by Kathleen Meil
Coastal Journal contributor
You haven’t been feeling well for weeks. You’ve tried getting more sleep and taking vitamins, but it’s time to see a health care professional. The appointment includes a long interview, a thorough physical exam, and some basic tests, and by the end, your health care provider has specific ideas about how to treat your mysterious illness. Unfortunately, this person can’t provide any of that treatment. You leave with a list of suggestions about who to call next, and soon you have appointments with a series of specialists, all of whom need to repeat the interview, exam, and testing to understand your condition. You still feel lousy, and now you’re confused, too.
Most of us would never see a doctor who couldn’t treat our symptoms, or a mechanic who couldn’t fix our cars. We work hard to find doctors we trust, and we ask around to find reputable mechanics. Our houses are as complicated and interconnected as our bodies and our cars, and they need the same comprehensive analysis and treatment.
Energy audits provide that comprehensive understanding of how a building’s component parts work together as a system. Whether from an independent advisor or an advisor associated with a full-service home performance company, a thorough audit takes at least three hours and includes visual examination, infrared analysis, and blower-door analysis. These tests generate the volumes of data that go into complete computer modeling of a home’s efficiency. Qualified energy advisors use the data and modeling results to recommend specific performance upgrades and tie predicted energy savings to each upgrade.
After a few hours, an independent energy advisor provides homeowners with written recommendations and, sometimes, with DIY advice and a referral list of contractors. In some cases, the advisor may even work closely with these contractors, communicating with them throughout the work process to connect the analysis and production stages. In other cases, homeowners act as general contractors, coordinating the work of various subcontractors and relaying advice from their third-party auditors.
In contrast, energy advisors associated with full-service home performance companies use the results of their energy audits to engineer comprehensive improvement projects and remain involved with a house for weeks. These knowledgeable, hands-on advisors:
• Work with homeowners to shape comprehensive projects that tackle potential upgrades in order of their value, in terms of comfort and cost-efficiency.
• Draw on their first-hand experience with various kinds of insulation and air-sealing techniques to engineer projects that meet each home’s unique needs.
• Work directly with the company’s production crew during the planning stages and throughout the project to ensure that nothing is ever lost in translation.
• Refer homeowners to other qualified contractors for any services they do not provide and coordinate directly with these contractors to ensure that the project is seamless.
• Conduct additional post-production energy analysis to verify results, and tweak improvements if necessary.
This quality-conscious work is complicated and expensive to do right, and in the early days of the home performance movement, it was difficult to find qualified contractors. Homeowners relied on independent energy advisors to give them the tools to ask conventional contractors to do this new kind of work. Gradually, a new breed of contractor has emerged, and homeowners can now find reputable, ethically-minded companies with the values, experience, and resources necessary to provide full-service home energy analysis and contracting services. These companies thrive because they deliver essential services that make homes energy-smart, healthy, and comfortable, and they do it in a way that’s straightforward and affordable for homeowners.
Homeowners contemplating an energy efficiency upgrade should insist on a qualified, trustworthy contractor. Certification by the Building Performance Institute demonstrates an emphasis on building science, especially if a high percentage of the staff is certified. On-the-job training, an insistence on protective safety gear, and a commitment to providing family pay and health insurance benefits are all signs of a strong company that stands behind its employees, its performance, and its customers.
Well-engineered, well-installed energy efficiency projects save homeowners 25 to 50 percent on their fuel usage, earn a 10 percent annual return on their investment, and deliver a level of comfort many people didn’t think possible. A full-service home performance contractor is uniquely qualified to provide these projects seamlessly, with a minimum of hassle and maximum returns. Like full-service health care providers or a full-service mechanics, there may be some bad ones in the bunch, but the good ones are well-qualified, extremely trustworthy, and worth their weight in gold.
Kathleen Meil is the Public Relations Manager for Evergreen Home Performance in Rockland. Her building science expertise is rooted in the homeowner perspective, and she shares that background, as well as financing information, with customers in their initial calls and throughout their projects.