The extent to which remodelers are involved in the energy-efficiency movement is illustrated, Zarker says, by a BPI study showing that 40 percent of the respondents spent more than three-fourths of their time doing energy-efficiency work in companies that didn’t ordinarily characterize themselves as doing energy-efficiency work. Zarker interprets that as remodeling contractors who have expanded the scope of their capabilities by adding staff to do energy-related work and integrated it into their remodeling functions.
Marketing “building performance” alone or even “energy efficiency” to consumers may not be the best approach. “Most successful contractors sit down and listen to homeowners talk about their house, and a typical driver has to do with comfort. They [homeowners] are not comfortable in some rooms, or they find they have odors, have seen mold or know they have a wet basement. They tend to be pretty good at characterizing what’s wrong with their homes,” Zarker says, “and then by understanding that, you can start to look for causes.”
Remodelers looking to incorporate building performance into their business models would do well to become BPI certified, Zarker advises. “The best thing they can do is go get training to become a building analyst and envelope specialist. Remodelers already are so connected to the building envelope and with those two certifications, you can analyze the house, tighten it, bring in the HVAC contractor and be able to instruct them about exactly what you want them to do. The old rules of thumb that HVAC technicians routinely used no longer apply. Systems can be smaller and more efficient for the lower load that the remodeler has created,” he says.
Indeed, Zarker says, “I think ultimately this is going to be a battle between HVAC contractors and remodelers to see who owns the customers. HVAC contractors may be well placed because they can do the comfort systems, but over time we are going to essentially see the home performance contracting market develop. That’s what people will be calling for, and the home performance contractor will have the skill sets to do anything the homeowner wants. I think remodelers are well positioned to own that market. They need to bring in the specialty expertise to understand what the building science and whole-house issues are so they can solve problems and make customers really happy with the job they are doing.”
In the meantime, remodelers who do subcontract the HVAC portion of the job would be well-advised to seek out BPI-certified heating and cooling contractors who are on the same whole-house energy-performance page, Zarker says.
Although the private home performance market is one way remodelers can take advantage of the demand for energy improvements, there is an additional factor that may drive demand in some areas: Incentive campaigns offered by government, utility and manufacturer energy-efficiency programs, Leslie McDowell, BPI marketing and communications director, points out.
One measure of the proliferation of these programs is the more than 150 that require BPI certification of contractors performing energy-efficiency upgrades. For example, 50 of the nation’s 55 Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) programs specify BPI credentials as a foundation of their programs. Forty electric or gas utility programs currently reference BPI credentials, along with 54 local programs. Increasingly, manufacturers of energy-efficiency related equipment are also requiring their distributors to have the knowledge and skills verified by BPI certifications, according to BPI.
Home Performance vs. Weatherization
McDowell makes a distinction between the term “home performance,” which refers to private contractors doing efficiency upgrades funded by homeowners, and “weatherization” programs, which generally are funded by government entities for qualified segments of the population that can’t afford to pay for the work themselves. The Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, of course, is a prime example.
Incentives under these programs are offered not only to homeowners, McDowell says. Often, for example, the programs offer a free energy audit to homeowners — for which contractors are paid by the program. Although it varies from program to program, contractors may also be offered incentives for performing a certain number of home-performance-related jobs per year.