Where the Mastic Meets the Sheet Metal

September 03, 2009
September/October 2009
A version of this article appears in the September/October 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) is nothing without the fine work of home performance contractors. Program administrators at the federal, state, and utility levels recognize that “mastic happens” only at the hands of contractors—computers don’t make it happen. Our job as administrators is to reduce barriers so our participating contractors can succeed by selling and installing home performance services in as many homes as possible. To do this, we need trained contractors, clear standards, smart marketing, easy financing, easy-to-use savings tools, incentives that reward the right improvements, and meaningful quality assurance that contractors seek to embrace—not run from. In short, HPwES must work for our contractors first.

This special edition of Home Energy is dedicated to improving the bottom line for home performance contractors who are participating in HPwES programs. This is a follow-up to Home Energy's 2006 special HPwES issue “Profiting from Home Performance Contracting.” In my introduction in that issue, I noted that our home performance industry was then in the crawling stage—really, just getting out of the gates. Today I believe we are running a steeplechase—fast and with many hurdles (what happened to that warm-up walking stage?) Our pace is more challenging than ever, and with the new administration, home performance is becoming the industry of tomorrow. Like it or not, we are in an all-out sprint to save the world.

We at EPA and DOE are very encouraged that HPwES is considered the premier existing residential efficiency program in the country. With the stimulus, we have too much money, too little time to plan, enormous goals, and an emerging infrastructure to build from. Think I was kidding about saving the world? The current administration wants to see one million homes retrofitted each year, starting in 2011! Time’s a-wasting, and collaboration at high speeds is challenging. Yet to get this done, we must understand one thing very clearly: It’s the contractors, stupid!

And therein lies our biggest challenge. How to simultaneously recruit, train, and provide a ready market for thousands of home performance contractors to retrofit a million homes per year. Once homeowners clearly understand the incentives, demand for home performance contracting will soar. Meeting this demand will require tapping into the mature markets of the HVAC and remodeling industries. Today and every day of the week, the HVAC industry is installing over 8,000 new heating and/or cooling systems. Add to that the huge $126 billion per year remodeling industry, and one might argue that a machine to retrofit a million homes is already in place. Leveraging this existing service industry is key to meeting our national goals.

Many of the best HVAC and remodeling companies are already truly comfort (read home performance) contractors. They are stepping away from standard delivery and taking ownership of the envelope and the distribution systems; they are working with homeowners to broaden work scopes to provide comprehensive solutions. Creating this alignment of home performance to the mature HVAC and remodeling industries will require retraining, national standards, and a long-term commitment to building demand for these extended services. Contractors will follow the opportunity, and if we build sustainable programs that create demand, contractors will come. Again: It’s the contractors, stupid!

We believe that addressing homes in a comprehensive manner, using credentialed contractors with a promise of quality assurance, is the way to serve our existing housing stock and maximize energy efficiency, not to mention environmental gains. These are the basic tenets of HPwES, and we have an established national HPwES program. Now we need to build supply and demand in unison—and the supply is there. (Contractors just need to hear the demand for their services is worth their investment in response.)

Building consumer demand requires education, ease of delivery and “wow!” incentives. For the next two years, homeowners will have an opportunity to claim tax credits of 30%—up to $1,500—for a wide range of energy retrofits. HPwES contractors are weaving this into their sales delivery, but so are all the tin-man contractors selling just one solution. We need to build separation from these business-as-usual companies (or better yet, enroll them in home performance) by piggybacking federal tax credits with program incentives (often another $1,500 or more) that are applicable only to contractors who have gone through the training rigors of home performance. This advantage for home performance contractors will accelerate the adoption of home performance by the existing contracting base.

This special edition is intended to provide you, our existing home performance contractors, with business tips and strategies so that you can run faster without having to jump over quite so many hurdles. I applaud you for getting into the track meet early, and for helping this industry get to where it is today. Take advantage of your early lead, but don’t slacken your pace—’cause we are building it, and they are coming!  

Chandler von Schrader is the manager for the Home Performance with Energy Star Program at the EPA.

For more information:
For more on the Home Performance with Energy Star Program, go to www.energystar.gov/homeperformance.
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