All Opinion

Thanksgiving

‘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”).turkey

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.

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Steve Byers
CEO of EnergyLogic

Memorial Day – What it means to me

While Memorial Day, a day to honor those who died in combat,  is not to be confused with Veterans Day, the day we honor all Veterans, I can’t help but think of those in my family who came before me in the service of our nation; regardless of whether they died in combat or not. I’m the eighth generation in the military on my father’s side. Both of my parents were Army brats. Let’s just say that it runs pretty deep!

My father’s father served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He saw a lot of the worst in humanity yet remained a thoughtful, gentle and compassionate man throughout his life. One of my deeper regrets is that my wife and children never met him. He was all that is good in a soldier (and sailor as he was a Seabee in WWII). Anyone currently serving would do well to emulate the dedication to nation and to his fellow human that he embodied.

Alva Lineal Byers died while I was attending Airborne School with the Army during one of my summers attending the Air Force Academy. I’m very thankful I was allowed to leave training to attend his memorial. I wasn’t able to attend his funeral at Arlington and it was years before I was able to visit his grave site, Section 65, Grave 4129. Walking through the grounds of Arlington is something that isn’t easily described. I felt great waves of gratitude and awe at the sheer number of graves. I felt small connections with those buried there as I read their headstones, many of them with their beloved buried along with them on the other side of their grave. My grandmother is buried there, the two of them sharing a headstone, head to head for eternity.

I’m deeply grateful to all of those who gave their lives in the service of this great nation. I’m grateful for their sacrifice that allowed me to serve and to continue to serve albeit in a very different capacity now. Since my Air Force days, I’ve dedicated my adult life to the work of reducing our consumption of energy. This isn’t the right place to discuss the deep interconnectedness of our lifestyle with energy, but it is what drives me ahead every day and I’m thankful to those who’ve made my choices and those of all of my fellow Americans possible.

Have a great weekend and please take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices of those who died protecting our freedoms.

Paid Time Off Pays Off

I have a friend, William, who is an amazing musician and craftsman, and a devoted father. Seriously, the man can play anything and everything, and build anything and everything. But l’ve noticed, over the past couple of years, that he seems to have lost some spark. His job is fine, he says. He likes his job. I think he just need a vacation—or maybe a staycation, a couple weeks for music and kids. But he can’t. Although he has worked for big company for three years, and has been successful in his job, he only has a week of vacation (5 days!) and 3 sick days a year. This is low by national standards, but not by much.

Running a company is hard, and I know all too well the pressures of thin margins. But you know what the great thing about running a company is? You get to decide what’s right, and make it happen. And we think that Paid Time Off is important. At EnergyLogic, every employee, from year one, gets 4 weeks of paid time of every year, plus 8 paid holidays. Our part-time employees accrue PTO at exactly the same rate as our full-time employees—after all, they work just as hard and are just as valuable to us. Our employees use these days to recharge, rest if they are sick, take vacations, care for parents and friends and kids, welcome new babies (or puppies), for bereavement, to play music, build stuff and go hiking. I’m grateful for the energy and skill our employees bring to work. But I don’t want work to be all they do. Like William, everyone at EnergyLogic has a big life full of lots of interests and commitments outside of work—and we want it to stay that way. We have geeky-passionate energy raters and auditors and a kick-ass admin staff. And we also have cowboys and skiers and dog enthusiasts and parents and crazy extreme-sports enthusiasts. We have parents, people working on college degrees, amazing cooks, fishermen, gardeners, biologists and photographers. We like it that way, and we know that living such interesting lives—now, not just when they retire—takes time.

Of course it’s costly. And because we’re a small company, it’s sometimes hard to balance. But our staff values PTO, and works hard to fill in for each other so there are no gaps. I know that I should argue that a month of PTO actually makes our staff more productive, creative and helps with retention. And those things are likely true. But that’s not the reason we do it. We do it because we don’t want them to lose their spark: We do it because it’s right.

Wynne Maggi
President
EnergyLogic, Inc.

Regulatory Roles in Energy Efficiency.

What is the role of government or regulating bodies to encourage or mandate energy efficiency in our lives? That is a question many of us have asked at various times.  I’ve been pondering the pros and cons of it all, and questioning the success and failings in reaching the goal of reducing energy demand.  So the question is which is more effective in influencing behaviors and choices the typical homeowner, landlord or builder make.  Is it the carrot or the stick?  In order to not offend (at least not too much) in this age of hyper-partisanship and our overly litigious society, I am trying to think about this in an objective way… if that is at all possible. But I digress, that’s a conversation for another day.

Let’s start by looking at the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (aka the stick) which is being phased in over many years (note its passage was over 6 years ago). Two of its most controversial provisions were the high efficiency furnace and boiler requirement for most northern states (Colorado included) and the compact florescent or high efficiency light bulb provision.  Contrary to many people’s belief it did not entirely ban incandescent lights but required them to be 25% more efficient.  This is now the requirement as of January 2013 no thanks to the kicking, screaming, and misinformation of a few.

The requirement that all furnaces and boilers installed after May 2013 be 90% or higher has been delayed in implementation just recently.  This is due to several power companies and manufacturers arguments that the added necessary cost of installing the new condensing style venting (estimated at an additional $1500 to $2500 per install) may actually cause more energy use.  This may make lower income customers buy cheaper units like electric or kerosene heaters, which cost more to operate than the older 80%+- that many houses and multifamily units currently have.  Amazing how considerate these utility companies are…but I digress.  The Department of Energy estimates that upgrading to energy efficient boilers and furnaces would have saved homeowners 17 billion dollars, and as much as 60 billion saved due to the lighting upgrades.  These estimates are based at current energy costs, and I would bet as you are that the cost of energy hardly goes up at all in the next 10 years.

Now for the carrots turn. Many rebate programs offered through the tax code and local utilities have been around for years and have had varying degrees of success.  There are different schools of thought to utilities offering either audits at cost to the homeowner or offering them completely free, and what the follow through is after upgrade are recommended.  It still seems that information as to why homeowners should take this or that action and how much money they will save, is the key to getting people to buy into whatever it is that us as energy professionals are selling them, be it through a utility sponsored program or convincing a new home builder to go beyond the current minimum energy code they may be building to.  (Actually getting many builders to just this basic level is quite a feat in some areas).

As to the carrot, stick question when related to the new home building industry it seems quite apparent that only the most forward thinking and the well informed homeowners are currently pushing the industry forward to a more efficient path.  Minimum building codes seem to be the only thing really pushing the majority of builders to even consider how much energy their buildings will consume once built.  I also have to unfortunately conclude that most owners of existing homes likewise will only decide to make real choices to become more efficient when there are real economic or possibly more cataclysmic consequences.  With the current outrage over bumping up standards for the light bulb and now furnaces and boilers and the fights being had every time new building codes are proposed, it seems that this question is not easily answered.  If human nature is any guide, then forcing people to do something many times may get the opposite result desired.  However leaving everything to the “free market” also doesn’t seem to get the results we need if we are serious about becoming energy independent as a country or living in a more sustainable way.  At minimum you would think most people would like to keep more of their money in their own pocket… the ultimate carrot.

Phil Drotar
EnergyLogic, Inc.

Why We Love Allison

When you’re training for a race of virtually any kind, it’s great to train with someone who’s better than you are.  Someone who will push you and make you stretch for your best.  It doesn’t do any good to train with those slower than you, those who can’t push you.  In this race that is business, we owe a great debt to Allison Bailes at Energy Vanguard.  He’s setting the standard for using social media to spread the word of our work.  He’s reaching out beyond the choir and engaging an ever broader audience.  He’s setting a high standard for the message, and we should all thank him for the time and effort that he’s putting into his work.

Allison recently wrote about whether you should blog and use social media.  Whether you are or aren’t, you should go and read his work on this.  Allison shares freely and that is the heart and soul of what good social media is about.  We frequently repost his work primarily because it’s great and we want to make sure that the word gets around.  Our work at EnergyLogic focuses a bit more on the business of the energy professional industry and a bit less on the building science component of the business.  There are of course a number of other excellent building science outlets, including Green Building Advisor (Allison writes there as well) and Building Science Corporation’s website and newsletters among others.

So, thanks Allison and keep up the good work.  The industry owes you a debt for forcing us all to up our game.  Like Tiger Woods, you’ve forced us all to play better.  (You’re not like Tiger in those other ways… just the golf) We’ll keep doing our part to try to improve the state of business in our business and working to get the message out with the same flair and joie de vivre that you employ so well.

-Your Friend Steve

Price and Scale – Big questions for the Home Performance Industry

While this thread came from a discussion of pricing for Energy Star Version 3, it applies to any service you might offer. Pricing is one of the most difficult tasks you face as a business.  I’ve written a related post on Firing a Client and we’ve also discussed how we set pricing for software services.  Let’s start by assuming that a “good” price is one in which we have an equal exchange of money for value.  What other questions should you try to answer?

  • What will the market bear?
  • Can you deliver the service for less without sacrificing quality?
  • Are you building a business or working for wages?
  • Could you scale up at the price you’ve set?

All of these questions (and there are a LOT more!) are considerations for pricing your services.  I’d like to spend a few words discussing the last bullet, price versus scale.  In an immature, developing service industry, there are typically a multitude of small companies, many of them sole proprietors.  These companies are able to offer their services for a very low price as they have insignificant overhead; tend to have simple systems and far too often don’t understand the implications of pricing.  A key factor in small business failure is attempting to fight a price war.  I just wrote about this in my last post about racing to the bottom.

As an industry scales up, the assumption is that prices will drop. This is often true in product sectors. I’d like to propose a contrasting position; as an industry scales up, in order to meet market demand, prices must increase to handle increased complexity and overhead requirements.  BIG CAVEAT: This presumes consistent quality of service.  That is, it presumes and apples to apples comparison.  If quality is eroded, then my theory doesn’t hold.  I contend that the impact on the industry (any industry, but especially service industries) if quality is diminished will be negative.  In my opinion, we are a trust agent industry.  If and when we lose that, we all lose for a long time.  Finally, as an industry achieves maturity, prices can come down again as economies of scale and other synergies come into play. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the integrity of the industry is protected.

I think it’s critical for the long term health of our industry that we all work to support and demand a high level of accountability, enforcement of standards and ethical behavior.  For better or worse at the moment, we must self-police.   This is not a call for collusion.  It is a call for demanding quality of ourselves and our peers.  In fact, we can and should explore increasing oversight and raising standards.  The Rating Registry is an example of something that will benefit us all.  Yes, it’s additional effort, but the payback for the industry as a whole is worth it.  (We’ve got a very nice system for handling your registry woes built into our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System iRate® if you’re interested.  See this blog post on our solution!)

We work in a price sensitive environment to be sure. Builders, homeowners and utilities are cost-conscious shoppers.  However, we do ourselves and our businesses no favors by racing to the bottom.  In the words of Mark Twain (possibly?), “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”  We’ve seen this before; markets nearly drive themselves to destruction with price wars.  Quality suffers, companies go out of business, and industry integrity is damaged.  It is my fervent hope that we are building an industry that will supply meaningful work that is fairly compensated–that our industry will be stable enough to grow, mature and deliver ever better service and information to our customers. 

Many of us have worked long and hard to bring this industry to where it is today.  And where is that?   I think we’ve built a foundation of credibility for long-term, sustainable growth.  It’s up to us not to screw it up.

Net Zero the Easy Way!

First – Get yourself some new windows.  This will save you about 50% on your energy bills.

Okay!  50% to go right!  (nudge, nudge, wink, wink – don’t get all “mathy” on me for those of you who are thinking “but, but, you can only save a percentage of what’s left, not the remainder!” – tell it to the marketing department)

Second – Get yourself one of those Amish space heaters.  Good for another 50%!  Sweet!  Technically we’re done.  But let’s go ahead and be sure we’re all the way there.

Third – Paint your house up with some of that fancy NASA ceramic paint.  Now these boys have toned down their claims so we can feel real good about getting another 20% of our energy saved.  Whoo Hoo!  Dang, we might be turnin’ the meter backwards!


Cue – Cold Shower, Slap the Face, Ridiculously Loud Alarm Clock.There is a Sucker Born Every Minute.  PT Barnum didn’t actually say that, but oh my is it true.  Or, in the words of Dean Vernon Wormer, “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
It’s really time for folks to wake up about the simple math; whether it be deficit spending, basic understanding of energy or too good to be true scams.  Stay tuned for some simple back of the napkin ways to show homeowners why the items above are too good to be true.  Can we coin a new acronym for this?  We have TBTF for behemoth Wall St. banks, how about TGTBT for energy scams!

In getting this tongue-in-cheek exercise together I found this site http://www.nlcpr.com/index.php  referenced above as well.   Nice work!

Nepotistic Blog Post

In the category of nepotistic promotion….

If you have a teenager (or really, if you just like to read) and would like to visit a really well-written, thoughtful literature (teenager focused) blog site, please visit

LittleReadWritingHood

My awesome daughter has embarked on a project to read 500 books before graduating from Berthoud High School and write a review and summary of each one.  She’s a ridiculously prolific reader and writer and I’m very proud of the work she’s doing.  When she was little we used to tease her that there really aren’t jobs for professional “Readers”.  Might’ve spoke too soon…

Thanks in advance to all who do visit.  We appreciate it!

 

Black Friday? More Like Intense Shades of Gray.

Black Friday absolutely mystifies me on every level.  Here are two+ facets:

Sociologic

Can anyone truly enjoy themselves by shopping on BF?  Surely one of the circles of Hell is perpetual participation in this retail version of Dante’s Inferno.  As loot grab I guess I understand why it happens.  I think it’s more a spirit of competitive consumption that drives its adherents more than “good deals”.  Now that the retailers have ceded the last vestige of dignity by opening at midnight or earlier and forcing their staff to forego the holiday with their families; what remains of the overshadowed holiday itself?  It has become mere prelude to folly.

 

Economic

“We lose on each sale, but we make it up in volume!”  That old joke appears to have been around since 1933 at least.  Doorbusters?  Really?  I have a hard time believing that the frenetic deal-making of the BF event is good for those businesses foolish enough to participate in it.  It’s unilateral disarmament to not participate, so I understand the driving forces here, but I wonder at what point do we see some participants opt-out of the insanity?  Most of my friends opted out of the shopping, so hope springs eternal.  What does retail leadership look like anyway?

Is it not obvious that BF is mostly merely a time shift in spending?  In that regard, it’s sleight of hand.  BF is a snapshot view of the spending on one day.  It’s nothing more.  The entire season tells the economic story; not the day.  Black Friday is nearly as poor a representation of the economic pulse and health of the nation as the stock market on a given day.  Perhaps nothing so dramatically points out the rot in our body economic that is the consumerist vision of our nation than this single day.  For more detailed analysis of the numbers behind BF and its real meaning to us, please visit Charles Hugh Smith’s always thoughtful blog and read Just a Holiday Reminder: Black Friday Is Utterly Meaningless.

Environmental

I won’t even go into the reality of the stuff that’s being bought, that will be for another post as it’s far from just a Black Friday issue.  See a great post from EnergyCircle Pro about how to deal with the energy that stuff will be using.

What to do instead

My good friend Allison Bailes at Energy Vanguard has a great suggestion:

10 Reasons to Buy a Home Energy Audit on Cyber Monday (Okay, it’s not Black Friday but…)

Participate in Buy Nothing Day  (for the extreme – but like fasting, it’s good for you):

Here and here

Here a few of my suggestions from a list that is infinitely longer than going shopping (some of which involve spending, but thoughtful spending):

  • Go for a hike
  • Make something with your own two hands
  • Repair something that’s broken instead of sending it to the landfill
  • Volunteer somewhere
  • Attend a cultural event
  • Don’t shop on Friday and be part of Small Business Saturday
  • Play a game with your kids
  • Write letters (to love ones, politicians, editors, etc.)
  • Make some music

 

 

 

What I’m Thankful for…

  • The First Amendment in particular, but also
  • The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights
  • The chance to use the above to change the direction of this nation and be part of the solution that pulls us back from the abyss
  • The chance to lead this great company through these difficult times
  • The opportunities that I’ve been given
  • The education that the US Air Force Academy gave me
  • The beauty of this natural world – under assault though it is
  • My small town, fractious as it can be at times
  • A good beer
  • My health
  • My relative security in this world
  • Feeling capable – able to grow some of my own food, fix things, help others, think through tough problems
  • My families – near, far, close and extended
  • My communities – energy and environment, neighborhood and especially the EnergyLogic staff
  • My Kids
  • My Wife
  • And you for reading this – Happy Thanksgiving