Onward, Home Performance Soldiers!

November 01, 2009
November/December 2009
A version of this article appears in the November/December 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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The rapid expansion of weatherization programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AARA) is requiring an army of newly trained professionals led by veteran home performance contractors. In response, the Building Performance Institute (BPI), along with other organizations, is helping to implement and deploy statewide training programs.

March 12, 2009, will be remembered as one of the greatest days in the history of the home performance industry. On that day, Vice President Joseph Biden and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu detailed an investment of nearly $8 billion in state and local weatherization and energy efficiency efforts as part of ARRA—$5 billion through the Weatherization Assistance program (WAP) and $3 billion for the State Energy program. With an average of $6,500 invested per house, the goal is to weatherize a million low-income homes in the next year and provide incentives to improve the energy efficiency of other homes. The greatest hurdle to meeting this goal is making sure that each and every single one of those homes is given the full and proper house-as-system treatment by trained professionals. We need an army to get it done, and get it done right.

Fast-forward to July 29, 2009, when McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting behemoth, released Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy, a detailed analysis of the magnitude of the efficiency potential. This report found that comprehensive improvements to the energy efficiency of America’s 129 million existing homes by 2020 could reduce the residential sector’s energy consumption by 28% and save the U.S. economy $41 billion a year. Improvements to the building shell and HVAC systems were identified as representing 71% of the energy efficiency potential.

However, the report also fingered a lack of trained and skilled contractors as a major barrier to unlocking that potential, and called for a 30- to 40-fold increase in the number of qualified individuals by 2020. Again, we need an army to get it done, and get it done right.

BPI Stands Up

It won’t surprise many Home Energy readers to learn that much of the pressure to fill the home performance workforce gap has fallen on BPI. As a nationally recognized standards development and contractor-credentialing organization for residential energy efficiency retrofit work, we are being called upon to recruit and train the required army of home performance professionals.

As of September 2009, BPI-certified professionals played key roles in the WAP programs in 9 states (in some cases, BPI certification is required by the program). Similar involvement is pending in another 12 states. This represents over $2.3 billion of the $5 billion in ARRA funding for weatherization. Table 1 provides an overview of the state WAP programs that BPI-certified professionals are deeply involved in, and those for which BPI involvement is pending.

In addition, EPA’s Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) program is active in 22 states. Thirteen of the program sponsors have chosen to use individuals or companies with BPI credentials, and a similar decision is pending in another three states. 

Maryland, for Example

Therefore, one of the greatest tasks ahead of us is creating the training infrastructure needed for the ramp-up demands in each jurisdiction (see “The President Said ‘Weatherization’ on TV,” HE, July/Aug ’09, p. 20). In many cases this requires coordination and agreement between the state WAP administrators and the HPwES program sponsors. Perhaps the most successful example of this kind of teamwork so far is Maryland.

Recognizing the need to expand their workforce as rapidly as possible, the Department of Housing and Community Development (WAP administrator) and the Maryland Energy Authority (HPwES sponsor) joined forces to specify BPI certification for all the energy auditors working under both programs. To provide the training infrastructure, the plan is to have all 16 community colleges in the state offer home performance training and BPI certification examinations in the future. The first meeting between the two agencies to develop this plan occurred on February 25, 2009—eight days after President Obama signed ARRA into law—and the first class of home performance hopefuls began training on July 6, 2009.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) developed this model years ago with great success, and it was used to speed deployment in Maryland by licensing the curriculum used in New York’s community colleges to the Maryland schools. Several other states, including Kentucky, are now watching closely to gauge the success of the collaboration, and we expect the path used in Maryland to be repeated several times over in 2010.

Outside of formalized models like the ones in Maryland and New York, where training and certification take place through community colleges, the demand for BPI training is growing at an exponential rate. At the start of 2009, we had about 70 BPI training affiliate organizations. By September 1, 2009, we had 121, with 116 more in the process of becoming affiliates, and new inquiries coming in daily. Much of the interest is in states where we did not have a presence before, such as Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, and even Hawaii.

Another strong indication of the increased interest in home performance was the record turnout at the National Weatherization Conference in Indianapolis, held July 20–23, 2009. While the conference sponsors expected 1,800 attendees, 3,200 people walked through the doors—representing the largest group ever assembled under the Weatherization banner!  At this event, Gil Sperling, Weatherization Program Manager for DOE, announced that the five U.S. territories—American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—had officially become part of the national weatherization network.

BPI and weatherization have a long history. The BPI training affiliate network began taking shape approximately eight years ago, with five weatherization-based training centers across the country. These centers had already been providing comprehensive training to weatherization staff for many years, but after a review of their programs, BPI found that the training facilities and curriculum aligned with BPI standards.  This allowed the individuals being trained by the weatherization-based centers to hold what is now a nationally recognized credential—applicable equally to WAP programs and market value incentive programs.

The BPI mission, standards, and policies were born out of the need to raise the bar across the board for all parties that participate in the assessment of homes, the development of comprehensive work scopes, the implementation and installation of solutions for homes across the country, and consumer education. New York State and national WAP representatives, policymakers, contractors, and consumers came together to grow our own staff, develop recognized credentials for home performance professionals, and provide a critical service to consumers across the country: the realization of safe, affordable, comfortable homes. 

But as the saying goes, with great opportunity comes risk. The dollar amounts being allocated will attract some people to the home performance community for the wrong reasons. Yes, we need to build an army to get the job done, but that army cannot be made up of those simply looking to make a fast buck—the ones who don’t know and don’t care if they create a mold problem, or what might happen if they don’t account for combustion appliance backdrafting.

We at BPI will continue to work with the WAP administrators and state energy offices to educate them, persuade them, and collaborate with them to build sustainable training infrastructures as part of the ARRA-funded ramp-up activities. We call upon you, the veterans in the home performance army, to support us in this quest by continuing the kind of quality home performance contracting that deserves billions of dollars in funding, by letting more and more people know about it, and by encouraging other building professionals and young people new to the field to join us in this good work.
The year 2009 was just the beginning of this amazing journey. Next year will see even more activity and more opportunity. Watch for updates in Home Energy in 2010. 

Larry Zarker is the CEO of the Building Performance Institute (BPI), an independent, not-for-profit organization committed to the improvement of home performance via training, certification, accreditation, and quality assurance programs for residential contractors and their customers. BPI works with building performance industry stakeholders to ensure that the professional bar for excellence in building performance contracting is established and maintained by creating and regularly updating technical requirements through an open, transparent, consensus-based development process. Prior to joining BPI, Larry worked for nearly 20 years with the National Association of Home Builders Research Center.

For more information:
Visit www.mckinsey.com/usenergyefficiency to download Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy, McKinsey Global Energy and Materials, McKinsey & Company, Hannah Choi Granade, John Creyts, Anton Derkach, Philip Farese, Scott Nyquist, Ken Ostrowski, July 2009.

Visit www.bpi.org
E-mail: info@bpi.org
Tel: (877) BPI-1BPI (274-1274)
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