On the news today was the data showing the new Nissan Leaf will get 99 mpg. That is amazing! Is this a step in the right direction? Well maybe a little, but I think it is more a step laterally and not one that moves us closer toward energy independence. The way I am looking at this is that it gets the masses thinking about using less and getting more, which is the fundamental meaning of efficiency, but it is not without costs. If we don’t have a disruption like the Bloom Box for the car or Hydrogen technology make significant strides, electric cars will just tax everyone, not just the people that own them.
Electric cars like the LEAF are travelling 100 miles before they need to be plugged in again and recharged. This will become a fight for the wattages produced and surely increase demand. More demand means more supply is needed which adds to the costs. Since they won’t be able to charge the individual owners of electric cars a different per KwH rate, they will have to charge everyone more across the board and this will be an unwanted tax increase to many. Not to say that it isn’t cool to have a car that doesn’t use gasoline, but something will be invented soon that really changes the game.
This brings me right to building performance and the ever increasing need to make our houses energy efficient. If we are going to inevitably pay more per year for our electricity, even without the advent of all electric cars, then it makes more sense than ever before to begin reducing the amount of energy we consume in our buildings. This is the only way we can help stabilize and control those costs. Homeowners need to be active in their participation.
As grassroots energy efficiency businesses have trudged along for the past 2+ decades doing retrofit work on low income and other homes, now with the downturn, it is beginning to look smart and sexy for all homes and many contractors are beginning to take notice. Building performance has made several strides recently with the help of incentive programs and funding initiatives like PACE and RuralStar, coop incentives, ARRA stimulus programs, HomeStar and more.
We are all thinking of staying put for longer and slowly beginning not to think of our homes merely as an ATM. With the rise in all things “green”, energy efficiency is finding its foothold in certain sectors and slowly flowing into others. Buildings are by far the largest consumer of energy, around 45%, so that is the easiest sector to begin cutting the fat.
As with any opportunity, the wolves come looking for a piece of the action. This has recently happened in the home performance industry with Home Depot signing a Memorandum of Understanding with RESNET; one of our trade organizations that have been an advocate for the building science based “house-as-a-system” approach to home performance for more than a decade. This systems engineered approach uses calibrated diagnostic tools for data collection and sophisticated energy modeling software, that when used in accordance with established national standards, provides the greatest opportunity to know where you’re going and how to best get there.
As I am excited that the Goliath in home improvement will be bringing home energy awareness into the mainstream, I am very nervous about the unintended consequences that may ensue. The nature of the agreement that has been leaked to date is that HD will be providing Home Energy Survey’s through their At-Home Services division. This is where I see some problems that can arise.
First, a home survey is basically a visual only inspection. They are supposedly based in building science, if performed by a BPI or RESNET Certified Professional, but they offer very little in finding ways to keep the energy in your house by reducing those air leaks. Air leaks take a variety of forms and are found in a variety of places. From your ductwork to your walls, ceilings, and floors, leaking air is the biggest culprit in energy loss, building discomfort, condensation problems and poor indoor air quality. The simple nature of air is that if it can’t hold water, it can’t hold air. The more air your house loses, the more dollars you are wasting and the more problems you are creating. Air, air, air!!!
So, if Home Depot’s home energy assessments are not going to find air leaks, what will they focus on? Will they sell the products Home Depot makes money on? Or the installation services that have thin margins but are offered in order to sell products while acting like the one-stop shop? I don’t see this as a win-win-win (Company Winning, Customer Winning, and Earth Winning) in the energy efficiency world.
This possible product driven program makes me think of John Tooley, of Advanced Energy, who is a goliath himself in the building performance world. His philosophy regarding energy efficiency is “Doing something right the first time trumps everything when it comes to building homes. The simple materials we have used for the last 100 years, when used correctly, will render very efficient homes. Until we abandon the “silver bullet” new product approach to energy efficiency, we will never affect the masses. Better products do not improve the process of building houses, improving processes improves processes.”
The statement “Doing something right the first time trumps everything else” is something everyone can agree on. If we are performing Home Energy Walk-Through Surveys, how can we be sure that we are doing the right things in the right order? The willing and excited Home Depot DIY Customers will be spending money thinking they are doing the right thing in the right order. Why shouldn’t they if they are told a RESNET certified Home Energy Pro gave them the recommendations? Up until this recent announcement, both RESNET and BPI speak of reducing air leakage and increasing air tightness as the first, most important step in increasing the energy efficiency and comfort of homes. For anyone that is in the field, we all know that the better job we do with tightening a home, the more problems that were borderline before begin to surface. Taking a willy-nilly approach to tightening is not beneficial for anyone. There are serious consequences to tightening, especially regarding combustion safety and the health of the occupants.
I could write a dissertation on the topic and the precarious situation I see Home Depot and RESNET entering into, but will leave more for comments and later articles. Don’t get me wrong, Home Depot is a steward in the corporate world making enormous strides to reduce their energy consumption and carbon footprint. I shop there because they give a good price on commodity products. They also have been very philanthropic giving funding to companies to do energy efficient upgrades, but now I see them taking a very poor step with this newest direction. I know that it will increase the awareness of home energy efficiency, but at what costs? The knowledge of the process and the ability to verify the results on things as dynamic as buildings is not something that can, or should be, commoditized.
The way it stands now, the HESP (Home Energy Survey Professional) will do a walk-through, clipboard assessment and enter the data into a software program that will give the homeowner’s a list of improvements that they can do to improve the home’s performance and energy costs. Without diagnostic testing though, this will only be product focused and that is not where true gains are realized. The HESP is supposed to recommend a more thorough comprehensive diagnostic audit, but that seems like a difficult task to execute especially with what they are being asked to do. First they are being asked to admit their assessment is only “so-so” and not what the customer really needs. Second they are being asked to sell something they don’t understand. If HERS Raters and BPI Professionals have had a hard time selling their services when they fully understand the value, how is someone unknowledgeable about testing going to be able to sell it? Also, who is going to pay for the second assessment?
This sounds like opportunistic people are about to prey on the willing and some poor economic outcomes could be the result. If Home Depot really wants to take the lead and use the RESNET brand, they should hire HERS Raters to educate their customers and up sell the surveys at an in-store desk. They are the ones that understand how to realize the large strides in energy efficiency and the “House-as-a-system” approach to building performance.
Would you want your doctor to do surveys or tests to determine your health? If we are not testing, then we are GUESSING!!!