Just how significant is energy efficiency when it comes to residential construction, and more importantly, does it represent a substantial opportunity for remodelers?
For those who doubt the viability of the market, the energy-efficient housing sector will expand rapidly throughout the remainder of the decade, growing from an annual market value of $14 billion in 2012 to almost $84 billion in 2020, according to a recent report from Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice.
Put another way, more than 118 billion square feet of energy-efficient residential space will be created globally during that time period, the study concludes.
Whether the energy-efficient housing market can be a savior for sluggish housing markets or provide a demand-side tool to help control rising electricity demand remains to be seen, the report says. Adding to the complexity of this sector is the fact that definitions and characteristics of energy-efficient housing vary widely, as well. The strategies for designing and constructing energy-efficient homes can employ a wide range of technologies and services, according to the report, making each energy-efficient home potentially different from the next. Building envelope improvements, lighting, HVAC, major appliances, water heating and energy audits are just a few of the components and processes that go into energy-efficient housing.
There are hundreds of incentive programs, along with complementary certification entities and government agencies promoting energy efficiency and building science in one form or another. (See sidebars for a sample of the diverse entities and relationships involved.) Essentially, they fall into two distinct groups. One type of program rates and certifies buildings as meeting certain energy-efficiency criteria, while the other focuses more on the individuals who may be doing that rating or, more important to remodelers, those who will actually perform the work needed to achieve improved energy efficiency.
Should You Become an Energy Nerd?
Does this mean a remodeler should become an energy nerd with a blower door and a thermal imaging camera in the back of his truck? Larry Zarker, CEO of the Malta, N.Y.-based Building Performance Institute, doesn’t think so, although knowing how to use those sorts of tools certainly will be an advantage. He relates the story of one remodeler who went through BPI’s building analyst and envelope certifications and “came out with a whole new business model.
“I’m still going to do the kitchens and baths and countertops and room additions that I’ve always done,” Zarker recounts the remodeler as saying, “but I can look [potential clients] in the eye and say, ‘Would you like to be comfortable in your home, too?’
“You’re going to sell the things you’ve always sold to your customers because those are the things they care about; those are the things they want, but home or building performance, as energy efficiency has come to be known, gives remodelers a skill set that enables them to make an accurate diagnosis of the problems in a home,” Zarker continues.
Not a Separate Discipline
Building performance contracting, in this scenario, is not a separate discipline or specialty. Although a remodeler might call in an energy expert as a subcontractor, just as he might subcontract HVAC or plumbing work, he could also become proficient in building performance contracting himself.
“Remodeling contractors are for the most part general contractors, and they don’t really want to have someone come in between them and their customer. They want to control bringing that sub in to help them, and they don’t want it to become a third-party relationship. I think the better situation is where the remodeler says, ‘I can do all these things,’ and brings in a specialist to get the energy efficiency right or, better yet, has someone on his staff who is able to handle the energy-efficiency aspects of the job,” Zarker says.