ACI National Home Performance Conference: Setting the Pace for Change

This year ACI held its largest ever national home performance conference in Baltimore, Md.  It was the largest in the number of workshop sessions: over 195 sessions, in 25 thematic tracks; with the largest number of exhibitors (115) and sponsors (48).  

The three themes stood out: a) keep it simple (from the homeowners perspective); b) there is no silver bullet; and c) HVAC is jumping into home performance, maybe not head first, but at least with both feet in a measured way. 

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Time and time again I heard repeated the finding that most middle-class homeowners aren't motivated to make energy efficiency upgrades because they care about reducing carbon emissions or saving some money on their electrical bill.  They care most about the comfort, health and safety of their home and their family.  If we can solve these problems and save money, that's icing on the cake, but that's not what closes the deal.  And speaking of closing the deal, that's the other side of simplifying the kitchen table equation: how to make it easier for contractors to sell and perform energy efficiency upgrades.  If there are too many bureaucratic hurdles or conflicting messages, contractors won't be able to do their job.

NO SILVER BULLETS

This is flip side of KISS:  like the iPhone and other high tech/high touch successes, it may look easy to use, but you know it takes many hours of planning, coordination and implementation to get an iPhone app or iTunes song to upload and play correctly.  Selling and installing residential energy efficiency measures isn't as simple as putting PV on the roof, or installing a new piece of equipment.  Like people, every home is unique, and while you may be able to characterize homes in a certain neighborhood or vintage, there is no easy one-size-fits-all solution. 

At the Home Energy Leadership Summit, U.S. House Representative Pete Welch reminded us that efficiency has to be at the heart of solving our energy problems. "It's a place for common ground...at a time when congressional members are looking for something useful to do--this has got to be it!", said Rep. Welch, while also admitting that energy "leadership is coming up from communities who are deciding to act and do everything they can do now."

HVAC TO HOME PERFORMANCE: A GAME CHANGER

More so than in past ACI Nationals, there was a strong presence of HVAC contractors, and a growing realization that it doesn't make sense to continue installing high efficiency, zone controlled HVAC systems in houses with leaky building envelopes.  As Mike Rogers, with ABM Energy, stated at the Summit, HVAC contractors visit 60,000-90,000 homes per day.  HVAC contractors can build on familiarity, trust, and the costs already incurred in the home.  Mike says that GreenHomesAmerica "teaches our techs to look for opportunities during their routine HVAC service visits."

Carrier announced their MyHomeEnergyExperts.com program for their factory authorized dealers, and ACI offered a day-long pre-conference workshop on HVAC Contractor Opportunities in Home Performance, sponsored by Carrier.  Jesse Unruh, with ABC Cooling in Fresno, Calif., spoke about the culture shift and profitability of bringing a whole house systems approach under one roof.

Ely Jacobsohn with DOE spoke about the evolving HVAC and envelope pathways to building health and safety improvements as part of Home Performance with Energy Star version 2.0.  Which comes first--envelope improvements or HVAC improvements?  Hopefully homeowners will do both!  Read more about the proposed changes for v.2 and post your comments online on the Building America Document Review tool

WEATHERIZATION STANDARD BEARERS

Many speakers acknowledged the amazing achievements of the weatherization workers around the US who stepped up to the ARRA challenge and retrofitted so many more American homes.  The Weatherization Assistance Program set the bar for measurable home performance practice.

Thanks to the ACI staff for another great National Home Performance conference.  As ACI CEO Amy Fazio said in the opening plenary, "It’s now our choice to align our efforts, interests and direction to get real results real quick."  What part will you play? Give ACI your feedback at acinational.org/summit-survey. See you next year in Denver!

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