In June 2012 BPI will introduce four new Home Energy Professional certifications to the nation's weatherization and home performance workforce. Offered by BPI and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the four certifications focus on the most common job classifications in the home energy upgrade industry: energy auditor, retrofit installer, crew leader and quality control inspector.
"The weatherization and home performance industry has long seen the need for nationally recognized, transferrable certifications for workers employed by the Weatherization Assistance Program and the broader home performance industry," said Larry Zarker, BPI CEO. "A successful candidate from one geographic region will be verified as having the same knowledge and skills as a successful candidate from the other side of the country. The development of a single, consistent set of national certifications for home performance professionals will help to remove any existing confusion in the marketplace."
The new credentials will meet the international benchmark for personnel certifications across all industries — the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO 17024) standard. Under ISO 17024, each new certification is developed and administered using international best practices, such as cross-disciplinary peer review and industry validation of technical materials.
BPI will pilot written and field practical exams during the month of June. The results of the pilot test cycle will be used to set passing scores for the national exams. BPI expects to roll the exams out nationally in the fall of 2012.
The new certifications will complement and build upon BPI's existing credentials in the home performance career ladder, where increased knowledge and skills lead to advancement. They are designed to allow professionals in the home energy upgrade industry build both a stackable and lateral career lattice. These certifications will not replace or interfere with professional certifications in the building trades, such as HVACR, plumbing or remodeling, but rather are intended to support the four most common whole-house home performance job roles.
To meet the quality and rigor of ISO 17024 accredited certifications, all candidates must meet prerequisite criteria prior to taking the written or field exams. Click here for more information.
Registration for the pilot certification exams is now open online at www.bpi.org/pilot
Scheduling of pilot exams will begin in May 2012.
BPI Reaches Out to Veterans
BPI is pleased to introduce home energy upgrade professional certifications to U.S. veterans. Skills and experience obtained through military service, including technical skills and commitment to quality, are highly valued in the home performance industry. Click here for more information.
GI Bill Reimbursement for BPI Certification Testing
The cost of BPI certification exams has been approved for GI Bill reimbursement. Eligible veterans in the Eastern Region of the U.S. can be reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when applications are submitted within one year from the time the test is taken.
The VA Eastern Region includes: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
In the near future, reimbursement for BPI testing will be available nationwide. BPI encourages veterans throughout the U.S. to contact BPI for logistical assistance to help all veterans through the reimbursement process as national approval is established later this year.Click here to receive BPI guidance and assistance for applying for GI Bill reimbursement.
Veterans must complete a BPI certification exam and provide documentation of the testing within one year of application. Both written (online) and field tests are eligible.
It's a simple question: Do you send monthly statements to customers who have not paid their bill yet? The obvious answer is, "Of course we do. Doesn't everyone?" Well the answer is actually no, everyone does not send out monthly statements. Before we get into that, though, let's talk about why contractors go out of business. It will set the stage for our discussion on sending statements.
Yes, there a lots of things that can cause a company to fail. However, there are two very specific things that cause most contractors to fail:
- Improper Labor Pricing: The number one reason most trades companies go out of business is because of improper labor pricing. Most new companies start by charging pretty much what everyone else in town charges. But, when a company grows, overhead goes up while pricing stays relatively constant. Before long, the company doubles in size and is now losing money. The overhead has increased but, because most don't understand the "business side" of business, the proper hourly rate for the actual cost of doing business is not properly set. For detailed information on calculating an hourly rate, see Chris Compton's article in the March 2011 issue of Performance Matters. For a Grandy & Associates sample worksheet, click here.
- Cash Flow: The second reason most contractors go out of business is because of cash flow. Busy and slow times are a reality of the trades industry which can, to some extent, be modified a bit by an outstanding marketing program. However, if the hourly rate is set properly (taking into account the real billable and non-billable time and slow times of the year) then it boils down to discipline. When you are busy and making money you simply build up a cash reserve to use during the slower times. It's a great theory, and it works, if you are collecting your money in a timely manner. However, many do not.
Now back to our original question: Do you send out monthly statements to customers that have not paid their bill yet? Again the answer is that most companies do not. I continue to be amazed as I talk to contractors during our three-day Basic Business Boot Camp. Many contractors send the original bill, then simply wait for the customer to pay. Some customers do, many do not. Turn the table around for a moment. Assume you are the customer and you received an invoice for perhaps $189.50. You got busy and have not paid the bill yet. Next month's bills come and you pay them; perhaps you forgot about last month's invoice from your contractor. No statement has been received as a reminder, so you conveniently forget about it. You figure the contractor will send a statement at some point to remind you, which is when you will pay the bill. However, the statement never comes and before long you have forgotten about the contractor's invoice all together.
Now it's wake-up time for the contractor. "Gee, we need cash to pay our bills. Let's send out statements on that $54,000 we have in receivables." You send statements for work that was done six months ago (or longer). What do you think the probability is of getting paid at this point? I'll answer that one -- slim to none!
Failure to send monthly statements is a major problem within the trades industry. I am aware of numerous companies that don't even invoice the customer for 30, 60, 90 days or more! When the normal seasonal dips and valleys come, there is no money in your reserve account and major cash flow issues arise that can literally put you out of business!
Statements are great, and they really do need to be sent out on a regular basis…but that is not the real issue. The foundational problem is, why are you invoicing the customer at all? Let's look at some of the specific departments within your business and talk about the "proper" way to avoid receivables all together.
Service is the bread and butter of any trades company. It is somewhat recession proof and should produce the highest net profit of any department within the company. It should also really help your cash flow ... but only if the right systems are set up. Do not give the residential customer the option of being invoiced. Before the technician is dispatched to the customer's home, the Customer Service Representative should be calling the customer and saying, "Mr. or Mrs. Jones, we are ready to dispatch John Doe to your home to perform your repair. We want to be 100 percent sure someone is home to let John in, and we want to confirm your method of payment. Will you be paying by cash, check or credit card?" Notice the option of being invoiced was NOT given. If the customer says they will pay by credit card, get the information right on the phone, especially if the customer won't be home and will be leaving the door open for the tech. Bingo the cash is collected. No need to invoice!
This is once again an area where collections should not be an issue. Although few contractors do it, you should be asking for a deposit up front. The customer actually expects you to ask for a deposit, but if you don't ask for it, it won't happen. What about the balance? Nearly every contractor that gets a deposit on the front end also has an agreement with the customer that the balance will be paid upon completion of the job. A policy like this has wonderful benefits – you get paid on time, no need for invoicing or statements!
Our original focus was on sending statements each month. But, in reality, if you have the above policies in place you get paid; and therefore the need to send out statements is almost never an issue. I am not completely naive. I realize sometimes invoicing is necessary, even on residential work. The question is: Do you have a collections policy in place? Most do not. So next month's article will focus on setting up a simple collections policy.
Illinois to require blower-door tests
Starting early next year, the Illinois building code is expected to hold new homes to rigorous new standards for air tightness and insulation, including passing a blower-door test. In doing so, Illinois would be the first Midwestern state to adopt this particular standard from the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code. The state home builders' association objects to the tougher requirements. Get the story here.
Codes are all in the enforcement
Speaking of the 2012 IECC, what's the point if it's not enforced? In this blog post, Carl Seville notes that much of the building industry still isn't following the 2009 IECC, thanks to slack enforcement and an overall movement toward less government. The 2012 code is significantly more stringent than the 2009 code, but he worries that "energy code enforcement will take a back seat to other pressing issues for many years to come."
The right products, found more easily
It was a busy month for building products manufacturers and distributors. The U.S. Green Building Council and Home Depot unveiled www.leed.homedepot.com. The online products database lists more than 2,500 products meeting standards specified by the LEED rating system. The database is a "microsite" within homedepot.com, and, not surprisingly, all products listed on it are all available at the home-improvement superstore.
The products database isn't alone in its class. The Greenguard Environmental Institute recently announced a new certification for indoor air quality. The small number of products to receive the certification so far include wall and ceiling panels.
More significantly, established databases that are highly respected within the home-performance industry include GreenSpec, which reviews products selected by the researchers at BuildingGreen.com, and Pharos. Both come with limited free trials. Complete information on GreenSpec pricing is available here. Pharos pricing options are listed here.
Tighter efficiency standards, huge household savings ...
Homeowners can save trillions of dollars collectively by 2040, and more than $30,000 per household, by simply purchasing home appliances, lighting and other product categories that comply with either existing or new/updated standards, according to a new report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The Efficiency Boom: Cashing In on Savings from Appliance Standards evaluates potential standards for 34 product categories "that could be adopted within the next four years." Click here to download the complete report.
… Assuming households "behave"
Then again, the most efficient products in the world won't put a huge dent in energy use unless occupants turn off the lights when they leave the room. In "Occupant Behavior Makes a Difference," Martin Holladay looks behind the energy-monitoring data of two Massachusetts homes -- one a winner of "net-zero" energy challenge funding, and the other a certified Passivhaus. In the second home, energy use was much higher than expected due to factors such as high use of TVs and computers, a basement dehumidifier and heavy lighting use.
Strategies in sealants
Winter may be winding its way down, but warmer weather brings its own set of challenges with regard to keeping water, air and heat in and out of buildings. Also at BuildingGreen, Peter Yost has kicked off a four-part series on "environmental separation ... the number one job of any building envelope or enclosure." In the first post, here, he addresses the importance of the weatherlap, mechanical fasting, and sealants and adhesives.
Choosing the best housewrap
A new uniform standard for weather-resistive barriers should make it much easier to select housewraps. In this BuildingGreen.com article, Peter Yost explains what he likes about a new ASTM standard that ensures product strength, vapor permeability, pliability and endurance. Here's a nice Fine Homebuilidng video on housewrap and exterior-foam insulation, by the way. Beer not included (or recommended during installation).
Crucial energy survey gets a reprieve
CBECS, the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, will be back next April under renewed federal funding for the previously suspended program. Here's why its return is good news: According to BuildingGreen.com: "While large datasets of building performance are becoming more common, the massive size and scope of CBECS is unlikely to be replicated by the private sector."
Mrs. O'Leary's cow reportedly kicked over the lantern in a milking barn in Chicago, starting the legendary Chicago fire on October 8, 1871. The death toll mounted to 250, and 100,000 were homeless before the fire was extinguished. What followed was more freewheeling construction with very little oversight, followed by the adoption of a building code. Often it takes tragedy to stir up reforms and create regulations.
Mold, mildew, faulty building performance, sick building syndrome and so on are this generation's version of Mrs. O'Leary's cow, a wake-up call announcing that we have to change the way we build, and fix most of what we have already built. More stringent energy and building codes are being put into place at this moment. Some are the result of correctly interpreted scientific studies; others are placed only as another attempt to remedy what didn't work last time.
Thousands of cases of home-performance-related litigation against contractors clog the courtrooms in every state in the nation. Yet the great majority of contractors have little if any knowledge or training about scientific evidence showing that we have been incorrectly insulating, installing vapor barriers contrary to the laws of physics, applying exterior systems that don't shed water and/or designing and installing HVAC systems grossly oversized for their intended use and more often than not with faulty duct systems.
There has never been a better opportunity for remodelers to do the right thing while separating themselves from the competition and commanding a higher price for their work.
At first telephone contact with the homeowner, the remodeler who is knowledgeable about home performance might ask the prospect if they have any problems with noisy ducts, smoky fireplaces, drafts, peeling paint, soot deposits, stuffy air, headaches, hot/cold rooms, allergy symptoms, respiratory disorders, Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarms, lingering odors, dust, foggy windows, or high utility bills. These questions plant the seed that certain conditions in the home could affect the health and safety of the inhabitants.
On the first visit to the house the remodeler follows up with some education about how the home functions as a system; everything interacts. The remodeler knows how to solve problems that the homeowner has been brooding over since the seed was planted:
- I can't get rid of my cold in the winter.
- The room over the garage is too cold.
- My house is rotting and the paint is falling off.
- My utility bills doubled when I moved into this smaller house.
- My CO alarm keeps going off and no one can tell me why.
- When I run the clothes dryer I get condensation on the windows at the other end of the house.
Take the example of the homeowner who decides that the new kitchen will include a cook-top with a downdraft fan. Cooking odors by nature are carried by warm air and according to the laws of physics want to rise. However, the homeowner wants to trick the warm cooking odors into flowing downward and orders a downdraft cook top accordingly. The cook top manufacturer understands that a downdraft fan must move more air to capture those vapors that would normally rise, requiring a more powerful fan and larger ducting. The remodeler, trying to build efficiently, has gone to some trouble to plug all the outside leaks in an effort to make the home more airtight. The mechanical contractor installs the ducting as per the manufacturer directions. In many parts of the country there has not been a code violation. No one has really done anything wrong yet. Or has everyone?
When the powerful downdraft fan runs, where will it find its share of air to exhaust from this tight structure? The answer is often startling; down the flue of the naturally aspirated gas fired hot water heater, furnace or boiler, introducing untreated and unfiltered air carrying airborne allergens and pollen, moisture, carbon monoxide and other combustion byproducts; down the fireplace chimney (same problems but add smoke, ash and odors); out of the walls or attic (think insulation, extreme temperatures, insulation particles and more), or even out of the ground under and surrounding the house (think radon gas, septic system gases, chemical vapors from lawn treatments). After various latency periods problems begin to arise.
When problems arise, blame will fall, but where? These are now your problems. Are you caught completely unaware? How many potential problems have you innocently created in recent years that may come back to haunt you?
I hate stories with sad endings, so I'll make this ending happy (author's prerogative). Be a contractor on the leading edge. You understand that if we don't take the lead as contractors, more and more onerous regulations will be placed upon our shoulders. Act responsibly, exposing yourself, employees, associates, trade contractors and others to building performance certifications such as BPI's.
Actively voice your opinions about building code changes on a local level based on your knowledge and experience. You know how to identify potential performance problems before they have a chance to happen. You have the tools to create a computer model of before and after conditions, and use these tools to educate the consumer on how the building performs as a system with all the components interacting. Now the homeowner can make smarter choices.
Many hazardous situations are caused by 'unintentional depressurization' of the structure which can result from leaky ducts, exhaust fans, even such innocent acts as closing a door or running the clothes dryer. With proper training and tools the remodeler can easily demonstrate these conditions. When the low bidder (your competition) fails to educate the homeowner about these conditions for whatever reason, you may have justified a higher price for your work by displaying your mastery of the house as a system.
Additionally, be confident that your projects deliver a product that is durable, economical, safe, healthy, comfortable and trouble-free. You will find yourself being promoted by clients who are raving fans. Your company brand now rises in stature above your competitors. You command more money because you offer more than a remodeling project; you offer to safeguard the health and safety of loved ones and perhaps are seen as a wizard by your client. Wizards earn more money.
Congratulations to Cory Chovanec of the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, who sent us a beautifully accurate description of the problem in last month's stumper, and a worthy solution. Loyal readers will recall that the homeowner in Watertown, NY had an ice damming problem, but wouldn't go for the comprehensive scope of work that was proposed. They agreed to only air seal and insulate the attic floor (the cavity between the 2nd floor ceiling and attic floor) with dense pack cellulose. During the next winter, the ice damming continued on the roof as with previous winters with equal snow fall.
Says Cory: "The attic floor is insulated and air sealed, we can all agree on that. We don't know the cavity depth so hard to say if enough R-value was added to slow down the heat loss enough to prevent the warming of the attic and then the ice dams as a result of that. Let's assume that the insulated floor is not the problem. That now leaves us with a perimeter of exterior wall plates with no insulation on top of them or below (remember this a floored attic) so now each empty wall cavity around the perimeter of the attic is acting like a chimney and causing the problem. Had the exterior sidewalls been dense packed or an effort made to target dense pack the outer wall plates during the floor insulation process, the problem would have been resolved. I am confident that during the dense packing of the floor the insulation was not packed all the way to to the exterior sheating. As mentioned those were balloon framed walls, so the insulation would have just trickled down if it was even able to reach that far. More likely it would have hit blocking, leaving the outer cavity open. So now that the snow melt around the roof edge should make sense to everyone. R-0 maybe close to R-1 if you take the R-value of a typical 3/4 floor board around that crucial area. The solution is to dense pack the exterior side walls or a cheaper alternative target dense pack using the "bag method" at the perimeter."
This Month's Stumper:
A big thank you goes out to Jamie Clark of ARRONCO Comfort Air in Lexington, Kentucky for sending in this stumper! Jamie was called to an 18 year old, 2,500 sf, two-story home with a vented attic in Lexington that had a broken central air system. There were two air systems, one in the attic, one in a closet. ARRONCO decided to replace both systems with two ton Carrier® hybrid systems. After the project was completed, all the registers in the house started sweating. Jamie came back the next day to find the humidity level over 70 percent! The two stage systems were running on low most of the time which should have resulted in lower than average humidity (average in Lexington is 55 percent). ARRONCO inspected all the equipment to make sure it was installed correctly, and tested all the equipment. All air volumes were right, the equipment was perfectly sized, all duct work was sealed (with less than 10 percent leakage). Why was the humidity so much higher?