David Hepinstall (right) and his colleague from the Association for Energy Affordability in New York City through their work provide a powerful antidote to cynicism. 
I was at the Energy OutWest Conference several years ago, but a memory still stands out from that event. I was at lunch with a man who was a weatherization technician. He was bitter. The people we help don’t care about saving energy, as long as someone else is paying for it, he said. And he went on like that.

I’m at this year’s Energy OutWest in San Diego and I finally realize why the memory of that cynical guy has stayed in my mind. I think people who are cynical and bitter have a reason to be. Sometimes they become cynical because they have unrealistic expectations of themselves and others. But we human beings are pretty flawed creatures and we do lots of disappointing things, everything from a rude remark to violent crimes. I don’t want to diminish the pain someone experiences because of the bad actions of others. I do want to provide a remedy for that. I want Home Energy magazine to provide a remedy for that in the stories it tells about the successes and failures of the people working in home performance, and the lessons learned that help them do a better job the next time. 

I know that “that hopey thing” is not taken seriously by some and is even taken as naïveté. But I don’t care!
Acting hopefully, without burdening ourselves with the heavy weight of expectation, is the remedy for cynicism.
We have plenty to be cynical about. Just read the newspaper. But when the head of Energy OutWest, Mimi Burbage, says at the opening plenary, There are people in poverty; we know what we can do for them, it gives us hope and a confidence in our ability to make a difference in the lives of people. When DOE’s Jennifer Somers, at that same plenary, says The orchestra conductor is silent. It is her job to bring music out of others, she offers us a realistic but hopeful approach to our work that does not focus on our limitations, but on our continuing service to others. It’s not always the bottom line numbers that mark us as successful. Sometimes it is the quality of our relationships.

Bruce Manclark did a presentation about duct leakage testing, and explained to a classroom of weatherization technicians and managers how he has grown and changed through the years; how he has changed his mind about the efficacy of certain tests. But he still sees a great benefit for a young person doing hundreds of duct tests. If you correlate the test results with a visual inspection of the ducts, you become able to look at a duct system and know what needs to be fixed. the biggest duct leaks with a visual inspection. After many years in home performance work, Bruce is still curious; he’s still figuring things out. That gives us hope all up and down the line. We’ll spend our whole careers trying to get it right and we never will—not exactly. What a relief! To do well we just need to stay in the game, stay curious, and pick good mentors.

And on a very personal note, I was given a shot of hope when my group, the Transformers, during the weatherization competition last night, nominated me for a special honor. I was entered in the contest for the baldest person in the room. And I came in last place. That gives me hope that to some people, other than my wife, I may still appear youthful and sexy. I can go for older and sexy later.

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Comment by Richard Wells on April 21, 2014 at 12:11pm

I've been on the front line of signing folks up for audits and possible retrofit work since the beginning of SustainableWorks four years ago.  We've signed up about 5,000 homeowners, conducted audits on close to 3,000 homes, and are about to hit 1000 retrofit jobs.  Yes, people drop out along the way - for any number of reasons from job loss, to deaths in the family, to do-it-yourselfers having a go on their own (god bless and good luck.)  There is nothing to be cynical about up here in the Puget Sound, and Spokane areas of the great Northwest.

Comment by Todd Hoener on April 21, 2014 at 9:20am

It was  a great conference, Jim, and I agree with your comments on expectations and cynicism; we want to do good, to make a significant and positive economic difference the peoples lives who are served and at the same time contribute to a national effort to reduce energy use and slow environmental deterioration. The weatherization program essentially gave a re-birth to building science that had been a naturally rooted component of indigenous construction before the advent of cheap fuels, labor and building materials (all gone now). The weatherization programs have work with arduous constraints and limitations: uneven funding levels and limits on spending for individual projects; uncertain polictical support; competition with new housing construction contractors that hire away highly-trained weatherization crew members at increased wages; expanding standards, diagnostic and testing requirements; program regulations, policies and procedures that are in place for good reason but consume more resources; and working under some of the most challenging construction conditions that would naturally avert consideration by most other construction contractors. Then, there are the households served, and that, too, can be depressing and discouraging. It is no wonder that high expectation can turn to cynicism.

You are correct right that hope, in light of such conditions, may be just too sappy to hang a hard hat on. There's plenty of cynicism to go around whatever and wherever the work is. Being a part of the weatherization program is more of a philosophical commitment, trying to achieve more with less, learning best practices and knowing that, regardless of the seemingly overwhelming challenges, this is a good, sincere and honorable effort to reduce energy use, help those families in need, and demonstrate the common good which is one of the few services holding our society together these days. Love it or leave it, I guess. Oh, yeah, congrats or reclaiming your youthful and sexy appeal. I don't have much more to say about that.

Comment by Allison A. Bailes III on April 21, 2014 at 7:31am

Great article, Jim. I run into cynics, too, and not only are they unrealistic, but they're usually not that fun to be around. And Bruce Manclark is absolutely right. Visual inspections done by someone with lots of testing experience will be a lot better than when done by someone without the experience.

Comment by Ed Minch on April 21, 2014 at 7:11am

We have been in the instrumented energy auditing and retrofitting business since 1981 and we have over 50 employees at this point.  It is rare to find someone who has the curiosity to truly come up with something new, but it does happen and it is a treat.

As of this point I am 80% retired, but one of the older fellows who works with us (he may as well be a partner) and I are still working on making things better  - tools, techniques and training.  I know that we don't always offer cost-effectiveness and that some of our customers don't always understand or appreciate what we do because they are either low-income program customers or HPwES rebate customers, but I know that we are making things better and building information for the future.

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