This article was originally published in the January/February 1999 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online January/February 1999


The State of Training

It's been 25 years since the first oil embargo. The resulting surge of interest in energy conservation spawned new industries and professions devoted to raising the efficiency of homes. Over the intervening decades, energy conservation professionals have developed new home-performance diagnostic equipment and techniques. Acquiring the skills needed for improving home performance requires training, both in the classroom and in the field. One article in this issue presents a snapshot of the nation's ability to train energy conservation professionals. It contains both positive and worrisome trends.

The Guide to Training Programs for Home Performance Professionals on page 32 covers everything from the fundamentals of weatherization to using blower doors to infrared imaging to the maintenance of air conditioners and furnaces. The list is by no means complete, and we hope to publish an expanded version on our Web site as we track down more information. Energy efficiency information can also be an integral part of normal construction and appliance maintenance courses, but we are not attempting to include these courses in our list.

At first glance, the list appears extensive and impressive. Closer examination, however, suggests a more uncertain situation. For example, there are few scheduled courses. Much of this training is now given only upon request, and some of it is just a side activity for companies that sell other products or services. Moreover, training provided through public programs, such as weatherization and utility programs, has declined. This is not surprising, because many public programs and utility efficiency programs have been drastically cut back recently, partly in response to the deregulation of the electric industry (see Utilities Unplug Efficiency Programs, p. 7). Unfortunately, such training programs are often the entry point for technicians who go on to become experts in the energy conservation field.

Another article in this issue, Wisconsin Utilities Prime the Whole-House Pump (p. 13), shows just how critical utility training can be for the diffusion of specialized home performance skills. Two utilities are training contractors to use whole-house approaches to increase efficiency and customer comfort. Wisconsin was lucky because there was enough expertise available for these limited training programs. But many other states are not as fortunate.

On a national scale, the Clinton-Gore administration seeks to reduce the country's CO2 emissions through several national buildings programs. Clinton's Solar Roofs program needs thousands of trained contractors if it is to achieve its goal of one million solar installations by 2010. The federal Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star Homes program and the Department of Energy's Building America program (see Builders Find New Technologies Paying Off, p. 18) have similarly ambitious plans and similarly large-scale staffing needs.

However, Home Energy's survey of training programs indicates that the nation's capacity for training is tiny. If even 1% of new homes and retrofits suddenly required true home energy professionals and specialists, today's training facilities and trainers would be overwhelmed. They would be incapable of providing the courses, manuals, videos, and telephone hotlines they would need to meet the increased demand for their services.

The good news from our training survey is that an array of specialized services are available to improve the skills of home energy professionals. The bad news is that this infrastructure is dangerously thin. We don't need another energy crisis to remind us of how important energy efficiency is. Without adequate training for energy professionals, the progress we have made toward increasing home performance and efficiency will come to a halt.



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