Recently I was talking to one of our HERS raters who said that one of the reasons he prefers going after the existing home market is that he’s more comfortable talking with homeowners than with builders. He’s afraid that builders will see his lack of construction knowledge and send him packing.

What can you do to overcome this fear? Take heed of these points, and you’ll be fine:

  • Realize that you don’t need to know everything about building.
  • Let the builder know that you have limited construction experience, if appropriate.
  • Become an expert at home energy ratings.
  • Learn as much as you can about construction by reading, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, and visiting job sites.

Now, let’s go into these points, one by one.

First, realize that builders hire a lot of trade contractors who don’t know a lot about construction. The cabinet installers, the drywallers, the roofers... They all know their trade (some more than others), but they certainly don’t know everything there is to know about building a house.

Likewise, a builder doesn’t expect you to be able to match his understanding of the building process. What he does expect of anyone he hires, though, is that they’re good at their trade. You don’t have to convince him that you know how to frame a roof. You do have to convince him that you know how to rate a house and that he’ll benefit by hiring you to do so.

It’s certainly possible to display your ignorance to a builder in a way that makes him doubt your ability as a rater. Don’t do that! One way to avoid that scenario is to tell the builder up front that you’re not a building expert but that you know your building science. Don’t ever try to bluff the builder. He’ll see it, and not only will you not rate his houses, he may spread the word to other builders.

The other way to avoid looking like an ignoramus is to make sure you know as much as you can about inspecting and rating new houses. Educate yourself to be a more knowledgeable rater.

Of course, you do need some construction knowledge to be able to rate a house. You have to know how to look at a house and identify all the components of the building envelope (foundation walls, band joists, skylights...), different types of mechanical equipment, and the other pieces of the puzzle. If the builder sees that you can't tell the difference between a furnace and a heat pump, you're history. Even if the builder doesn't discover your ignorance, you have to get that right for the rating to be accurate.

Another great way to learn about construction is to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Help them frame the floor, build the walls, insulate and air seal the envelope, and set the windows. They’re simple houses and easy to learn from.

Likewise, if you know a builder, visit their job sites (if they have any these days). If you don’t know a builder, stop and look around anytime you see a new home being built. You may be kicked off the site, but if not, you’ll get the chance to learn something new and possibly even get a job rating the house. Bring your camera, too. Photos are great to add to presentations you make to builders and homeowners when you’re selling your services.

What it really all comes down to is that you don’t have to know everything. You have to know your stuff. And you need to work on building rapport with the builder.

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Tags: HERS, auditor, builder, energy, home, rater, rating

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Comment by Kent Mitchell on January 26, 2011 at 1:00pm

I appreciate the comment - "You have to know your stuff". 

Having been in construction for 30+ years I am always amazed that there is so many things to learn!  Change in the building industry is normal and I still learn something new nearly every day on the job.  My goal is to become the best in this local area... not sure that will happen but it surely requires learning new stuff every day including how to better talk to builders!  It's best to admit when I don't know something or am not sure and then ask their opinion or, tell them I will find out... Don't try to fake your way through - it will come back to bite you! 

Building rapport is something I try to measure up when I first meet the builder - some like to talk & others are all business and do not want a friendship session...

Comment by Jon LaMonte on January 22, 2011 at 7:32pm
Interesting article Allison. While doing the thermal bypass checklist with a new builder, I had him explain to me why he chose to do certain things the way he did. As we went through different parts of the home we found out we had a lot of information to share with each other. It's a shame he is not a higher volume builder because we clearly learned that very few people know (or see) things the same way and we could both benefit each other.

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