What the Home Energy Performance Industry is Missing

Monday, March 18, 2013 11:18
Posted in category Uncategorized

Certified Energy Auditor

New BPI Policy on Recertification

Recently, the Building Performance Institute (BPI) announced that it would be changing its requirements to become recertified as a home energy performance professional. Going forward, depending on how many years of experience the contractor has, the field and/or written testing requirements for recertification may be waived. Initial reactions have been far from positive. Many believe that BPI is simply reacting to the number of individuals that are not interested in recertifying. BPI itself stated that, of those who would not be getting recertified, 60% said that it was due to the cost and time of field testing. The network of proctors and testing centers that perform the third-party verifications for BPI was displeased for another reason – the reduced revenue from testing fees they depend on.

Certification and rigorous training are crucial to any industry, but ask an experienced energy auditor and they will tell you that there is no substitute for experience in the field and dealing with the imperfections of real life. So, on the surface it would seem that work experience would be a perfectly legitimate substitute for completing the examination procedures that got them into the industry in the first place. But the days of smoke pencils, metal probes, and educated guesses are long gone. There has been a constant improvement in technologies such as thermal imagers, computerized blow door fans, moisture meters, remote video borescropes, and energy modeling software. The real question is – does experience necessarily translate to quality in the energy auditing industry?

Quality is the name of the game

Well-performed energy audits followed by sound retrofits result in substantial energy savings. Poorly executed energy audits result in lower-than-expected savings, wasted investment, angry homeowners, and a bad name for energy conservation. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the vast majority of energy audits do not achieve the level of savings that are projected. Information from NYSERDA shows that, of the 12,559 “Home Performance with Energy Star” audits performed in New York in the last two years, the average audit of only 16 companies achieved 100% or more of the savings that they predicted.

Clearly certifications and experience alone do not guarantee a better result. The only thing that will improve the quality of the home energy performance industry is a standard metric on which all energy audits are scored against, and to make that information publicly available. Whether contractors are re-tested after a certain amount of time or not does not give them an incentive to perform higher quality audits in the field. It is important to create an incentive for training and superior work. In terms of certification, getting a 70% on your testing is just as good as getting a 100%. But in the field, if an auditor only finds 70% of the possible energy savings, the home owner is losing potentially thousands of dollars over the long term. If we create competition for quality, it continually raises the bar higher, instead of incentivizing ways to squeak over the lowest allowable figure. In general, people whose work is measured and compared to others have a strong drive to do their best – they don’t like being publicly beaten by their competition.

The Way Forward

Changes will have to be made. The only way to improve the overall quality of the industry is through training. Creating healthy competition will drive demand for training in a way that changing the standards for recertification never could. This would also improve the sales and marketing of firms that currently depend on “case studies,” by allowing them to give real, publicly available numbers from a wide range of projects. Obviously, this requires accurate energy models and a concerted effort from the industry, certifying bodies and the government, but it would certainly be worth it. Unlocking the potential of residential energy efficiency is simply the quickest, most cost effective way to begin tackling our energy issues.

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  • Deacon Taylor

    While I agree that the audit is a key part of the process, this issue goes much deeper than just the audit. I have seen perfect audits get less than desired results because the products used for the retro-fit are not adequate for the project, or just installed incorrectly. I think were we need to go as an industry is to focus on closing the loop from the start of a project to the completion. Not all air sealing materials are the same, not all insulation materials are the same.

    At the end of the day, it is not one simple answer to resolve this issue. What is required is a combination of training, testing, and QA to provide real feedback throughout the process. Flying blind is not acceptable any more and we have a chance to really build and industry at this point. To me the most important thing is to participate in group think like the upcoming ACI conference. Learn from the past mistakes and folks that have been in this industry for 40 years and more. We don’t need to reinvent the process yet again, but rather learn from those that paved the way for us.

  • Comly Wilson

    Very much agreed – there is no silver bullet. More communication within the industry and openness with real results outside the industry seem to be the first logical steps.