The Next Generation of Home Performance Superheroes
The age-old question of “what will I be when I grow up?” can be a dark and dreary segue into the unknown for today’s young adults. They face challenges of unprecedented magnitude. A weak job market coupled with a wide income gap, social disparities, volatile swings in government policy, and waning municipal and state budgets generate far more questions than answers.
But emerging industries are providing young adults with new opportunities to discover work they enjoy, and involvement in vocational programs is on the rise. The fields of home performance, renewable energy, and micro-agriculture have infiltrated our communities, significantly impacted our environment, and are creating new jobs every day. Most importantly, the sustainable living industry is attracting young, impassioned followers who are acquiring the tools they need to combat some of the world’s most serious problems.
With greater exposure to building trades, talented individuals are finding their way into the field of energy efficient home performance at younger ages. Lee Shields, a 26-year-old certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI), works with Glenmont Heating and Air Conditioning in Rockville, Maryland as a home performance contractor.
“My senior year in high school, I spent half of each day at trade school learning about renovations, new construction, and masonry,” Lee says. His early exposure inspired him to continue his education at Appalachian State University.
“A decent percentage of my course load dealt with issues related to home performance,” Lee says. “I majored in construction management with a concentration in building science, and appropriately, the class I ended up being most interested in was building science.”
Following graduation, Lee became BPI certified as a Building Analyst and Envelope Professional.
“Training for BPI exams teaches you the ins and outs of energy auditing, weatherization, and more—and the combustion safety training is vital. Anyone working in the home performance industry should be BPI certified. Occupant safety and indoor air quality need to be a top priority before resources are dedicated to efficiency and comfort. We don’t want people tightening up their homes when they have underlying safety issues. It’s something that is often overlooked, but BPI training really shows you the importance of it.”
Lee’s education paid off with a full time job at Glenmont Heating & Cooling. Most commonly, Lee’s work consists of flat attic air sealing and insulation, duct cleaning and sealing, dense pack insulation, and more. But most importantly, Lee is happy he’s doing something he feels good about.
“I know a lot of people who have jobs in which they feel like they’re selling their soul—I’m thankful I don’t feel that way, and can have a clear conscience about what I do for a living,” says Lee. “The best part of my job is embracing the opportunity to help people.”
Purpose and Passion
Lee is not alone. People like Sarah Grady of Boone, North Carolina, a 28-year-old BPI-certified professional and graduate student at Appalachian State University, are the next generation of home performance superheroes.
Sarah began learning about sustainability as a member of AmeriCorps in Nashville, Tennessee where she worked as a Rehabilitation Specialist, and found great satisfaction in helping homeowners save energy while reducing their environmental impact and energy bills. “Home performance is one sector that people don’t normally think of when they hear about sustainability,” says Sarah. “There is a lot of low hanging fruit in home performance, which, if capitalized on, can have a big impact on our environment.”
Sarah is one of thousands who have realized the true value of home performance energy upgrades. Her experience inspired her to become BPI certified, which she believes is “definitely important for people involved in this industry.”
“People in home performance need to be educated, and the training for both BPI’s Building Analyst and Envelope Professional certifications is a great hands-on way to get that experience,” she says. “The training for these certifications carries over into real life scenarios, and I can see that what I’m doing really makes a difference.”
Sarah is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Building Science to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of home performance. And while her studies continue to offer her new knowledge, she regularly recalls her BPI training.
“I’m part of a group focused on indoor air quality issues, and due to my experience with BPI, I’m the person on the team to whom building science questions are directed,” she says.
It’s that sense of purpose and passion for positive change that drives people to become immersed in home performance.
James Hooten, 30, of Louisville, Kentucky, recalls a time as a child when his mother would dress the windows of his home in plastic to conserve heat in the winter. He was first introduced to weatherization as a participant of the Louisville, Kentucky chapter of YouthBuild USA, a national network of career readiness and community development programs for low income youth.
Since its inception in 1988, YouthBuild has guided youth toward productive and successful lives. Young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 work full time for 6 to 24 months to earn their GED or high school diploma and learn vocational skills, including in home performance contracting. With strong emphasis on leadership development, service, and community values, participants leave the program well equipped to take on life’s challenges.
James, who is BPI certified as a Building Analyst, is one of the many success stories YouthBuild has to offer. His experience has led him to become the owner of Hooten Home Services, where he provides whole-house solutions to his community’s energy and comfort needs. James introduces members of his community to the importance of energy conservation and shows them how to achieve comfort and safety in a four-season climate.
“Being able to educate people about the benefits of home performance, and teaching them how they can save energy is this job’s biggest reward,” says Hooten. “This work is important, and while it may not make you rich, you’re rewarded by your dedicated effort and the real impact on your community.”
A recent study showed that out of 800 Youthbuild program graduates surveyed, 75% were in college or employed with wages averaging $10 an hour. And even more encouraging, YouthBuild boasts a program completion rate of 76%, with half moving on to college or junior college, or obtaining a job paying just under $9 an hour on average.
Since 1994, 120,000 YouthBuild participants have produced more than 22,000 units of affordable, increasingly green housing across the United States. And since 2007, more than 15,000 young adults have signed up for programs in 14 countries around the world.
Most importantly, YouthBuild and programs like it expose young adults to work with which they fall in love. Many YouthBuild alumni pursue BPI certifications in an effort to enhance their abilities and increase their knowledge of building science. As a result, they enter the workforce confidently equipped for a successful career in home performance.
As environmentally sustainable principles continue to increase their influence, the field of home performance contracting is going mainstream. High schools and community colleges are incorporating building science into their curriculums at a faster pace. Community programs are embracing weatherization, home performance, and sustainability as industries of the future.
Mike Kandel is the Senior Communications Associate for the Building Performance Institute, Inc.
For more information on becoming BPI certified, go to ww.bpi.org.
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