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  • 1.  Deep Energy Retrofits Are Key to Our Energy Transition-Why Are We Not Setting Contractors Up to Successfully Implement Them?

    BPA Staff Member
    Posted 12 days ago

    By Kelly Delaney

    My mother recently had solar installed on the roof of her home here in Central California. She did most everything right; she got several bids, and carefully researched each brand of proposed panels. But the chosen installer missed a key opportunity to impact her energy savings: they didn't suggest that she insulate the roof or upgrade the giant, single pane windows that make up most of the exterior walls in her home to reduce the amount of energy expended on heating and cooling. Of course they didn't, you say; their business is solar. They certainly aren't going to cheapen their proposal for potential load reduction, nor is it likely they are licensed or trained to install insulation or windows.          

    In my own work in residential energy efficiency financing, more than half of our financed projects consist of only one energy measure, and they break my heart a little bit. The building sector is responsible for 40% of total energy use and 59% of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. according to the ACEEE. Every time a contractor leaves a property with only one portion of the home upgraded instead of the system as a whole, we miss a key opportunity to dramatically improve the home's energy performance.

    Continue reading on the BPA Journal.

    Macie Melendez
    Editor in Chief, Building Performance Journal
    Building Performance Association
    Moon Township PA

  • 2.  RE: Deep Energy Retrofits Are Key to Our Energy Transition-Why Are We Not Setting Contractors Up to Successfully Implement Them?

    Posted 11 days ago
    Great points here Kelly!  Those of us who remember ARRA funding are set to experience a Ground Hog Day event if we don't get ahead of it as an industry.  One of the things I took away from that debacle was that you cannot legislate or certify an industry into existence.  It has to be consumer driven.  Consumers can live with an attic insulated with less than required and leaky duct work and no insulation in the basement, or envelope leakage 75% above BAS, but they cannot live without heat.  Cooling is not a requirement, although consumers would tell you differently.  In our efficiency program an instrumented energy audit must be performed prior to receiving a rebate.  These audits get us into the home and identify those issues you speak of, and we get the opportunity to present our recommendations to the client.  Only recently have these recommendations been met with some sort of urgency.  My take on this is the impending winter and predicted historically high fuel costs, along with our current   We'll see come spring how many jobs actually move forward beyond the HAVC replacement, which is the driver of our rebate program.  

    Requiring energy upgrades to be performed in order to receive the rebates may be an answer.  Consumers have to see that the juice is worth the squeeze.  Again, I go back to that fact that you cannot legislate an industry into existence.  Moving these deep retrofits forward relies on the proclivity of the auditor to be accurate in their assessment of the home, detailed in their reports and communicating those recommendations to the consumer as well as communicating those detailed recommendations to a knowledgeable contractor.  In the case of a solar install, in my experience, requiring the upgrading of insulation, lowering overall envelope leakage, moving from fossil fuel heating to electric is cost prohibitive when looking at the cost of installing solar.  Should we make upgrading insulation, tightening the home and electrification a requirement to receiving any rebates or tax credits?  Will this harm the solar industry?  I see solar panels going on homes that are heated by propane and natural gas.  There is an audit required to receive any rebates or tax credits, but audits don't get the building more efficient.  Ducts still leak and under perform on delivery, insulation levels are not increased, and the panels really are underutilized in the winter as fossil fuels take over.  Their only benefit is during the cooling season.  Sure, it helps with base load, but you would have to have an enormous base load to be cost effective.  Solar panels are sexy and consumers can show how they care about the environment.  Sealing a home, adding insulation, encapsulating a crawl space, renovating a duct system - all not sexy and not the easiest to accomplish and no one can see the completed projects like solar panels, but provides the quickest ROI and is the lowest hanging fruit.  Perhaps these should be requirements.  If the goal is to lower the carbon footprint, I submit the lowest hanging fruit should be number one priority, which it is not.  

    I have gone to many training centers in my 35 years of energy auditing and find they provide a great starting point for someone looking to get started in this industry for basic theory and introduction to industry equipment.  However, in no way do they come close to the on the job and field training you need to be able to be a successful auditor.  And by successful, I mean getting homeowners to move forward with recommendations, not just performing a large number of audits.  This goes directly to career path.

    There is a boat load of training funds coming to every State.  State and local energy offices need to be addressing this NOW.  If not, we will fritter this funding away and on the back end of IRA funding we will still be without a work force or boot on the ground, just like we were left at the back end of the ARRA funding.  I taught 4 cycles of BA certification classes at the local Community College here in Delaware.  Not one of the 50+ people that went through the class and certification testing, and passed, are currently working in the energy efficiency field.  There are many reasons this did not result in more workers in the field and the 3 main reasons I see are; First, the classes didn't cost any of the attendees one dime.  All paid for by ARRA funds.  These classes held no value to those attending.  Most were offered these classes through the Labor department as a carrot to receive their unemployment benefits (lots of displaced workers due the recession of the time).  If there is no value of the product to the consumer, it's worth nothing.  I got paid to teach the class and the Community Colleges got paid for hosting and their classrooms usage.  They even got free blower doors and IR cameras for the training, which have been stored in a closet since.  Secondly, the only weatherization work available was through the WAP program.  There was no rebate program online at this time.  The WAP programs throughout the country had their own challenges and ended up either being shut down due to fraud or misappropriation of funds.  Some flourished as they were already set up for success by forward thinking implementors who didn't need to reinvent the wheel and were able to embrace the windfall of the ARRA funds.  Sadly, these were few and far between.  The WAP program in my state was shut down due to improprieties and those who got certified had nowhere to go.  The third reason was, and this is one that is set up to happen again, is there were no mentoring program or on the job training programs in place to move these newly certified people into the field.  I had offered the State Energy office the opportunity to mentor any auditor who wanted that field training.  I had set my company up to address comfort issues, not efficiency issues, and had no lack of auditing to do (hint to those currently struggling selling efficiency).  There was plenty of funding available to pay for this mentoring program, but each auditor was allowed only one session and only 2 of these auditors took advantage and the program was eliminated.  But good news, the entire energy office got new office furniture!  True story. 

    Bottom line is if we don't come together as an industry on the local and state levels and help our state agencies who will be receiving this funding, more office furniture will be ordered as funds need to be spent.  Setting up new recruits for success in the industry will rely on well trained and experienced auditors getting the message through to the homeowners.  Experienced auditors are out there and now is their time to shine.  We are looking to set up a mentoring program and be involved with our state's planning on how this IRA funding will be doled out to avoid the lack of completed projects from the ARRA funding and move homeowners forward to completing the prioritized recommendations.  No amount of licensing or certifications can ensure deeper retrofits.  Well run rebate programs, with incentive amounts high enough to motivate consumers, will get you over the biggest hurdle we face as an industry, getting in the door!  Once in the home, it is the auditor that will move the jobs forward.  Mentoring of newly certified auditors will be imperative to getting to this point.  Along with mentoring, we need to put in place a career path for those on the install crews.  Apprentice, Journeyman and Master seem to work well with all other trades.  No need to reinvent the wheel, better utilization of the current BPI certs will get us there - Install Crew (Apprentice), Crew Leader (Journeyman) and Building Analyst (Master).  These certifications have been around for years.  Why are we not utilizing them? 
    Allen Luzak
    Home Performance Consulting
    Lewes, DE

    Allen Luzak
    Home Performance Consulting L
    Lewes DE

  • 3.  RE: Deep Energy Retrofits Are Key to Our Energy Transition-Why Are We Not Setting Contractors Up to Successfully Implement Them?

    Posted 10 days ago
    Kelly's story is repeated often and Allen's points are spot on.   We have decades of attics that should be sealed at the plate levels and crawl spaces to be encapsulated.  But with the current plan in place we will push heat pumps with no distribution improvements, insulation with depleted values due to air washing, and unimpressed customers when the work is done.

    Manufacturers have made significant improvements in general and on heat pumps specifically since the ARRA era.  It would be a tragedy to misapply the technology that will result in loss of confidence just when we have begun to overcome objections to heat pump utilization. 

    To Allen's point in the next to last paragraph, there will be no lasting employment improvements for the trades.  Just scores of homes with underperforming systems due to leaky envelopes.  If we ignore ARRA past results and just throw insulation, equipment and money at homes the weatherization and HVAC industry will suffer for years to come. 

    Technology is here to achieve unimaginable energy savings if we simply slow down.  There seems to be a rush to spend the money immediately.  If we analyze past data, assess homes properly, set up processes that outline the proper steps to apply effective measures we can make a sustainable difference.  It will take substantial spending to make a difference on individual homes, but weatherizing them properly will pay dividends for years to come.  This is also the path to make the addition of grid extending improvements (solar and DR ready) on individual homes result with a more efficient return on investment.

    Tom Turner
    Air Evangelist Consulting
    1903 Woodland Drive
    Cedar Park Texas 78613

  • 4.  RE: Deep Energy Retrofits Are Key to Our Energy Transition-Why Are We Not Setting Contractors Up to Successfully Implement Them?

    Posted 9 days ago
    I am going to make my comment simple. Kelly, Allen, and Tom hit the nail on the head! I am one of a handful of GC's performing Deep Energy Retrofits in the So Cal area. It should be the only way to receive any type of rebates for your clients. Get BPI certified, buy the BS equipment, and start performing your business like a business!

    Jason Scheurer
    BEST Techs Contracting Design Build Remodel Inc.
    Garden Grove CA

  • 5.  RE: Deep Energy Retrofits Are Key to Our Energy Transition-Why Are We Not Setting Contractors Up to Successfully Implement Them?

    Posted 10 days ago
    As a licensed California general building contractor who was in the second graduating class for green building professionals in 2003 I agree with much in the article. The trades simply are not "green" and the training is not mandatory; in fact, training is minimal for licensing to the point of absurdity. I got my license by taking a short course that trained you to take the exam, not how to be a contractor. That said, making building science a mandatory component of licensing sounds great to me but I don't see it happening anytime soon until a true green revolution happens. For California, the administrators sitting at desks in Sacramento are going to have to wake up and smell the coffee before the trade licensing requirements implements green training. At least in California there are opportunities for training. Now that I live in Ithaca, NY...home of some of the "greenest" of the green...I'm amazed at the lack of professional green training for contractors and the near complete lack of awareness of building science. But you will certainly read about the various green initiatives here that get sensational media coverage and give the impression that we're creating Ecotopia. The trades are where the rubber hits the road and until they get greened up we will fall short of the ambitious goals illustrated in presentations complete with graphs and charts and numbers.

    Dan Antonioli
    Going Green