How to Become a Home Performance Superhero
Originally published: 01.01.13 by Paul Morin
Home Performance Contractors not only can identify and solve comfort problems for homeowners, but they can keep them and their businesses safe from harm.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part report. Read the second part, "Preparing Customers for a Home Performance Assessment."
What do Home Performance Contractors (HPCs) do? Fundamentally, they ask homeowners what heating, cooling and ventilation problems they have and take care of fixing them. As with other services an HVAC contractor provides, it boils down to delivring homeowner comfort. But HPCs can do much more. Just as Clark Kent transformed into Superman to fight crime, so too can an average contractor transform into a superhero with home-performance skills.
Maybe your business model is to air seal the enclosure and insulate the home. Or maybe it’s to seal ductwork and install new mechanical equipment. But if you air seal and insulate and don’t deal with ductwork and mechanical systems; or if you seal ductwork and install mechanical systems and don’t deal with the air sealing and adding insulation, are you really addressing the homeowner’s comfort issues? Not completely.
Discomfort arises from uneven heating and cooling, lack of insulation, poor indoor air quality, drafts, or moisture and humidity problems. These conditions can lead to mold, mildew, wet insulation and wood rot, as well as bug and rodent infestations. HPCs have the knowledge and the tools to diagnose the root causes of discomfort along with the skills to fix them. It goes beyond simply replacing air conditioners, humidifiers and furnaces or adding insulation.
Without the knowledge and tools to measure performance, a contractor is “guessing” at the cause of discomfort, i.e., “prescribing without a diagnosis.” In medicine, that’s malpractice. In fact, an HPC is most likely the third or fourth person the homeowner has called because the previous service organizations did not or could not improve comfort.
Technical knowledge and tools are important. But HPCs also know what questions to ask homeowners to help guide them through determining what needs to be investigated first. Most homeowners have a history with the house and will gladly tell you what does not work.
7 Reasons to Become an HPC
1. The new set of services lets you expand your business naturally because it can open doors that previously were closed. Adding more sophisticated analyses will enable you to work in multiple settings. Chances are, you’ll receive phone calls and requests for proposals that previously were not tendered.
2. Adding a service that your competition does not offer will give you a competitive advantage. Rather than competing on price for a “mechanical box swap or insulation blow and go,” you’ll have the ability to offer services the other guy can’t. With less competition, there’s a greater likelihood you’ll get the business.
3. Improving your job satisfaction. Because helping customers to be more comfortable in their own homes while lowering their energy costs is fun. The work can be very rewarding. What’s better than having fun at work while being helpful and appreciated?
4. An HPC closes approximately 75% of his sales. Each sale includes duct sealing, air sealing, insulation and other products and services versus an HVAC contractor who closes on 30% of sales with only a “box swap.” This is more than doubling your business. Adding in the extra services you sell, it might even be tripling your business. Certainly this is worth your investment.
Getting in on the ground floor also means you could build up a significant book of business and referrals before your competition becomes certified. Being the “first on the block” is always desirable.
5. You’ll have the skills to prove certain products and services are needed, rather than just giving an educated guess. You will be able to recommend and sell solutions that are from multiple disciplines (HVAC, insulation, building science, etc). More importantly, you will have the tools to accurately tell customers the scientific reasons they are uncomfortable and provide solutions. Your HPC training will give you this knowledge to measure home performance. It’s about understanding the problem before recommending a remedy for it. You’ll be fully equipped to diagnose and prescribe without the fear of guessing.
Once an HPC has performed tests, he generates a work scope that details what work should be done. It’s your prescription for fixing your customer’s problems.
6. You’ll improve the safety of your customers’ environment. Adding to comfort is your main job. But by sealing up ducts, weatherizing and tightening the house helps keep potentially dangerous killers out. You’ll check for radon, carbon monoxide, humidity that can encourage mold, and entry points for bugs and rodents.
Mold remediation is becoming a huge business in the United States. Harmful gases can make people sick. They even can kill. Bugs and rodents entering unsealed spaces can carry disease. Some bugs, such as termites, can cause irreparable damage. You can deliver the peace of mind that these elements are eliminated or reduced.
7. You’ll be able to provide a high level of convenience to customers by becoming the “one stop shop” that can diagnose and fix comfort problems. Being an HPC can make you the go-to guy for comfort, weatherization, insulation, ductwork, ice dams and condensation. Being the first call for help can generate business and deliver job satisfaction.
To get started, you will need to know the basics of the cause and effect of making a house airtight. This involves a working knowledge of building science. Most HVAC contractors and installers have this basic knowledge, but an introductory course is a good place to start. To become certified — even if you have what you consider to be working knowledge — you may need to take a certification course, as all certifying agencies do not allow testing out.
You also need to understand the forces in your part of the country that drive comfort issues. Heat, cold, humidity, bugs, rain and snow vary during different seasons in different parts of the country. North Dakotans will have different comfort issues in winter than Floridians have in summer.
The most respected source for HPC training is the Building Performance Institute (www.bpi.org). It has the best reputation for testing training of existing buildings. They have classes for beginners as well as advanced classes for installers. They offer three main categories of training:
• Building Analyst Certification. This is a week-long course.
• Envelope Testing Certification. This is a three-to-four-day course.
• HVAC Air Conditioning/Heat Pump Certification. This is a three-to-four-day course.
To learn more about these courses, spend a few minutes on their site.
Certification for new buildings is done through RESNET, which is the Residential Energy Services Network. The website is www.resnet.us. Certifications typically are not mixed, so you need to decide whether you are going to pursue existing home certification or new home construction certification. Of course, you can study both, but most professionals tend to focus on one or the other.
Both BPI and RESNET offer online and classroom training. RESNET courses are often taught at local vocational-technical schools. An Internet search should pinpoint schools in your area.
Saturn Resource Management
(www.srmi.biz) offers both BPI and RESNET courses online. Per their website, they “deliver online courses that prepare energy professionals for certification exams, further career development, fulfill job training requirements, and provide continuing education.” Saturn’s Energy Auditor (http://srmi.biz/online-training) course is directed toward those who plan to take the exams for RESNET/HERS and BPI/Building Analyst Professional. Their newest course is Weatherization Energy Auditor, tailored specifically for the DOE Weatherization Assistance Program and utility conservation programs.
Conferences are also good places to get training. They are held all around the country at various times of the year. A few key conferences include Vo-Tech Educators, Affordable Comfort Conferences, Better Buildings/Better Business.
Vo-Tech Educators is where teaches go for training.
Conference technical sessions are very educational, but they can be quite intense and may have enrollment prerequisites. They also can be expensive. Getting a comprehensive list of conferences may be a challenge, as they are sponsored by different organizations. Subscribe to key trade publications and visit trade publication websites for more information.
Conference technical sessions also are good places to obtain continuing education credits or CEUs. Both RESNET and BPI require a certain number of CEU credits each year to retain your certification. Make sure before you enroll that the credits are indeed offered and that they count toward your requirements.
Vocational or Technical Schools may not offer BPI or RESNET courses per se, but they might embed these studies in the HVAC or carpentry curriculum so these students receive a lighter version that is less involved. Some schools teach courses designed for utility company auditors. Individuals with this training work for energy companies to perform home energy audits. Don’t confuse this training with BPI or RESNET training.
Let’s look at what equipment you will need right away and what equipment you can add later and how to evaluate the companies that sell this equipment so you make informed choices before you buy.
Here is a list of basic equipment needs:
• Blower Door
• Duct Blaster
• Combustion Analyzer for furnace and carbon monoxide monitoring
• Infrared camera to find hot/cold spots
• Sensors to measure temperature and relative humidity
• Moisture meter to measure moisture in wall cavities
• Personal gear such as a respirator, flashlight, tape measure, digital camera, gloves, ladders
• Recording software and report software
You will need the Blower Door, Duct Blaster and Combustion Analyzer immediately. The infrared (IR) camera can come later, but you will find it is a valuable tool to have in your arsenal. IR cameras are becoming less expensive and are a good investment.
Software that generates charts and graphs to support your work scope can add credibility to your documents. Formal reports can be time consuming to create. Beginners should focus on generating a complete work scope and worry about reports later.
When evaluating equipment suppliers, ask colleagues for recommendations. Research the company websites. Download literature, white papers and other materials that will allow you to compare. What is the reputation of the company that sells equipment and how long have they been in business? Does the company have endorsements from customers or organizations? Remember, you are buying service and technical support, not just equipment. Arm yourself with as much data as you can before investing in equipment that will help you become a comfort superhero and take your business to the next level. ν
Paul Morin was a carpenter who framed houses for 15 years before becoming a weatherization auditor in 1991. He also worked for the Center for Energy and Environment for more than 12 years, diagnosing building shell, combustion spillage, ventilation, and moisture problems in single-family and multi-family buildings. He has been working as a Technical Sales Specialist for The Energy Conservatory since 2009 and is past president of the Minnesota Building Performance Association.