How Change Comes from Within Home Performance

March 27, 2019
Spring 2019
A version of this article appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Nate “House Whisperer” Adams is the owner of Energy Smart Ohio. I caught him in his car on the way to see a new client.

Leslie Jackson: The client intake questionnaire on your website is a lesson in home performance contracting. You’d probably love it if every contractor worked the way you do.

Nate Adams: We’re building a system for HVAC contractors to realize what home performance could be. Home Performance 2.0 is an automated system that helps walk both contractors and homeowners through diagnosis, project planning, project execution, and continuous optimization of a home performance project in a satisfying and repeatable manner.

Our goal is to scale home performance so it can be the norm, not the exception.

LJ:Does Energy Smart Ohio repair after diagnosis?

NA: We work from start to finish as one point person through the whole thing, which we find is utterly required. The person who has the overall vision needs to stay in control throughout.

In our work, we are trying to reverse engineer and question everything. What we’ve come up with is a drastically different process from anything else that we’ve seen in the industry, but similar to what some other industries do. Nursing is what it aligns with really well. Nursing is about people of average to above-average intelligence solving complex problems every day, quickly and reliably. Which is what is required. You can’t require Michael Jordan-level talent to be scalable. You need the JV team to keep up.

LJ: How do you stay abreast of the industry?

NA To learn, we like to look tangentially to where other industries are doing similar things. But we do see mind-set problems within this industry—for example, being stuck on diagnostics as an end, and not a means.

Diagnostics only matter in creating a treatment plan that has high odds of success. So that frustrates me a lot of the time, that the blower door is held up as this great and wondrous thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to put it up right now.

In general, diagnostic tools are clumsy, but the beauty doesn’t come from the tool, it comes from what you learn and diagnose from using it . . . There is a wonderful Bucky Fuller line, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty, but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

Everyone is trying to figure out how to speed up these sales and retrofit projects, and we feel that’s fundamentally wrong. It’s probably the single biggest impediment to making home performance available. Because the effective projects are expensive.

But, this is what’s required to actually fix a house. People are trying to look for the one little thing that will do it. I liken it to trying to drive a large nail with a small trim hammer.

LJ: The house is a complex system. There isn’t a simple solution.

NA: You have to move multiple elements a long way simultaneously. What we find is you need between $10k and $20k in shell work in every house, and $10k to $20k in HVAC work in every house. And if you do anything less, your odds are not super high.

LJ: The home is a long-term investment, with higher costs over more time, and so should its maintenance be.

NA: Picture you are in your 20s and you walk into a bar. You basically have your choice of two relationships—a one-night stand, or the beginning of a real relationship. The problem is the contracting world creates one-night stands. There is not a real relationship. And if you are going to sell a $40k project, you have to have a relationship. It’s like getting married. You don’t marry someone on the first date.

What we find in the retrofit side is we don’t want to even go do an initial consult until someone has lived in the house for six months. Things have to bother you about a house enough that you actually want to go figure out the problem, as well as invest in a solution.

This is not about selling bigger projects, I talk about that because contractors hear that better. But what it’s actually about is solving problems.

The Home Performance 2.0 Platform will be kind of an Airbnb for home performance. It matches up homeowners and contractors and concierges them through the whole process, so that the experience is good—hopefully great—and results will happen.

I’d like to compete with people: Who can get the best blower door reductions? Energy use reductions? Customer satisfaction scores? This platform will track all of this automatically.

LJ: It’s like the bicycle performance application Strava for contractors.

NA: I really hope the change comes from within home performance! Get ready to slow down, have fun, build real relationships, and deliver serious results.

Leslie Jackson is associate editor and office manager of Home Energy.

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