Words That Turn Home Energy Pros Into Building Science Dorks

"Ma'am, we've just tested your house and found your infiltration rate to be 16.7 ACH50, your R-values to be only 26% of the IECC limits, your duct Qn to be 0.42, and windows to have improper SHGCs. Furthermore, your drainage plane isn't flashed properly, and the power forwards are crashing the boards with impunity and posting up at will. On top of that, your Turbo-Thermo-Encabulator Max has reached its saturation temperature on numerous occasions because of faulty hydrocoptic marzel vanes. Please sign this contract, and we'll get it all fixed for you."

Language matters. Home energy pros have to know all the technical terms (well, maybe not everything I mentioned above), but sometimes it's easy to forget who you're talking to and use them in the wrong settings. Talking to a homeowner? Most won't have a clue when you start throwing out the terms we use so often in our field:

  • ACH50, cfm50, cfm25, Qn
  • ASHRAE 62.2
  • RESNET, HERS
  • HVAC, air handler, plenum, condenser, boot
  • drainage plane, control layer, flashing
  • grade, footer/footing, sill plate, CMU

And on and on. If you're talking to other pros, those words are appropriate. If you're talking to homeowners, it's best to assume they know nothing beyond the basics. Here's a good list of words that are safe to use with homeowners:

  • house, home
  • floor, walls, ceiling
  • attic, garage
  • windows, doors
  • hot, cold, just right
  • comfort, health, safety
  • air, draft
  • air conditioner, heater, vent, filter, thermostat
  • energy bill, electricity, gas, oil, propane
  • hole, leak, inadequate, incomplete

Get the idea? Keep your discussions with homeowners full of terms like these rather than the ones in the first list, and you'll get your message across. I'm not saying this to be condescending. I'm saying it because too often we talk over the heads of our clients. They may be hearing, but they're not always listening. Sometimes they nod their heads and pretend to understand but then don't answer your calls later.

Getting stricken with jargonitis can happen to anyone. Blower Doors and duct leakage testers are tremendously exciting tools that make us feel smart and important. It's natural to want to teach all the building science you learned in your HERS rater or BPI Building Analyst class, but clients don't have the time or interest in that. They hired you to do that for them and tell them what they need to know in language they can understand.

I'm as guilty as anyone in doing this. I constantly have to watch for eyes glazing over and then take a step back. The best thing to do is try to put yourself in the listener's place and remember that they don't use all this jargon every day like you do. Keep it simple! Speak their language, and they're more likely to understand and sign that contract.

This is a great starting point, but effective communication goes a lot deeper than this. If you really want to learn how to talk to homeowners, download and read the report, Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements, from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

Keep it simple!

 

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Photo at top by Andrew Kudrin from flickr.com, used under a Creative Commons license.

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Tags: audit, building, energy, home, pro, sales, science

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Comment by James White on October 29, 2012 at 8:22am

My co-worker added a few more words and phrases to the "dork" list.

Conditioned space

Heated envelope

Stack effect

U factor

Emissivity

NFRC

Comment by Elizabeth Stuart on October 22, 2012 at 11:45am

Thanks for this great post and for the nice plug for the LBNL "Driving Demand" report. 

Here's the link to another LBNL briefing that focuses specifically on efforts that are underway to help contractors close more jobs by: 1) talking to homeowners in a way they can understand - AND just as importantly - listening to homeowners' concerns (e.g., "grandma is moving in and that back room is chilly";" Am I taking good care of my house?") so homeowners don't feel they're being 'sold' something they don't want or understand ("energy efficiency") but do feel the contractor's services will genuinely meet their concerns and needs. 

EGIA offered a comprehensive webinar on this topic. Please get in touch with me if you'd like a copy of Megan Billingsley's slides from that talk.

Finally, FYI,  I'll be standing in for Megan to give an updated talk on this subject at the Behavior Energy and Climate Change Conference in November: "But I'm not a Salesman! Contractor Sales Training Success Stories."

Comment by Ron Jones on October 22, 2012 at 9:52am

Thanks for the reminder. It's been clear for some time one reason many of us struggle to close the sale is due partly to the message, and partly to the messenger. We complicate a challenging subject with obscure jargon. I continue to simplify my presentation, but when I occasionally find a client with some interest in the science, I am perfectly happy to bore them for hours with long winded, detailed explanations. Don't get me started on drainage planes.

Comment by A. Tamasin Sterner on October 22, 2012 at 8:38am

So right on, thanks for the reminder.  I also find this to be true:  Use "more" and "less" rather than "higher" and "lower" when talking about pressure or moisture or temperature.  And "fumes" when talking about combustion gasses.  And "separation" when talking about air barriers. 

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