April 2012

Richard Knaub
Richard Knaub
Crew Leader Certification - Changing the Game

My mother just selected a contractor to replace her front door. The low bid was half of the medium bid and the medium bid was half the high bid. She didn't like any of the salesmen and the doors were pretty much the same in construction and features. So why did she pick the medium bid? My mother is a savvy shopper and knows when she's getting a deal. She is somewhat legend for her ability to get used car dealers to come down below their rock bottom price (way down below).

So why did she pick the medium bid that was twice the low bid? Short answer: it was the installation crew. Most successful contractors realize that their crews are the face of the company. Online reviews of contractors usually focus on whether the crew did what the customer was expecting. Let's face it, second to used car dealers, contractors have the most consumer complaints, and most of the time it's because the crew isn't working to the highest standard of quality.

My mother had had work done by the low bid company before and had some issues with the crew. The work was good quality, but it didn't go quite as she expected. Put it down to customer expectations not being met. She was willing to consider rehiring them, but there was no immediate trust there.

She didn't know the other two companies from Adam. She didn't like either of the salesmen. So in spite of that, why did she choose the middle bid?

The answer might surprise you. It was lead safe certification. The salesman with the middle bid talked to her about how the crew was lead safe certified. He provided some of the EPA handouts on renovation where lead paint might be present. Those are what she insisted on showing me. Not the information on the door, not the bid, but those EPA fliers. She complained about the salesman and his pressure tactics. She complained about paying twice as much, but she wrote the check because that crew was lead safe certified.

It appears that my mother is not that unusual of a customer. Studies on customers and their perception of certifications show that the customer perceives a certification as being important, even if they don't know what the certification itself means. My mother had no idea what lead safe means, nor did she actually read the handouts she was given to find out. But she immediately perceived it as an important factor to the selection of a contractor.

The take home message to any contractor is that if you have certifications, you should let the customer know. The customer may not know what they mean, but words like certified, licensed and registered signify that someone is looking over your shoulder to make sure that the work you do meets a quality standard.

This is why BPI's Home Energy Professional (HEP) Crew Leader certification is such a game changer. First, it is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funded effort. For a performance contractor, having certifications backed by DOE is a selling point for the consumer. Who better than the Department of Energy knows about energy efficiency?

Second, this is the first crew leader certification in this industry's history. Yes, there are energy auditor and installer certifications, and some jurisdictions require them. But the crew leader is a new edge that savvy contractors are going to jump on. As the employee with the most customer interaction, the crew leader is the front line of the company; more than any other employee, he or she represents the company. The crew leader manages crew workers and the process of delivering quality work, and therefore needs to have more experience than his or her crew. Based on a Job Task Analysis developed by industry experts, the crew leader certification requires candidates to have industry specific experience, plus a combination of building science coursework and other industry certifications.

"All Crew Leaders are Certified Home Energy Professionals" is a pretty powerful statement in a print ad or flyer. It can make the customer more receptive to finding out what a Home Energy Professional is and what other Home Energy Professionals you employ. In a live pitch, there is a chance to add that the Home Energy Professional certification is part of DOE's national energy retrofit guidelines and that the company therefore follows the national Guidelines for Quality Work by using certified Home Energy Professionals.

Unlike the lead safe certification, this certification is voluntary. So there will be contractors who don't get their crew leaders certified. But when a competitor puts "All Crew Leaders are Certified Home Energy Professionals" in ads and flyers, consumers are eventually going to begin wondering if this is true with other contractors they interview. Consumer expectations change, and now "certification" will mean something in their minds.

"All Crew Leaders are Certified Home Energy Professionals" is a sound bite that taps into some basic consumer behavior. The contractors that can use it are likely to have a significant advantage over those that don't.

More information on the crew leader certification can be found at: www.bpi.org/pilot.

About The Author
Richard Knaub is a Project Leader in weatherization and workforce development at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). He has been actively participating in weatherization training and standards development both at the state and national level for the last several years. In addition to teaching about energy efficiency and renewable energy at the community college level, he's been involved with community development and educational and sustainability activities in New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Colorado.
Photo by: Renjith Krishnan

Leah Thayer
Leah Thayer
News Flashback: Building Performance News, Developments & Discussions

What happened at ACI didn't stay in Baltimore
An estimated 1,600 home performance professionals converged on Baltimore in late March for the 2012 ACI National Home Performance Conference and Home Energy Leadership Summit. One conference preface was this white paper: a 12-page backgrounder on the nascent home-performance industry and the challenges of selling energy upgrade work to most homeowners. To that end, it begins this way:

    Let's be clear – this is not a research paper, this is a call to action. We need radical thinking and a strong commitment to aligning our interests if we're ever going to realize the "low-hanging fruit" potential of residential energy efficiency.
"Another marathon geekfest"
That's how "Green Curmudgeon" and Green Building co-author Carl Seville summarized ACI 2012. His recap, published on Green Building Advisor, highlighted presentations showing that heat-pump water heaters offer only modest energy savings over traditional heaters. He also enjoyed John Straube's presentation on insulating and air sealing roofs and attics, and lauded "almost continuous sessions" on marketing and websites.
Internet marketing 201
For a quick overview of one such marketing session, check out Macie Melendez's post on Home Energy Pros of "Internet Marketing 201: Advanced Techniques in Web and Social Media," led by Peter Troast of Energy Circle and Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard.
The 2012 International Green Construction Code
The International Code Council has published the 2012 International Green Construction Code (IgCC). Here's a free 90-minute webinar providing an introduction to the IgCC and outlining the relationship between various green rating systems, standards and codes. The moderator is the U.S. Green Building Council's Jeremy Sigmon. Learn more about the IgCC from Wikipedia.
More knowledgeable homeowners, more home-performance retrofits?
The race is on: New web-based platforms are leveraging peer influence and user-friendly technology to inspire homeowners to weatherize their homes and otherwise curb energy consumption. Here's a d5R overview of some of these developments, including the "Green Button" initiative launched by the Obama Administration in March. Here's a list of the utilities and service providers supporting the Green Button.

Meanwhile, in "green MLS" news, Chicago-area homebuyers are among the latest to be able to explore a home's past utility bills, green certifications and other efficiency-related data prior to making an offer. In some cases, at least. Sharing this information is now optional for customers of Midwest Real Estate Data, the Chicagoland multiple listing service.
Controversy over deep energy retrofits
A handful of home energy pros have lit up the Twitterverse / blogosphere recently with talk of deep energy retrofits (DERs) -- especially those impacting older homes. "This is a holy war," wrote Energy Circle's Peter Troast in a comment on Sean Lintow's blog on April 8th. "Just as the right has unified in its hatred of health care reform, the preservation community has chosen an equally strident and disciplined opposition to energy retrofits that impact the envelopes of buildings of historic significance." Wrote John Poole on his blog: "The term 'Deep Energy Retrofit' freaks historic preservation people out". Because the goals and techniques behind very old homes were quite different from more modern standards, "there is considerable concern (and frankly, good reason for it) amongst preservationists about how the application of non-traditional treatments might affect traditional structures."
An edible, incredible insulation
What's the first full month of spring without a little April Fool's humor? Or -- wait a minute -- is Celluloaf (the first insulation that smells like fresh-baked buns) for real? The folks at Energy Circle would have you believe so.

Word also spread April 1 that new homes certified in the LEED for Homes program "will be required to have 100% windows in all above-grade walls...." Why? "Well, sand is a rapidly renewable resource, so all-glass buildings can't be all bad," said alleged certified rater Carlos Madrid, quoted in the Energy Vanguard blog.

About The Author
Leah Thayer is the founder and producer of daily5Remodel, a weekday news and business intelligence feed for remodeling professionals. She was a senior editor at Hanley Wood's Remodeling magazine from 2004 – 2010, and has 20 years of experience as an award-winning business writer, editor and content producer.

Tom Grandy
A Simple Collections Policy Really Does Help Cash Flow

Last month we talked about how important it is to send statements on a regular basis. We also focused on ways to collect money on the spot, therefore eliminating the need to send statements altogether. But, even if you do what we talked about last month, the fact remains that some people, for whatever reason, will not pay their invoice when the job is completed. This month we are going to take a look at a simple but effective collections policy to get those last dollars paid.

Step one is to focus. It is a simple principle, but effective. What you focus on gets done! If the focus of the company is selling maintenance agreements, maintenance agreements get sold. If you focus on customer service, all employees become engaged and you have happy customers. Guess what? If you will focus on collections, your unpaid invoices will be paid.

Many of our programs are sponsored by distributors. When our boot camp course is over, I often ask the distributor what percentage of their contractors pay every month, within the 30-day pay period. Most tell me 10-15 percent of the entire customer base pays on time, every month. I have found that to be a pretty normal percentage among distributors.

However, a few years ago, I asked this routine question. In this case, the distributor had several family members working in the company, which meant each had a vested interest in making the company profitable. I was told one family member's only job was collections. That person followed up with every contractor every month if the bill was even one day past due. Do you know what percentage of their contractors paid on time? The number was 95 percent. How did they do it? They focused on that part of their business, and got very positive results!

Let's talk about the customers who do not pay when the job is completed. If you want to collect their money, you will need a plan. A system must be put into place and followed.

Here is a very simple collections policy:

Have a written policy. Be sure the collections policy is well thought out and in writing. Every person who has any part in collecting money should be thoroughly familiar with the "company policy" when it comes to collections.

Have a stated time for invoicing to take place. The policy should be that an installation job or service call should be invoiced the same day it is completed, or at least within 24 hours. Do not wait till the end of the week, or month, to invoice the customer.

When payment is past due, a second notice should be sent IMMEDIATELY, requesting payment within 10 days. Send out a statement when payment is not received. Again, you would be amazed at the number of contractors who send the original bill, then never send a follow-up statement when payment is not made. When the statement is sent, request payment within 10 days. There is no reason to allow them an additional 30 days to pay their overdue invoice!

If payment is not made in 10 days, then call the customer and find out why. Have someone in the office make the initial call, but not the owner or manager. Why? About 70 percent of the time, customers will pay their bill when they receive a physical phone call. Yes, you will get all kinds of excuses: "We never got the invoice." "It must have been lost in the mail." "Are you sure you sent one?" However, when the initial call is made, most customers will pay their bill.

Be sure the office person making the call keeps a detailed log. When was the call made? Who did they talk to? Before the phone call ends, ask the customer when they will be writing you a check. Keeping good records may become very helpful if you ever have to go to small-claims court. The person with the detailed records is usually the one who wins the case!

Follow up with a second call if payment is not received as promised. This is where you get the owner and/or manager involved. There is something magical about the owner or manager calling the customer. They get results that no one else gets.

Use an attorney or collections agency. Neither of these are usually great options. However, you might want to make a note to call your state bar association and get a list of last year's law graduates. Believe it or not, not all lawyers are employed and many are under employed. Give them a call and ask them to write some collections letters for you. When a customer receives a letter from a lawyer, it's effective and they have no idea if the lawyer is a one-man operation or with a multi-million-dollar law firm.

When it comes to collections, you need to have a plan. Take the time to sit down with your team and hammer out a collections policy that works for your company.

Want a little more help on collections? Check out Grandy & Associates' website special. Five great audio presentations by three outstanding national speakers.

About The Author
Tom Grandy is the Founder and President of Grandy & Associates
Grandy & Associates has created 24Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) that apply throughout the HVAC industry. Click here for a full description of the 24 KPI's. The KPIs are the basic measuring tools utilized in the performance-based software called ProfitMaxx. ProfitMaxx puts systems in place to measure every aspect of the service technician's productivity and profitability. For more suggestions on how to run a profitable business you might want to consider attending Grandy & Associates' three-day "Basic Business Boot Camp". No time to attend class? Then consider online training by clicking here.

Photo by Renjith Krishnan

Let's Play Stump the Chump!

Send us your stumpers!
You know - that problem house, symptom or combination of symptoms that confounded the homeowner and challenged all your building science savvy to solve. Send us a description of the problem – and the solution, which we'll keep a secret. If it's a genuine stumper, we'll publish it in the next Performance Matters e-newsletter. Send to lmcdowell@bpi.org and we'll write it up.

We are chagrined. We realize we should have given you more clues to last month's stumper, sent in by Jamie Clark of ARRONCO Comfort Air in Lexington, Kentucky. (But we beg your forgiveness because it's a fine balance! If we tell you too much we give away the easy answer; tell you too little, and you don't have the information you need to make an educated guess). Readers will recall that Jamie replaced two broken air systems with Carrier® hybrid systems only to find that after the project was completed, all the registers in the house started sweating, with the humidity level over 70 percent! All equipment was installed correctly, air volumes were right, the equipment was perfectly sized, all duct work was sealed (with less than 10 percent leakage).

Despite the gaps in information, we received several creative responses to the puzzle. Dean Smith of Santee Cooper in Moncks Corner, South Carolina came closest, guessing that the customer had the system's fan in the "on " position and the blower motor was picking up the condensate from the wet coil, which was being distributed back into the home. Well done Dean!

Jamie reveals what was really going on. When he went back to the house on the second visit, he visually inspected the duct work to make sure it wasn't pulling in excessive air and humidity from the attic. But when he lifted the scuttle hole hatch it started to float; there were two full size attic exhaust fans in a 6,000 cubic foot attic. They put the entire house on such a negative pressure, they were sucking in moisture from the outside. Says Jamie: "It was like having a blower door on 24/7". Important note: The first time Jamie visited the house for his initial assessment of the broken central air system, it was a cold and rainy day, so the attic fans weren't running. To solve the problem, Jamie disconnected one attic fan and turned the other one to 120 degrees so it would only turn on in extreme heat.

What's Wrong with this Picture?

We know, we know. There's a lot right with this picture, such as the gorgeous view of Lake Tahoe in the background and the awesome powder for skiing. But from a whole-house-as-a-system perspective, what's wrong with this picture? What is the owner trying to do, and what would be a better solution?

Thanks to our own Larry Zarker, BPI CEO, for sending in this dandy shot. He offers the following Winston Churchill quote to explain what's going on here: "You can always trust the Americans to get it right, after they have exhausted every other possibility."

Think you know what the problem is, as well as the solution? Send it to us at lmcdowell@bpi.org.

JOIN THE DISCUSSION! Each month's Stump the Chump challenge will be featured as a topic on BPI's discussion page on Home Energy Pros, the home performance industry's very own social networking site. To send your answer there, and discuss with other Stump the Chump fans, simply visit BPI's discussion page and click on the right-hand 'Sign Up' box to create a profile, then add your comment. Don't forget to ALSO send your answer to lmcdowell@bpi.org to enter to win the contest, and be featured in the next issue of Performance Matters!

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Dave Robinson of GreenEarthEquities Receives BPI's 2012 Tony Woods Award

Congratulations to Dave Robinson of GreenEarthEquities, BPI's 2012 recipient of the Tony Woods Award for Excellence in Advancing the Home Performance Industry. Robinson was selected by an independent panel of impartial judges for his passionate commitment to performing deep energy retrofits on foreclosed homes, and for training others to do the same.

Congratulation also goes out to this year's inductees into the Building Performance Industry Hall of Fame:

    John Krigger, Saturn Resource Management
    Charles Segerstrom, Pacific Gas and Electric Company
    Dennis Creech, Southface Energy Institute
    Larry Palmiter, Ecotope (awarded posthumously)

Click here for further details.

Building Sales with Certification - Webinar Series by Sustainable Ideas

Join Sustainable Ideas in this four-part webinar series on the value that BPI's new Home Energy Professional certifications bring to growing your home performance business and building a robust industry. The four new certifications are for experienced home performance professionals, and focus on the most common job classifications in the home energy upgrade industry: energy auditor, retrofit installer, crew leader and quality control inspector.

Click here to find out how to get your company BPI accredited.

The 2012 ACI California Home Performance Conference
June 5-6, @ the DoubleTree Hotel
Sacramento, California

ACI hosts the industry's leading educational and networking events in home performance and weatherization in partnership with nationally renowned experts.

Click here for further details.

Upcoming ACI Events

ACI Mid-Atlantic Home Performance Conference 2012
Pittsburgh, PA - October 1-2, 2012

ACI New England Home Performance Conference 2012
Springfield, MA - October 15-17, 2012

ACI National Home Performance Conference 2013
Denver, CO - April 29, 2013 - May 3, 2013

Building America Summer 2012 Technical Update Meeting

July 24–26, 2012 @ the Renaissance Denver Hotel
Denver, Colorado

This meeting, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy's Building America program, will showcase the latest in cutting-edge, energy-efficient residential building technologies and practices. These sessions will focus on addressing issues that must be resolved to deliver solutions that reduce whole-house energy use in new and existing homes by 30-50 percent.

Click here for further details.

EGIA Webinars

Business Opportunities in Commercial Buildings
Thursday, April 19, 2012 2:00 - 3:30pm Eastern (11:00am - 12:30pm Pacific)

During this Leadership Academy Web Exchange, you will gain these insights:

  1. Set your business strategy to utilize your residential skills in the commercial market
  2. Discover ways to keep revenue flowing into your company during down turns in the residential market
  3. Understand specific business development activities contractors have used and their lessons learned

Click here for further details.

Small Commercial Energy - Audit/Install Program Best Practices
Thursday, April 26, 2012, 4:00 - 5:30pm Eastern (1:00 - 2:30pm Pacific)

Learn how utilities are working with implementation partners to reach out to small business owners with offers of free or low-cost on-site energy audits with the bonus of free or low-cost installation of a few dollar-saving measures.

Click here for further details

Are you a Home Energy Pro?

Join the BPI discussion group on Home Energy Pros, the home performance industry's very own social networking site. Get technical, business and marketing advice from your peers, and show what you know from your years on the job! Visit BPI's page and click on the right-hand 'Sign Up' box to create a profile, then join BPI's discussion group.