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  • 1.  The IRA Promises Energy Efficiency Rebates-Let's Help Homeowners Use Them

    BPA Staff Member
    Posted 10-11-2022 11:38

    The density of certified individuals around the country varies dramatically, mostly in tandem with robust rebate and weatherization programs. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) calls out ANSI/BPI 2400 standard for energy savings predictions, offering thousands in rebates and tax incentives. What about the States with little to no certified workforce?

    In my home state of West Virginia, I have connected with all 26 BPI-certified individuals in one fashion or another. About 15 of them joined us in Nashville for the 2022 National Home Performance Conference. Most of them are relegated to specific community action agencies, and only a few are doing existing market rate home audits or code compliance work. What about all the other 6,177 energy efficiency workers in the Mountain State? We need to connect with them and gauge their perception of this impending tsunami of rebates. It is vital that we connect with existing contractors to see what kind of training they want or need as it relates to building science and innovation.


    The screenshot to the right shows the use of funds section of the State-Based Home Energy Efficiency Contractor Training Grants (formerly known as the "HOPE" portion) in the IRA. I can assure you that many of the greatest minds in our industry are working on what the IRA's Home Energy Performance-Based Whole-House rebates (HOMES) and High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program (HEEHR) rebates look like, and how they align with existing programs. I fear, though, that the real challenge will be finding companies and workers to deploy them. Luckily, BPA is way ahead of the game in community-based organization and has been for over 30 years.

    Probably the most frequently asked question we've heard is: When will all of this happen? While we can assume that the IRS will have its ducks in a row for tax advantages starting in early 2023, it might take a while to work out exactly how the rebates will be distributed. The $4.5 billion HEEHR program requires "point of sale" rebates, and if we take a cue from the revolution of the light bulb, we can see how the subsidization of LEDs at the big box and dollar stores led to market transformation in just a few years. There was a brief hiccup in the beginning with CFLs, but ultimately the technology and market prevailed.

    Continue reading on the BPA Journal



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    Xavier Walter
    State Outreach
    Building Performance Association
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  • 2.  RE: The IRA Promises Energy Efficiency Rebates-Let's Help Homeowners Use Them

    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous
    Posted 10-14-2022 14:16
    This message was posted by a user wishing to remain anonymous

    I seem to recall seeing a chart that showed 85% of all BPI Certified Individuals were connected to the Weatherization industry. Non weatherization BPI certified folks are located mostly in northern states. Ask any contractor in my area, and probably 99% have no idea what BPI is. Unless it's a mandatory requirement to obtain certification, I don't see many, if any obtaining credential, due to the difficulty of the BPI tests.


  • 3.  RE: The IRA Promises Energy Efficiency Rebates-Let's Help Homeowners Use Them

    Posted 10-17-2022 08:25
    As a 35 + year dinosaur in this industry, it is my opinion the lack of knowledge regarding the BPI certs and the test being labeled as to difficult as a direct result of a lack of career path in our industry.  Any other trade organization, plumbing, HVAC, carpentry, electrical, etc., you must go through a career path to reach the master certification levels.  This typically would require an apprenticeship, journeyman and finally master certifications.  In our industry, IMHO, the master certification would be the Building Analyst.  However, our industry allows the master certification of Building Analyst to be awarded to anyone who can pass the written and field test, no matter what your experience with how a home works, performs or what is going on behind the walls with framing issues or how sizing of equipment effects the humidity of a home or how to write a detailed or even a correct scope of work on an audit report.  We as an industry should be looking at promoting a career path just like other trades.  Require a book of work on an install crew, experience in the crew leader position to show you know how a job site works and what can and cannot be done then, after several years and a large book of work under you belt, you can sit for the BA certification.  This would certainly make the BPI tests much less difficult.  When I first took my BPI exam you had to score an 85 or higher to pass.  Very few were passing as they were allowing anyone and everyone to take the class and sit for the exam, so they lowered required score to 70.  Can you imagine an electrician who just graduated from a technical high school being able to take the exam for a master electrician certification?  It's time we start acting like a legit trade and stop handing out top level certifications like participation trophies.

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    Allen Luzak
    Owner
    Home Performance Consulting L
    Lewes DE
    302-7456650
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  • 4.  RE: The IRA Promises Energy Efficiency Rebates-Let's Help Homeowners Use Them

    Posted 10-17-2022 10:07

    Thank You Allen for putting this into words.  I am not a 35 year dinosaur in this industry but I DID start my tiny company, Energy Fitness for Homes, in 2011 and have been working on all sides of retrofit ever since.  I started with BPI BA certification in 2010 as my 20 year career in commercial construction (management, mostly) imploded with the economy (much to my actual relief, for many reasons).  I "ran a business plan" and quickly found that in the Greater Cincinnati area, the market was not conducive to financial survival as an "energy auditor".  There was, however, an artificial market created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created in 2009 and implemented locally by the now-defunct Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance. 

    I was reluctant to "hitch my wagon" to the GCEA but saw it as one path to potentially grow the market in our region, one path to expose the great results of Existing Home Energy Retrofits to homeowners who would then tell their neighbors etc.  (I spent a great gob of time doing other things to try to grow the market, don't even want to talk about that now).  I joined as an "assessor", as I survived from early withdrawals from my 401(k) and unemployment benefits.  I followed the guidelines and what I had learned as a BPI Building Analyst and made recommendations for airsealing and insulation among others.  With generous "incentives" (100% incentives up to $4,000) I referred my "clients" to the Air Sealers, wait, no I didn't, because there really weren't any.  One (who is now a good friend, but went out of business as a Home Performance Contractor when the artificial market went away) was doing pretty well with it, but others were struggling.  One of the other "seal and insulate" companies asked if I'd be willing to help figure out exactly "what to do" when we got into the attic.  I did, and found a new passion.  I started tracking task-time and materials, figuring out means & methods and spent hours and days down one research rabbit hole after another.  Green Building Advisor, Energy Vanguard, Building Science Corp (among others of the "good guys") provided me with an education on solid building science details and *why* I should do certain things in certain places.  A good friend became a partner of sorts, he brought 30 years of home building and remodel experience to the table, along with a HUGE pile of skepticism ("we've never done it that way before").   


    I shifted the Company from Analyst to Home Performance Contractor within the GCEA and we started installing seal & insulate packages.  We quickly established a sort of "elite" reputation of being thorough, expensive and delivering AWESOME results.  But there was no room to grow.  There was not a "workforce" of folks around who would or could do what I knew was working.  Within the GCEA "program" world, our thorough work rarely met Savings to Investment Ratios required by the Program.  There were insulation contractors who provided a $250 "airseal" package.  Others worked ONLY to the 15% required blower door reduction, sealing only the Big and Simple holes, leaving the difficult (and extremely meaningful) pathways un-touched, while "selling" the homeowner a "complete" airseal package.  I was bashed by the Program.  "You say it's a $4,000 airseal package but ABC and XYZ can do it for $1,500".  I developed a good sized database of measures, how long it takes to install and how much material it takes.  (X# of LF of top of wall at Y LF/manhour = labor hours, X# of LF of top of wall x material cost per LF). There's no guessing to it really, just use the formulas I've developed for the work, adjust based on difficulty then walk through the final bid with an old fashioned gut-check and the pricing falls out from there.  I change labor and material rates, overhead, profit etc. but my estimates for how long and how much are spot on.  Who are these programs to stay what's "too expensive" when it's just how long it takes to seal the top of a wall?  Or that it's "not worth it" to seal a 1" gap all the way around the exterior wall of a low-sloped roof with ice dam and moldy ceiling issues? "Just seal the chases in the middle of the house, claim the 15% reduction, blow some insulation up there and move on". 


    THANKFULLY the funding ran out.  A whole lot of money was "gotten rid of", millions of dollars were "spent".  Don't even get me started on the HVAC contractors who "swapped all the boxes" and left the REAL opportunities off of the recommendation list (how many of those boxes are nearing the end of thier life because they've been over-stressed in a leaky house from then until now?). 

    I never did back down on presenting clients with comprehensive, building science driven plans for retrofit.  It's expensive.  Many can't afford it, most don't understand it.  I give them a menu of possible work, in sequence.  With pictures.  And explanations.  If they need to stick to a certain budget I can break down the work into phases.  We have a couple of clients who are on the multi-year plan, with budgets of $3,000 at a chunk.  I can cut back on measures but ONLY if the client has solid understanding of what they are cutting out.  Some things I just won't skip over. We have relationships with a couple (read TWO) HVAC contractors in our region who understand the importance of building envelope to HVAC success.  That's where the bulk of our work comes from.   It takes a REALLY LONG TIME to put an assessment together, and we're not even really testing (blower door etc) or calculating "energy savings" unless it's a specific request and we're appropriately compensated. 

    I've never hired anyone.  I've never had revenue steady enough to take the plunge.  I'm exhausted.  It's been a huge financial struggle.  The only reason we keep doing this is PASSION for it, and loyalty to the clients that we do have.  But we're getting older, and while we both still CAN do the WORK, it's impossible to assess sell, manage, and install the work with just the two of us.  Something has to change and I'm thrilled the IRA may provide some hope.

    This work, the attic work, it's HARD.  The most important places to get to and get RIGHT are many times the most difficult.  Squirrelling around in tight and gross places always thinking "six-sided box", having the appropriate tools and materials at each point to install to the best of our ability, it's physically and mentally HARD.  Each point in an attic requires understanding of continuous and contiguous air barrier, moisture transfer and appropriateness of materials and methods.  It's NOT "laborer" work.  We do plenty of grunting but this is NOT grunt work.  It's hot as hell, even dangerous in the summer, cold and foam-heat-challenge in the winter.  When I'm in the attic, I'm covered with bruises and scrapes for weeks after.  And exhausted (in a good way, especially if you like hot-yoga alongside mouse turds and other cool stuff)!   We do drywall cutting and patching to "get where we need to go"; we do bath fans and other ventilation. We make pretty and functional access panels.  We create storage spaces sometimes, find disconnected ducts behind walls and on and on.  Carpentry, drywall, electrical, sheetmetal, plumbing, roofing etc.  Heck, we've dug out crawlspaces!  The reward is the clients who tell me they can't believe the difference in how their house feels; the amazement and appreciation of our efforts.  Usable space that wasn't before.  Finally, lower energy bills. 

    I don't know who the people are who are really "cut out" for this work.  Brain and brawn, competitive nature and desire to "be a badass" but ALSO this work needs to compensate it's tradespeople appropriately.  They need to be given enough time in the field to properly install important measures.  They need to train alongside a seasoned pro for YEARS to understand the nuances of the different configurations we encounter.  They need to earn enough money to live without financial stress; the position needs to allow for some downtime without adding financial burden.  They can't work 5 days 40 hours in this environment for years and years without healing and recovery sometimes.  Work-life balance is critical, we need tradespeople with fresh minds and bodies to perform as optimally as the homes we upgrade.   As a business owner, I need HELP with the business side of things.  The invoices, accounting and all that.  And, by the way, I'm no "master" of this work, partner and I look at each other shaking our heads, "best in the business in the region" and it's US!  Imagine if we had gotten true hands on trades training rather than just bootstrap internet and field trial and error!

    Allen, you laid out a path to becoming an Analyst and I believe in that path whole heartedly.  To bring that path to life, we need to support companies to support this training and development and it's going to take a LONG TIME to develop a workforce of competent installers.  Think a decade or more.  (Funny, looking back a decade…we could be in a better place now…).

    As I read the plans outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act, I see "same old, same old" coming down the path and frankly, it makes me really upset.  I own the ONLY Home Performance Contracting Company that stood up during the ARRA days and is still standing.  And we sure as hell aren't thriving in every way. 

    If we do what we have always done, we'll get what we've always got.  We need to develop Companies and Tradespeople rather than develop mechanisms to SPEND A LOT OF MONEY chasing some Savings to Investment ratio that leaves our clients unknowingly under-serviced in the end. 

    We ARE a legit trade and it's time we bring back the dignity of the workforce that we NEED to accomplish the real goals of the IRA and bring true investment, rather than just spend a bunch of money, again.



     



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    Julie Tolliver
    President
    Energy Fitness for Homes
    OH
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  • 5.  RE: The IRA Promises Energy Efficiency Rebates-Let's Help Homeowners Use Them

    Posted 10-18-2022 07:35
    Julie, you make many excellent points.  Hitching a wagon to any rebate or tax credit policy as the source of your revenue stream is a quick ride to the "Train Station".  One thing that we realized from the debacle of the ARRA funding is that you cannot legislate an industry into existence.  Billions of dollars dumped into energy efficiency programs in this country, yet less than 1% of homes in the US logged deep retrofits!  Money wasted on administration of failed projects in one state after another.  Several states had to shutter their low-income programs for quite some time as QA inspections found such poor quality of work and funds re-directed to non-qualifying jobs.

    I taught BA classes at the local community college with classes full of displace workers from corporate downsizing due to the failing economy.  Out of the 48 or so BA candidates that went through that FREE training, only one is currently operating a successful HP and auditing company.  Not one other person is in the HP industry.  But hey, we had a bunch of certified BA people, which was the mandate.     

    We were promised shovel ready jobs and boots on the ground.  Fast forward to IRA legislation, more promises yet I turn work away and clients can't find contractors that can competently provide a quality air seal package.  Where are all those contractors the ARRA funding promised?  You are spot on - this work is hard.  It's very physically demanding and not a lot of fun, but done correctly, provides such a sense of accomplishment that you have provided the client a product no one else can deliver, with quantifiable results.  Kudos for surviving after ARRA funding. 

    I consulted with many now defunct HP contracting companies to find a path through the smoke and debris of that train wreck and come out the other end and survive.  The way I have found a path through this industry is that I do not EVER sell sustainability, green anything or climate anything.  Contrary to the hype, the consumer does not want that. (Sorry for any triggers here).  For me, in my area, the Mid-Atlantic region, it's comfort and only comfort and I don't play in the low to moderate income sandbox.  Selling comfort will, by osmosis, result in lowering a person's carbon footprint.  When you resolve a comfort issue, homeowners are able to lower the thermostat in the winter and raise it in the summer and stay comfortable, HVAC operates more efficiently.   Proper diagnosis of a problem home is paramount to resolving these issues and that cannot be taught in a weeklong BA class.  Those who adopt the comfort mentality will do very well in this industry.  Mentoring, on the job training and good renumeration for those skilled labor personnel are paramount.   

     I agree with you 100%, unpacking the IRA legislation is like ground hog day, ARRA 2.0.  States have until July 2023 (projected time frame money will be allocated to the States) to come up with a plan.  All he best laid plans will be, once again, for naught if there are STILL no boots on the ground.  There is funding for training.  Great!  But we will have to wait until 2023 to begin the training that was supposed to be done a decade ago.  I can only hope that the available funding does not get eaten up by administration of these programs and finds it's way to the homeowners who need it and the contractors in the trenches.  

    Keep up the great work Julie!  Our industry will continue to move forward, but I am afraid at a snail's pace.

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    Allen Luzak
    Owner
    Home Performance Consulting L
    Lewes DE
    302-7456650
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: The IRA Promises Energy Efficiency Rebates-Let's Help Homeowners Use Them

    Posted 10-20-2022 17:51
    Thank you for the encouragement, Allen. 

    A few of your points I want to highlight here:

    Billions of dollars dumped into energy efficiency programs in this country, yet less than 1% of homes in the US logged deep retrofit! And we're poised to do it again!

     The way I have found a path through this industry is that I do not EVER sell sustainability, green anything or climate anything. Contrary to the hype, the consumer does not want that. (Sorry for any triggers here). No triggering me here!  My clients, similar to yours, are motivated by comfort in their homes for their families.  Hot or cold rooms, stuffy, moldy, sneezy...HVAC doesn't to keep up.  Cold but clammy in the summertime. Funky smells, feels drafty.  Those are the things that motivate our clients to do deep, thorough retrofit projects.  Better durability, lower carbon footprint and energy savings are byproducts of the work itself, RARELY a driver.  People ask "how much energy will I save?", I tell them, SOME.  How much MONEY will I save?  I tell them, that depends.  This work simply won't pay for itself on utility bill savings alone.  (Thinking that way is a fools errand, yet it looks like HOMES act is built right around it, again!)  What is the value of cozy home?  Can we place a value on extending the life of furnace or AC?  What we HAVE cultivated though, is happy, cozy, healthy clients who pass our name along to their friends and neighbors with confidence.  We don't advertise.  I intentially keep a podunk website to keep the "how much money can you save me" tire kickers away.  (One other big part of our business is finding and fixing...moisture/condensation/mold issues in new, "certified" homes where the corners were cut because...so no, selling "sustainability" or "green" isn't a thing in my world).

    I just got off the phone with a local cellulose installer.  I use them sometimes for bigger blows, net & blow, wet spray cellulose and drill & fill.  We do all the detail work then they come in and finish off with bulk blanket.  How are things going?  Busy.  Good busy?  No, not enough "guys" (I'm a girl and I say guys and mean all of us).  Can't find any willing to work. Even the solid crews are frustrated by others calling off work. Tough to find people willing to do the work, especially that can drive and own a car. I ask about pay, top pay isn't too bad, they just can't get anyone to even answer the help-wanted calls.  I ask, what could we do to kick-start this workforce, get new blood in the door?  More money (they actually pay pretty well)?  Work-life balance?  No idea.  There's no end in site.  If I could give you anything in the world to develop a workforce, what would it be?  No Idea.  People just don't want to do this.

    There's a way to skin this cat.  Who are these future workers?  Where are they?  What do they want? What would it take to get them excited to dig deep into some existing...(who knows what?) to get a really good seal?  How do we start? 

    Anyway, Allen, thank you for understanding!



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    Julie Tolliver
    President
    Energy Fitness for Homes
    OH
    ------------------------------