Science drives the future of green remodeling

High-performance remodeling is a systematic approach to building science diagnostics and remodeling strategies that improve indoor air quality, occupant comfort and safety while reducing energy and material consumption costs. “I believe this will be the new frontier in home remodeling, and will replace what we’ve thought of as green remodeling” says Rochelle Stallings, GCP, CID, owner, Stallings Design Studio, Columbus, Ohio. “We know reducing energy and material consumption is important, but when we talk about significantly improving the health of the families that live in the homes we remodel, you have my attention.”

Better health and comfort are the driving forces behind the success of high-performance remodeling, not concerns about the nation’s energy supply, Stallings says. “Building science takes an investment in time, energy and money, but for those people who appreciate a home with high-performance it’s a slam dunk.”

Building science isn’t for everyone, Stallings cautions. It is technical and requires a great deal of reading and investigation of the impacts of doing the work. “Not only that, remodelers must be willing to change in order to accommodate this approach, which can be difficult for old-timers who have gotten along just fine so far. The key to success with this new high-performance approach to remodeling is the desire to build a legacy of reaching beyond who you are today. If you have a burning desire to change the world and leave it better than you found it, then this is for you.”

feasibility study

Stallings, a consultant to other remodelers, says every one of her remodeler clients has 100 percent closure on high-performance packages. “They begin with the feasibility study and, if appropriate, move on to a separate construction contract. It’s an approach that works well.” A feasibililty study assesses a home’s condition to determine the scope of work to be done.

Remodelers can’t simply buy a thermal imaging camera and a blower door to conduct a feasibility study. They must learn the science, because if they don’t they can harm homeowners, Stallings says. “For example, if you insulate too tightly and don’t provide proper ventilation you will create a dangerous environment.”

A feasibility study should begin by asking potential clients “discovery” questions, as Stallings refers to them. These are questions such as, “Is there any place in your home that is seasonably uncomfortable? That has drafts? When you keep the discovery questions broad enough you always will get a yes in response. Someone will have a problem somewhere, with something. That opens the opportunity to put strategies in place for better health and comfort,” she says.

Specific tactics and equipment can be employed for selling the high-performance remodeling package. “You can implement IAQ diagnostics using monitors you place throughout the home to measure gases and particulates. This is the approach that opens the door to unforeseen needs the clients have. It’s all part of sharing knowledge. That’s why it has such a huge closure rate,” she adds.

Selling performance

High-performance remodelers don’t always promote themselves as such. Rather, their marketing promotes remodeling, which provides the opportunity to show homeowners what’s really going on in their homes in terms of comfort, safety and energy consumption. “We don’t oversell. Whereas one remodeler might use the thermal imaging camera to show heat escaping around a window and recommend replacing all the windows, a high-performance remodeler will recognize there’s only a small gap that needs to be filled. That pinpointing capability hasn’t been available to the industry in the past. The idea behind the study isn’t to charge more money; it’s to find out what is going on in the home so you can generate a tailored remodeling approach,” she explains.

Stallings recommends remodelers co-present their feasibility study results with an energy auditor or HVAC contractor, to add credence to the information.

High-performance remodelers are not relying on consumer demand to generate business. “Consumers will never know the extent of what we do or what might be harming them in their homes. So sharing our knowledge is better than a marketing plan. It may take you several years to come full cycle with this new bucket of knowledge, but you will find your work takes on a new, more meaningful dimension and allows you to get paid for what you ‘know’ as well as for what you ‘do’ as a remodeler,” she says.

Government regulation in the form of codes might impact the market for high-performance remodeling, Stallings notes. “Codes will be more stringent on energy consumption and the efficiency of mechanical systems. But really what’s in our scope is IAQ strategies. Build tight; increase the efficiency of the building envelope with air sealing and better insulation.”

NARI offers members a 12-week high-performance remodeling course. QR

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