Of course, the second pincer would flank the sustainable use of water, and pay for wastewater purification and desalinization plants with funds previously dedicated to advanced fighter aircraft and other such projects.

Like I said, it's a fantasy.

Comment by David Willson on April 26, 2011 at 8:05am

Yes, an excellent question, and a puzzlement worth talking about, Ed.  Something you allude to without really driving home is that it is your experience and time in the field that allows you to believe in yourself as someone qualified to do audits and quality retrofits.  Your credentials do, also, but only in conjunction with your experience.  And therein is the rub.

 

How do we instill in our newcomers to the field of Home Performance that the classes and credentials they may be picking up are only the ticket in the door and that they have to watch the show for a while before they're qualified to get up on the stage?  Can it be made more explicitly during BPI, HERS, or BIG classes that these classes are only a beginning?  And can that be done without discouraging the many thousands of workers that must enter the field in the next 5 years?  Can we, as mentors and employers, successfully instill in those we hire that this is a complex field, with no shortage of surprises, and a young enough field that it's growing and changing at a rapid pace and requires constant learning? 

 

I think all of the above.  I won't take somebody on that hasn't passed the basic BPI certification and I realize there's still many hours of one on one mentoring that needs to be done.  My ideal of an employee:

 

An understanding that Building Science actually has a fair amount of science in it,

Always looking for what they can learn from the project at hand,

A constant quest for thoroughness and perfection,

Enough humbleness to recognize mistakes when made and fix them,

A thorough understanding of customer health risks in what we do,

A rock solid belief that a satisfied customer is the best sales tool.

 

It's up to those in the field that already are all of the above to define the above as worthy goals for all employees. 

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