I’ll admit, when I first began auditing I performed the obligatory utility info analysis on a home as a required part of the audit without reading into it. I printed the graphs, handed the sheets to the homeowner, explained a couple things and moved on to testing and measuring insulation. Looking back I realize how naive that was. Right before me was a great tool not being utilized, the utility bill! The one day, I handed over the keys and let the utility info take the wheel of my audit instead of the other way around.
The first step was realizing how useful it could be. I had a day, an audit, an example, that opened my eyes. I walked into the homeowner interview and asked, “Why the audit?” They responded with “Increased utility bills over the past 18 months and a warm house in the summer.” I assumed I’d be looking for the usual suspects. Then I entered the utility room, knelt down in front of the water heater and observed a recirculating pump. I’ve seen this before so I asked the homeowner when it was installed. The answer was less than two years ago. His plumber told him that the recirculating pump would help to make the house more efficient. I suppose this may have reduced water run time while waiting for warm water to reach the shower, but this wasn’t evident on the utility bills.
While putting together the report it hit me like a bug splatting on the windshield. It was right there in front of me before I even knocked on the front door. I saw an increase in water heating energy use following the install of the new water heater. The increased water heating load added another small monthly amount to bills. Then I pulled out my infrared camera and began pointing it at interior walls. Low and behold I was looking at warm wall cavities where the plumbing lines ran through the house. During the summer this warmed the house and caused the air conditioning to run more. With tiered rates in place during the peak use summer months this bumped up the bills even more.
Now, we haven’t emptied the tank getting more insight from the utility bills just yet. It turns out they are extremely useful when prioritizing recommended improvements and creating a simple return on investment. I’ve learned that most homeowners equate efficiency with lower utility bills. You can’t ignore this when making recommendations. Take for instance; installing a high efficiency furnace when the heating energy use is already low. If they don’t currently spend much money heating the house this will make the payback stretch further out. It’s hard to save 20%-30% on heating bills when your BTU’s per square foot are already low.
It’s best not to lose sight of one of the reasons we are in the house to begin with… to lower utility bills. Although there are many other components to a Home Efficiency Audit, they all need to fit together nicely to produce optimal results.
- Brad Smith
- EnergyLogic Rater and Auditor
My neighbor, “Bob”, invited us over for a beer to proudly tell me how he had signed up to have an energy audit performed on his home and he recognized our company name, EnergyLogic. The reason for the audit? His energy bills have been very high and he has decided to get solar installed; the audit will qualify him for some additional rebates.
I couldn’t resist … “Tell me a little bit about what you’re getting done?” I asked him. He was very excited to describe how helpful the solar company had been to do all the work to analyze his bills, design a system to meet his current needs, do all the paperwork for the federal rebate (that went directly to them to help reduce the cost of the system) and to work out all the financing with the utility that would bring his average electric bills down from $250/month to a fixed rate of only $180 … for the next 40 years.
I tried not to sigh too loudly or garner the stink-eye from my wife, but I just had to ask, “So, what are the putting in?”
“A 16kW system,” he replied. “Just 4kW short of commercial grade.” He seemed almost proud, as if the solar sales person had convinced him this was a good thing.
Ugh … here comes the stink-eye. I’d better hold my tongue.
Bob’s a pretty smart guy – he owns his own business, he has an engineering degree and I’ve always found him to be pretty thoughtful about things. However, this seems like signing up for chemotherapy because you aren’t feeling well, and then making the appointment to see your doctor.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against solar (or chemotherapy) – when it makes sense, but to go down that path without first having a full check-up performed seems a bit ill-considered. I can’t fault Bob so much, I think he was duped by one of the less scrupulous solar sales people. After all, why would they recommend an audit before they did the specifications for the system and had a signature on the dotted line? What if they lost the sale?
I can understand after-the-fact audits (to qualify for rebates) in situations like a furnace that has stopped working or some other time-sensitive event. But it still baffles me that utilities and others allow such expensive and questionable work to be performed and the homeowner will still qualify for the rebates before having an audit performed.
Back to Bob – With such an investment already underway I tried to choose my words carefully. I told him our auditors could probably make some additional efficiency recommendations he should consider. They would likely help decrease his actual energy use whereas the solar system was merely controlling the cost. Unfortunately, my genteel way of saying, “You did this backwards,” was not lost on Bob and I could see the look of dread on his face. On the bright side, I enjoyed the free beer and at least for a moment, Bob wasn’t too mad. What else can you do?
Quite often I step backward and look outside the badge of a BPI auditor and put myself in the shoes of a homeowner. A homeowner whose home I’m about to pick apart. For the most part homeowners are happy to have us there. We’re there to help, not to sell. They expect us to make recommendations telling them what should be improved. They expect, “Fix or replace this, and your house will be better.” What they don’t expect is the education that comes with it. With an understanding of how these recommendations make a difference, homeowners could save thousands.
On a recent assessment of a home I was told the main interest in having an audit was to confirm the need to replace an induced draft furnace with a sealed combustion furnace. The homeowner was replacing a sensor that was failing every few months. An HVAC contractor suggested buying a sealed combustion furnace. Ta Da! Problem fixed. Not so fast.
It should be noted that the furnace was located in the crawl space; and a vented crawl space to boot. This was a big factor in several issues, one of which was the routine replacement of the sensor, the comfort in the rooms above the crawl space and poor indoor air quality. The thinking was that the sealed combustion furnace would reduce or eliminate the likelihood that the sensor would need to be replaced often and that the air flow would be better to the rooms above, increasing comfort.
As you know, a new furnace doesn’t address the root of the problem. This is where educating the homeowner is valuable. We need to make sure they understand why we recommend the improvements we do. We sat down to discuss why the problems existed in the first place and how a new furnace will still leave them with their current problem.
First, let’s look at the sensor problem. The dry, dry dirt in the crawl space was being pulled into the furnace housing and collecting on the sensor. What he needs is to install a sealed barrier over the ground of the crawl space, preventing premature failure of the furnace. More importantly, this would improve indoor air quality. Next was to address the comfort issue in the floor above the crawl space. With a new furnace and increased air flow to rooms, the vented crawl space would still allow cool air to directly impact the floor above. To truly fix this would be to seal the crawl space vents, air seal and insulate the rim joist and insulate the walls. This was an easier fix and less expensive than replacing the furnace. The homeowner understood and agreed, then decided to pursue improving the crawl space.
In the end, recommendations for improvements are a lot more beneficial if the homeowner has basic understanding of the science behind those recommendations. Too bad there is not a Cliffs Notes of basic building science for homeowners.
Attention: RESNET® Trainers, Raters, and Rating Field Inspectors!
The train is leaving the station- don’t be left behind.
In early 2013, the RESNET Board adopted changes to Chapter 2 of the Mortgage Industry National Home Energy Rating Standards. Those changes included two significant additions that are now going into effect. The minimum required knowledge and skills for individuals carrying RESNET credentials now includes Combustion Safety Testing (CST) and Work Scope Development! For details on how this will affect you, read on.
Rating Field Inspectors (RFIs) and HERS Raters
This guy missed the train.
- Beginning January 1, 2014 all new candidates will now have to pass three exams. (80% or better on the written and 85% on the simulator.) The first is the usual 50 question (either RFI or HERS® Rater) written exam, which includes basic building science, field diagnostics, RESNET Standards, etc. Second, the new candidate will have to pass a 25 question CST/Work Scope Development exam. Finally, the candidate will have to pass a simulated Combustion Safety Testing field exam. This was developed for RESNET by Interplay and uses much of the same platform as Interplay’s BPI BA training simulator.
- The phase-in will be consistent with previous RESNET exam changes. Those who have already earned the RFI or HERS Rater designation are “grandfathered” but only for a time. All existing RFIs and HERS Raters must pass both the Work Scope Development exam and the Combustion Safety Testing simulated exam by January 1, 2015.
RESNET Trainers and Training Providers
- Beginning January 1, 2014 all existing RESNET Accredited Trainers will now have to pass both the Work Scope Development written exam and the CST Simulated exam.
- Beginning January 1, 2014 all RESNET Accredited Training Providers will have to incorporate both CST and Work Scope Development into their curriculum. RESNET will not allow Training Providers to renew for 2014 until they have at least one trainer who has taken and passed the two new exams.
My colleague Glenn Pease and I both successfully challenged the new exams recently in order maintain EnergyLogic’s RESNET Training Provider Accreditation. Our advice on the simulator exam is to first read the new standard carefully. Those familiar with BPI’s CST procedures will have an easier go of it, but only after noting some of the significant differences such as time limits for spillage testing and simulating the draft of non-sealed combustion wood stoves and fireplaces with your blower door. Once you’ve registered for the simulator exam, Interplay makes available their online tutorial with unlimited access for a full month. It is worth taking the time to do all of the tutorials. Even for you experts at CST, take our advice and practice using the simulator to become familiar with the navigation and use of the tool. For those not previously trained in Combustion Safety Testing procedures (BPI or equivalent) we strongly advise taking a CST & Work Scope field training from a RESNET Accredited Training Provider. Mike Barcik and his pals at Southface Institute will be offering this training at the RESNET Conference in Atlanta this February. EnergyLogic Academy includes CST in our Rater Training Curriculum now, and we will begin offering a stand-alone version for current raters and RFIs in spring of 2014.
Director of Energy Professionals Services
Most, in fact all, large companies develop some form of budget for the coming year or years. Why do you think they do that? If you think you are too small to budget, think again. Whether you’re working as the sole rater in your small business performing just a few ratings or audits a year, or you have hundreds of employees performing thousands of ratings, you still need to budget. If you keep all of your financial goals for the future in your head and never document them, what allows you to measure your success against your intentions? How do you know that you are pricing your services correctly?
You may think you understand all of your costs and how much money you are making, but you should be considering more than just the costs that seem directly related to your product or service. For example, there are usually a great many indirect costs you incur with each person you hire. These include such things as employer tax matching, employee benefits, future raises, changes to payroll policies, and time off coverage. Other non-payroll indirect costs can include moves to new locations, increases in property taxes, greater depreciation as a result of new equipment purchases, new insurance requirements, etc. If you have not considered all of these things in your pricing structure before, you are probably charging too little, and you are probably not making as much as you thought you were.
This is why you should plan and budget. It forces you to account for ALL costs your organization incurs. It also shows you how much of your net income is dependent on keeping a close eye on specific things. For instance, time is literally money in a service business. The more time spent on a task that has a fixed price, the less profit is made. You may not have realized that you are losing money in some areas because you never looked at it by task, or unit, or project. You probably didn’t load proportionate indirect costs into the calculation either. If you take it down a level, you may find that the revenue associated with a task is actually less than your total cost for that task. If you know these kinds of facts, you can make adjustments and improve your bottom line. If you are happy just adding everything up and making sure that the cash coming in is enough to cover it, then you are probably leaving money on the table.
Don’t stick you head in the sand. Deconstruct, analyze, and track. You will see things you did not see before. When that happens, you are in a position to make positive changes that will grow your business in the future.
I recently had the distinct pleasure of being one of six judges @ the America’s Best Installer Contest sponsored by Johns Manville and Insulate America. Twenty four of the best insulation installers from around the country descended on Denver to compete for the $10,000 top prize.
Having inspected a few thousand insulation installs, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to see at this competition. I have long believed that quality and speed are opposing forces with regards to insulation installs. The amazing thing about these installers is that they are able to combine the two. Congrats to Nicholas Forehand of Orchard Park, N.Y.-based Northwind Insulation, who was “America’s Best Insulation Installer” of 2013!
Insulators are the unsung heroes of new home construction and I am very thankful to the sponsors for helping bring them the credit they so richly deserve.
Energy Rater and Home Auditor
‘Tis the season to be thankful. Though really, shouldn’t we be thankful as often as possible? Here is the Wiki Dictionary etymology entry for “thanks”.
From the Old English þancian (“to give thanks”), from Proto-Germanic *þankōną, from Proto-Germanic *þankaz (“thought, gratitude”), from Proto-Indo-European *tong- (“to think, feel”).
Thought and gratitude and to think and feel. In business, we so often are compelled to focus on what’s needs fixing, what needs doing. We don’t stop nearly often enough to step off the merry-go-round and give thanks. I’d like to take this moment to give thanks for a few things.
I’m thankful for:
- The incredible, passionate, thoughtful and engaged EnergyLogic staff
- The gifts that I’ve been given in life that have allowed me to pursue my dreams
- The health that I enjoy
- The companionship of my friends
- My beautiful (on the inside and outside) daughters
- My wife, who is my muse, my North Star and my love
My hope for everyone is that even in the darkest moments you still have things that you are thankful for. We EnergyLogicians wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving.
CEO of EnergyLogic
Are you a rater, auditor, or installer who is thinking of advancing your career by obtaining a new credential? It’s been said that our industry has caught a case of certificationitis. And it is true that there have been a lot of new certifications within the last year or so. So how do you make sense of it all? Read on.
I received a large envelope in the mail recently. It was from the Building Performance Institute, informing me that I have been awarded the new Quality Control Inspector certification. BPI does a really good job when they award certification- including a letter, a nice color certificate, ID card, and even some BPI patches if you want to create your own swag. So, you can imagine that I was feeling a little bit of pride. But then, someone asked me to explain in plain terms what this would allow me to do and how it would impact my job.
I thought for a minute. As I did so, the wind in my sails subsided. The short answer is, absolutely nothing. At least in the short term, I won’t be doing anything any different than I was already doing. There is no new work out there for me, no new program that I can participate in today that I couldn’t already participate in. So why did I bother to obtain this new certification? I’ll get to that. First, I thought it would be helpful to outline some of the new credentials out there, how you obtain them, and how to determine if they would benefit your…
Director of Energy Professionals Services
In the existing homes energy auditing world there is always the question of how to get the right information in the right context to the homeowner. Ultimately, our goal is for them to take charge of improving the comfort and efficiency of their home. If we lose them in industry jargon and tech speak, they won’t have any idea where to start. If they are confused, they will become disinterested in the process as a whole. All of the hard work we’ve done to gather the information will be lost as nothing will get done.
What I have found while working for EnergyLogic is the importance of talking to most clients in plain English, withholding the urge to speak in technical terms. If we speak too technically, we can confuse the homeowner.
Of course, this isn’t true for every homeowner. Some are very educated in the efficiency world, and to these we can speak in a more technical manor. But beware of the homeowner who knows everything. In these cases, let them speak their minds while giving them thoughtful “suggestions” along the way. Try to steer them toward correct information and away from the ‘radiant barrier sales pitches’.
During an audit we need to decipher the level of efficiency education every individual client has. Then we cater our communication style to that person so that they better understand what is needed to improve their energy efficiency. Communication is the most important aspect of an auditor’s job. Without the correct level of communication, we’ve not done our jobs correctly.
Home Energy Auditor
EnergyLogic, Inc. – Wyoming
During the week-long 2013 Habitat Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, with Habitat For Humanity – Metro Denver, EnergyLogic committed to sending members of our staff to work in the Globeville neighborhood. The goal of the project was to complete 11 townhouses and rehabilitate 15 homes.
Mario, a metal worker, made a metal peace sign for each of us.
I was signed up for Wednesday, October 9th, which was the day that the Carters and honorary sponsors Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood were in Denver. I was assigned to existing house #7 at the home of Mario and Phyllis Mora. Our lively crew finished re-siding and painting the Mora’s garage that day.
I’ve been asked by many friends if I met the Carter’s. Well, we sort of did get to meet them. Mid-afternoon, we stopped work early to return to the park where we had met for the early morning devotional ‘lesson’ from Jimmy Carter, and lunch.
Each ‘house’ gathered in a group with the homeowners at the park and when the Carters and Garth Brooks and his wife Trisha Yearwood arrived, they went from group to group for pictures. Later, crossing the park, Garth Brooks said to me, “Take care.” I looked around to see if someone else was behind me! They were all personable and funny and friendly.
It was exciting to see our former president, and to meet the honorary sponsors. The biggest honor is to be a part of this project, and seeing that we all made a positive difference for the Mora Family, and for our community.
Thank you, EnergyLogic, for allowing me to be part of this event!