Improving Your Home Performance Contracting Business Through Quality Management
Quality Managements means satisfied customers; high-performance homes; compliance with BPI standards and program requirements; and jobs completed professionally, on time, and with no worker injuries.
September 04, 2009
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A version of this article appears in the September/October 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Four Key Indicators of Quality Work
Quality Management manifests itself in the form of quality work that is completed on or ahead of schedule. At GreenHomes America, we utilize many indicators of quality work. Here are four key indicators that we use every day:
- customer satisfaction;
- performance of the home;
- compliance with BPI standards and program requirements; and
- work completed professionally, on time, and with no worker injuries.
All four indicators are critical measures of quality work. If only one or two of these key indicators shows positive results on any project, the project does not meet the quality standards of GreenHomes. For example, customers can be very happy with the work, but if the project doesn’t save the energy that was projected, or if the house has health and safety problems, the project fails our internal quality assurance tests. Similarly, projects can be completed professionally and on time with no health and safety problems, but if the customer is not happy, the project does not meet our quality standards. All four key indicators must be met on every project in order for the project to be deemed successful.
Customer satisfaction. First and foremost is customer satisfaction. This is the most important of the quality indicators. Simply put, is the customer happy with the work performed? Since almost 50% of our business comes from customer referrals or repeat business, customer satisfaction is critical to our bottom line. Home performance contractors will not be successful for very long without making sure that customers are happy with the work performed. Many times, the key to customer satisfaction is getting the small things right. For example, many home performance contractors forget the importance of showing up at the customer’s home on time, being courteous, keeping a clean job site, talking to the customer about work to be performed that day, and answering the customer’s questions. It is obviously essential for all contracted work to be completed in a professional manner, but paying close attention to the small aspects of a job can have a tremendous impact on how the customer ultimately feels about the project.
Home performance. The actual performance of the home is the second key indicator. After the work is complete, does the home perform as promised in terms of energy efficiency? In terms of occupant comfort, health, and safety? For work completed in the Northeast, does the snow stay on the roof instead of melting, or are ice dams forming as they did in prior years? Is the customer more comfortable after the project is complete? Are the customer’s utility bills lower? Home performance contractors must make sure that their homes perform as promised; the home must meet the customer’s expectations in terms of comfort, energy efficiency, health, and safety. GreenHomes offers many customers a 25% heating/cooling energy savings guarantee as part of their project. For these projects, if customers don’t save at least 25%, we pay them double the difference for a year.
Compliance with BPI standards. Third, does the project comply with all BPI health and safety standards? Does the project meet all of the efficiency standards required by the applicable Home Performance with Energy Star program? Since GreenHomes is a BPI-accredited contractor that works extensively in Home Performance with Energy Star programs, failure to abide by BPI standards or to meet program requirements could result in suspension from the program. Much more importantly, however, homes that have significant health and safety problems pose a very high risk to a successful business. Therefore, completing all health and safety tests before beginning work on a project (the test-in), and again at the completion of a project (the test-out) greatly reduces risk to our business and verifies that the home was left in a safe condition. GreenHomes routinely finds numerous gas leaks, CO in the ambient air, or poor chimney draft for atmospherically vented appliances. The solutions to these health and safety problems can easily be added to the project if they are detected early in the process, during the test-in.
Work completed professionally and on time. When work meets the quality assurance criteria listed above, and when it is completed in a professional manner, on schedule, and with no worker injuries, the project meets the quality standards of GreenHomes America. Then and only then do we consider it a successful project.
Quality Management for Home Performance Contractors
To improve your home performance contracting business, and to reduce your company’s risk exposure, you should integrate the following aspects of a Quality Management system into your company’s daily activities.
Work procedures. It is important to establish and define work procedures. These procedures must be easy for workers to understand. Tasks to be completed should be outlined step-by-step; procedures should include photographs, details of construction, and diagrams (see “Detailed Installation Procedures—Insulate Floored Attic with Densepack Insulation”). Workers should be aware of the proper installation methods for all work to be completed, and should understand how quality work is measured.
Start-to-finish quality assurance. Home performance contractors should establish a QA process for tracking and evaluating the major aspects of their business. These include test-in home assessment, work scope development, administration, project profitability, installation, test-out, punch list, and warrantee claims). Easy-to-use forms, simple computer systems, and visible project-tracking systems all help maintain a high level of quality for all projects from beginning to end. Simple checklists provide an easy way of verifying that key tasks have been completed.
Documentation. Home performance contractors should document any preexisting defects. They should photograph and carefully describe such things as water stains, cracks in walls, holes in ceilings, damaged siding, knob-and-tube wiring, as well as any health and safety issues. Documenting defects found in the home gives home performance contractors an opportunity to add the repairs to the work scope. You don’t want the defects to become part of a lawsuit later.
Regular training programs. One of the most effective ways to improve overall quality of work is to conduct regular training programs for employees. Training programs should focus on recent problems uncovered in the field, or on questions that have come up during the installation of recent projects. Trainings should always include the building science fundamentals behind best practices as well as the procedures for the best practices themselves. In this way, the whys are taught along with the hows, so workers understand why tasks such as air sealing are critically important. GreenHomes trainings are often conducted in 30 minutes or so, using in-house trainers, manufacturer’s reps, or educational resources and are held in the office or in the field.
Field verifications. It is essential to establish a plan for conducting field verifications. It is important for installers to know that they are expected to meet standards, and that their work will be inspected from time to time. Field inspections should be scheduled, simple, and documented. At GreenHomes America, verifications must confirm that all measures were installed according to the company’s install procedures. In conducting field verifications, the goal should be to improve the skills of the installers, instead of blaming them for their mistakes.
Feedback loop. When problems occur in the field, or say who ask questions about installation procedures, the solutions should be incorporated into the training programs. This feedback loop between quality assurance and training is critical to improving the quality of the contractor’s business. For example, our installers have insulated exterior walls used as returns for the HVAC system. This type of mistake quickly erases the profitability of the job and raises havoc with schedules. The first time an HVAC return was insulated in the field, it prompted a training session for everyone on how to identify returns in exterior walls.
Accountability. Once workers have been properly trained, they should be empowered and challenged to strive for quality work. Contractors should hold their workers accountable for both successes and failures, but should always challenge them to meet or exceed high quality standards. Workers should also be encouraged to suggest innovative ideas that improve installation procedures. GreenHomes workers have suggested many such ideas and have been rewarded for doing so. In the business of home performance contracting, implementing simple steps of a comprehensive Quality Management system can make the difference between a profitable business and a failed business. If all home performance contractors strove to make sure that projects were installed professionally and on time, while meeting all BPI standards and program requirements, the quality of their projects would improve dramatically. However, if all home performance contractors strove to make sure that all projects had satisfied customers and exceeded performance expectations, their business would grow for years to come.
David Abrey is the director of quality assurance for GreenHomes America, LLC. In this role, he assures that home performance projects meet BPI and industry standards.
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