In this issue:

A Letter to our HPwES Stakeholders

During the ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings in August, in addition to the great discussions I had with thought leaders in the EE world, I had time to reflect on the value Home Performance with ENERGY STAR provides to the market. I firmly believe Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) is the strongest platform with which to deliver home performance (HP) services with the most recognized name to homeowners and businesses. The value HPwES provides to homeowners is the confidence knowing that they can trust the work done on their house - they feel good about their decision to hire a contractor that adheres to a strict quality assurance system, and take comfort in the fact that the solutions delivered to their home are building-science-based and consider the entire house. 

The value of HPwES to businesses, beyond the fact that HPwES is a powerful platform to engage customers, is that participation in the program results in access to tools, resources, and technical assistance that will strengthen your organization.  From a business-to-business relationship, HPwES has significant value by providing a platform for:

  • Building and maintaining a strong network of qualified contractors
  • Delivering whole house solutions to improve building performance under a recognizable brand
  • Enabling opportunities to deliver products and services related to home improvement like loans and even insurance under the auspices of a credible, national brand
  • Fostering economic growth for businesses and communities
  • And perhaps most importantly, providing a platform for programs and contractors to mitigate risk through quality assurance  

To continue to enhance the value HPwES provides to the market, we have recently adopted a Quality Management System (QMS) approach to quality assurance. In Section 6 of the HPwES Sponsor Guide, we provide an option to Sponsors to implement a QMS instead of a purely inspection based approach to QA. The QMS option is expected to improve performance by HP businesses and Sponsors by focusing on measuring performance and setting clear rules, objectives, expectations, and metrics.  Rather than relying on a random sample of inspections to identify defects, QMS focuses on process, root cause detection, and continuous improvement.  QMS establishes an environment in which HP is delivered while minimizing exposure to defects, reducing the need for repairs and re-work, and improving overall customer satisfaction.  We see that as a win-win. 

Given the success other industries are seeing with QMS approaches to QA, there is no reason to expect different results for HPwES even though these approaches are not traditional to the HP industry.  Industries ranging from hospitality, new construction, manufacturing, and food service have designed and implemented QMS plans that reduce defects and their related costs.  Customers of these businesses have fewer complaints and higher satisfaction with their transactions.  In the few businesses from the HP industry where a QMS has been implemented (including one of the Housing Innovation Award Winners announced below), those businesses are experiencing reduced employee turnover and  better understanding of their costs and potential profits.  

See our article later on in this newsletter that describes QMS in better detail.  Home Performance with ENERGY STAR is very interested in working with Sponsors to develop QMS plans and implementation strategies.  If you are interested in receiving support for QMS implementation, please let the Kevin Powell know. 

Ely Jacobsohn
U.S. Department of Energy
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program Manager

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Congratulations to the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Housing Innovation Award Winners!

Winners for the Department of Energy’s 2014 Housing Innovations Award were announced in a special event at Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EBBA)’s Excellence in Building Conference in St. Louis, MO. The Housing Innovation Awards support the Department’s commitment to help harness American ingenuity to commercialize and deploy cutting-edge technologies, as well as to promote improving the energy efficiency of the U.S. housing stock. Home Performance with ENERGY STAR and Zero Energy Ready Homes programs recognized the very best in energy efficiency, comfort and health in homes across the nation. Home Performance with ENERGY STAR recognized participating contractors who excelled in the areas of Sales and Marketing, Industry Leadership, High Energy Savings, and Customer Relations.

Green Energy Improvement was recognized for Customer Relations and Sales and Marketing. Their outreach efforts go above and beyond the call of duty to spread awareness of home performance. The company has hosted over 50 private house parties and over 200 presentations with community organizations to share the value of home performance across the Chicago area. Their Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Sponsor, Illinois Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, recognizes them as a clear leader among their 76 participating contractors for their efforts to expand the industry. Read more about the company here.

Isaac Home Energy Performance was awarded for its achievements in Industry Leadership. Their training program, Isaac University is available to all of their employees who can take classes oriented around their career goals. The company also administers a successful mentoring program, Lean on Me. Seasoned professionals accompany new hires on their jobs to answer questions and provide feedback. The program as yielded quantifiable results: skills are acquired faster and employee turnover is down. Read more about their success here.

Neil Kelly Home Performance was awarded for Industry Leadership and Customer Relations. An exemplary Quality Management System (QMS) plan sets them apart from their peers in efforts to ensure that all clients are satisfied with their projects. The company is constantly striving to improve the quality of their work. Management participated in a an eight month quality consultation program with Advanced Energy and Energy Trust of Oregon to develop a robust internal quality control process and a comprehensive quality management plan. All clients receive a survey from a third party to provide feedback on their project and a task force incorporates QMS results and customer feedback into procedures and trainings. Read more about the company here.

Quality Insulation Installers was recognized for its achievements in Industry Leadership and High Energy Savings. Quality Insulation Installers takes on projects that other contractors balk at and deliver high energy savings for their customers. They were recognized by their Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Sponsor, Focus on Energy, with the Highest Energy Savings per Project Award in 2013. However, they would prefer if more contracting companies can complete the same quality projects as they can. Their philosophy is to move the industry forward by sharing information and techniques with other contractors. Read more about their success here.

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Getting Ready for the 2015 ENERGY STAR Awards!

Each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) honor organizations that have made outstanding contributions to protecting the environment through energy efficiency.  Next year's winners will be recognized at the ENERGY STAR Awards Ceremony on April 20, 2015 in Washington, DC. 

Home Performance with ENERGY STAR encourages all Partners to apply for a 2015 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award.

This year’s criteria for the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program Delivery category have been revised. The new criteria focus on innovation and the implementation of successful program elements.  

Also new this year, ENERGY STAR is asking partners to pre-notify us of your intent to apply for an award. Please use “My ENERGY STAR Account” (MESA) to complete this action by Wednesday, October 1, 2014. This will help us improve the timeliness of the process. There will not be a penalty if you choose not to apply after notifying us of your intent; nor will you be penalized if you choose after October 1 but before December 4 to apply. However, all applications must be uploaded by 8pm, EST on Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Home Performance with ENERGY STAR will consider the following when reviewing applications:

  • Marketing strategies that increase the use of and awareness of Home Performance with ENERGY STAR;
  • Business friendly approaches that produce a high conversion ratio from the home performance assessment to project delivery for your participating contractors;
  • Program delivery approaches that produce high impacts for homeowners, such as greater energy savings, improved safety and comfort, and enhanced building functionality;
  • Workforce infrastructure development that strengthens home performance and trades based contractor networks with mentoring, training, and recognition; and
  • Leadership in the national, regional, state or local arenas to foster partnerships, collaboratives, and advancement of the home performance industry.

Go to the ENERGY STAR Awards page for more information.

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Does a Cold Spring Mean a Double Digit Growth?

Apparently that was what some of the key Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Sponsors across the country experienced in the second quarter of 2014. The HPwES Team identified a trend that HPwES project completion counts usually drop during the spring time.  However this year, 22,000 projects were completed which is about 14% growth relative to the same time last year. The Massachusetts utilities — National Grid, NSTAR, and Berkshire Gas — are still the largest contributors with almost 6,500 projects completed, followed by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund with 3,500 projects and NYSERDA with 1,500. Other notable highlights from the 2014 second quarter reports include:

  • Illinois Home Performance completed more than 1,300 projects;
  • National Grid (RI) is showing more than 60% growth with almost 1,000 projects completed up from 600 at the same time last year;
  • Maryland utilities, BGE and Pepco, exhibited growth in HPwES project completions with each reporting about 400 projects up from 250 and 200 projects same quarter of last year; and
  • Newcomer, SWEPCO grew from completing only 8 projects in quarter 2 of 2013 to completing almost 200 projects in quarter 2 of 2014.

A shout out to all the Sponsors and their participating contractors that are making each of these projects happen! To learn more about HPwES national, regional, and historical data visit the project dashboards page.

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QMS - The Conductor of Your Other Systems

A quality management system (QMS) may sound like just one more hoop to jump through, box to check, or master to please that competes with your time in order to get real work done. Probably the majority believe this when first introduced to QMS. But home performance contractors work under a wide variety of systems and share a common ability to adapt, especially when the payoff is worthwhile. A properly developed QMS should integrate seamlessly into a contractor’s business in addition to making their other systems more effective.  DOE recognizes the value of such process-based QA systems and has recently launched a QA compliance path for HPwES Sponsors to use QMS as a means of improving results and potentially reducing costs at the same time.

Just as a house is a system of systems, most companies are functionally a collection of systems. There is a system for hiring new employees. There is a system for training new and existing employees. There is a system for evaluating business opportunities and how well an organization is addressing these opportunities. Many companies have a system for motivating and retaining their employees. What is often overlooked, however, is that inputs and outputs from the systems can and should interface with other systems. Just as HPwES ties together the “house as a system” to avoid unintended consequences, QMS can be the oversight system that ensures that all the other business systems communicate and complement each other. In other words a quality management system is a set of policies and procedures required for the planning and execution in the core business area of an organization. No definition for QMS indicates an additional, superfluous set of instructions designed to make the lives of employees and their managers more difficult.

Looking at the requirements for a quality management system from one standard (ISO 9001), the elements are relatively straightforward:

  • Identification of a company’s definition and goals for quality with a focus on the customer
  • Listing of the specifications and procedures used to develop and deliver a product or service
  • List of roles and responsibilities by position and/or staff name
  • Definition of the processes that are used (and relationships between processes) to produce the product or service
  • System to check the results (i.e., are you meeting your quality goals?) 

It is the scrutiny of the interdependence of systems that assures they work well with the company and don’t contradict business goals.  For a few examples of how QMS connects with other business systems, let’s consider the business processes for hiring new employees, training employees, and addressing customer satisfaction.

In the practice of hiring employees, an employer typically writes a job description.  Generally, a description of the position, the responsibilities, and qualifications of the applicant are spelled out within this description.  A functioning QMS can help the organization develop this job description by reinforcing and referencing the specifications under which a product or service is offered, including any required certifications for staff.  Additionally, a QMS can inform the roles and responsibilities portion of the position description as to the general responsibilities and reporting structure.  Perhaps the most important aspect, however, is the company statement on customer focus and quality.  This goal can either attract valuable candidates or eliminate from consideration those candidates that would be a bad fit.  This quality and customer focus is essentially the mission of the company and can help align all the employees (present and future) with the aims of the organization.  Buy-in to this mission can help screen applicants as to potential fit within the company.

Training employees can be expensive both in the cost of the curriculum and the time spent during training rather than at customer homes.  Therefore, training needs to be targeted and effective.  Because QMS identifies the specifications used to develop and produce a service or product in addition to identifying the processes used to check the results regarding quality goals, this information can be used to fine tune the content of the training and identifying the employees best suited to receive this content.  Any identified improvements to address customer satisfaction should be a priority for training activities.  Training should also be used as a “recalibration” of staff to make sure company goals and employee goals are aligned.  Proper identification of content and appropriate staff will better place training resources where they can generate the best value.

Finally, customer satisfaction is one of the most important aspects a home performance business (or any business) must address.  Unfortunately, many businesses don’t understand the reasons behind poor reviews and, even if known, have trouble isolating the part of their business responsible for the problem.  As QMS has a customer focus, contains a system of measuring results, and identifies responsible staff; the data and organizational structure exists to be able to identify complaints with service development and delivery to the business practices and people responsible for those practices.  Improvements related to processes, people, or product/service can then be made and the cycle continues.  This aspect of QMS results in better coordination between customer needs and expectations and the processes and procedures used to develop and deliver the service.  It results in a continual evaluation of customer desires and a company with a functioning QMS will be faster to react to changing demand trends.

Hopefully, these examples have demonstrated that QMS is not an added burden that company employees must endure; but is an organizational structure that coordinates all the other systems that ensure success for a company.

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Home Performance with ENERGY STAR and the Blower Door Test

Here’s a quick quiz for home performance professionals:
When performing a home energy assessment, blower door tests…

  1. …must be completed all the time.
  2. …are nice to have but not necessary.
  3. …are necessary under some conditions, but not all the time.
  4. …should not be done under certain conditions.

Would it surprise you to know that as far as HPwES is concerned, the correct answers are both “c” and “d”?  While there are many good reasons that a local program administrator may require blower door tests during the assessment, there are equally valid situations where it may not make sense to use a blower door for every assessment.

The purpose of the HPwES assessment is to evaluate the existing conditions of the home and collect sufficient data to develop a prioritized list of proposed improvements based on building science principles and the “house as a system” approach.  To accomplish this goal, it is necessary to evaluate the integrity of the home’s air barrier sufficiently to develop a scope of work for air sealing measures.  In many cases, it is possible to achieve that goal without a blower door. 

How is that possible?  Experienced technicians know their housing stock well enough to know where to look for the most likely leakage paths.  Although a blower door measurement puts the leakage rate into context in terms of the relative leakiness of one home over another, the CFM50 doesn’t fundamentally alter the need to seal a plumbing chase into an attic that is readily visible.  The same goes for other common leakage paths:  top-plates of walls, attic and basement wiring and duct penetrations, chimney chases, rim joists, etc.

But what if I need to run a model or the house is too tight already?  It is true that even the most experienced technician can’t measure the actual air leakage rate of the home without testing it.  Some may be pretty good at guessing, but even an educated guess is still just a guess.  So, in cases where the measurement of the air exchange rate is necessary for purposes of energy modeling, analyzing cost-effectiveness, or to satisfy other programmatic requirements, you are still going to need a blower door.  

Answering the “too tight” question requires some basic understanding of indoor air quality and ventilation standards.  This is where we defer to industry standards such as ASHRAE 62.2-2013.  When a measured air exchange rate is needed to correctly specify ventilation system improvements, then a blower door test is still necessary.  But, it is entirely possible to satisfy the requirements of ASHRAE 62.2-2013 without ever measuring the CFM50 of the home.  It is only when applying the so-called “infiltration credit” to the ventilation requirement for the building that the blower door test becomes necessary to establish compliance with ASHRAE.

When deciding whether or not to include a blower door test in your standard assessment procedure, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Blower door tests are useful tools for locating air leakage paths that are not readily visible
  • Blower doors are powerful customer education and sales tools
  • When conducting an infrared scan (another powerful customer education tool), a blower door test helps complete the picture by allowing the technician to “see” the hidden air leaks
  • A blower door test may not be advisable under certain conditions, for example:
    • A home that is partially under construction might not yield an accurate test
    • An operating wood-stove or the presence of friable asbestos in the home pose potential health and safety risk for blower door testing
    • A fireplace hearth full of ashes could result in a hefty cleaning bill even if you try to contain it before testing
  • Windy days can compromise the accuracy of a blower door test, rendering the measurement meaningless

In March 2014, DOE released the HPwES Sponsor Guide and Reference Manual v1.5, which includes updated guidance describing when diagnostics like blower door tests are required.  As many programs experiment with alternative delivery mechanisms for HPwES, it is important that DOE maintains sufficient flexibility in the definition of a home performance assessment to support varying levels of intervention in the home while still maintaining a foundation in good building science practice.  Toward that end, HPwES v1.5 stipulates that blower door tests are required to quantify pre-installation conditions when air sealing measures are installed, but does not mandate the timing of such testing. 

Furthermore, in situations where access to blower door equipment may be limited, HPwES v1.5’s Recommended Approaches suggest that blower doors be given to installers to use as a first priority and secondarily to assessors.  The rationale for this recommendation is to ensure that the installers can measure pre/post results, use the blower door as a diagnostic tool to track the progress of their work and locate harder to find leakage sites.  If forced to make a choice, blower door guided air sealing should take precedence over obtaining a measurement during the assessment.
For more information:

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Stakeholder Spotlight

Expansion of Home Performance in the Heartland
The Midwest Home Performance Collaborative, coordinated by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, fosters collaboration among Midwestern Home Performance with ENERGY STAR programs. The Collaborative hosts quarterly calls and in-person gatherings, including an event at the 2013 ACI National Conference where program staff from 7 states came together and learned about one another’s programs.  Participants in the Midwest Home Performance Collaborative have opportunities to share their successes and hear about the lessons learned and best practices of their regional peers.

More recently, the Midwest Home Performance Collaborative  hosted a conference call in late August on “Dynamic Outreach Strategies”.  The call featured  presenters from EarthWays Center and Red River Valley Community Action (RRVCA) and included a lively open discussion on what innovative ideas make up the next frontier of homeowner outreach.

Besides the Midwest Home Performance Collaborative, the HPwES Team is working with three other Regional Energy Efficiency Organizations (REEOs): the Southwest Home Performance Collaborative administered by the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) and the South-central Partnership for Energy Efficiency as a Resource (SPEER), and the Southeast Home Performance Regional Collaborative administered by the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA). 

These regional collaboratives are a very important component to the HPwES Team’s outreach and support among Sponsors and HP stakeholders because they allow greater regional coordination and best practice sharing.  

For more information on how to get involved with the Midwest Home Performance Collaborative, please contact Kelsey Horton.  For more information on the other collaboratives, please contact Jason Bogovich.  

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Contractor Tips

October is Energy Action Month!
Every October the nation celebrates efforts to create green jobs, achieve greater energy security, and ensure a healthier environment for our children. This is the perfect opportunity for Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Sponsors, their participating contractors, and partners to increase their efforts in encouraging homeowners to invest in energy efficiency and improve energy performance. Anything from a full-fledged marketing campaign to an email blast can have an impact on increasing knowledge and encouraging action. Here are ten ideas you can use to get customers interested in energy efficiency with tie-ins to Energy Action Month:

  • Create flyers or emails telling potential customers that Energy Action Month is a great time to get an energy assessment and learn about energy efficiency improvements
  • Update websites with a banner or button telling visitors October is Energy Action Month and a good time to make changes in their home
  • Post lists of steps homeowners can take to improve energy efficiency. The list can cover simple steps, long-term projects, and services your organization offers
  • Offer a promotion during the month of October to entice customers into completing a home performance project in recognition of Energy Action Month
  • Offer clinics on energy awareness and simple steps for homeowners to reduce energy use (and encourage participation with incentives)
  • Coordinate with local government officials to establish events and encourage community conservation efforts
  • Create a social media campaign to encourage followers to share their energy saving tips and in turn share those suggestions with your followers
  • Team up with neighborhood associations to present the value of home performance to entire neighborhoods
  • Attend as many community events as possible during the month of October to increase the awareness of your organization and Energy Action Month
  • Promote and encourage homeowners to use the My ENERGY STAR account, a personalized tool where consumers can create their own account to track all their actions and impacts and to get access to rebates and other incentives.

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The Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Team
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Mark Your Calendar for Upcoming Home Performance Events: