A big (requested) boost for weatherization funding
President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request includes $184 million for the Weatherization Assistance Program, $48.3 million above his FY 2013 request and nearly three times the program’s actual FY ‘13 funding (including sequestration) of less than $62 million. The increase reflects a Budget Resolution amendment, sponsored by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME), aimed at restoring WAP funding above its 2011 level of $174 million. That amount was slashed in 2012 because the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy still had funds left over from the Recovery Act.
The State Energy Program also gets an increase under the President’s FY ‘14 request, to $57 million from actual FY 13 funding of $47.5 million.
The President also submitted a $6 billion request for the HomeStar program, which he initially proposed in 2010 to provide rebates to homeowners who undertake energy-efficiency upgrades. “No area holds more promise than our investments in American energy,” the President said in his budget message. One of the plan’s main energy goals is to double American energy productivity by 2013, in part by halving “the energy wasted by America’s homes and businesses.” His total funding request for the Department of Energy is $28.4 billion, 8 percent higher than the enacted 2012 level.
Mortgages could include home performance upgrades
Three studies released in March could support changing mortgage lending practices to include additional funds for energy-related improvements. This study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy concludes that calculating energy cost savings into mortgage underwriting would slash U.S. energy costs by $10 billion from 2014 through 2030. This study by the University of North Carolina Center for Community Capital shows that the mortgages on energy-efficient homes are significantly less likely to go into default. And this study, by NAHB’s Economics and Housing Policy Group, finds that home buyers “first and foremost” want energy efficiency.
Combined, these studies would strengthen the proposed SAVE Act, federal legislation which would institutionalize energy-efficient mortgages, believes Robert Sahadi of the Institute for Market Transformation.
Home-performance pros are talking about…
- Ventilation requirements: “I understand that a lot of very smart people have been working on the ASHRAE ventilation standard for a long time, but I am concerned that we just aren’t getting the anticipated results from all the effort that goes into this issue.” - Carl Seville, Green Building Curmudgeon
- Big news about R-value: "In the world of building construction, improvement, and analysis, we talk about R-value all the time. Generally we talk about it as if it's a constant number. Hey, R-19 is stamped right there on the product, so that's what it is, right? Well, maybe. Sometimes." - Allison Bailes, Energy Vanguard
- Q&A with Dave Robinson: “[W]e need to emphasize and begin quantifying the value of all the other reasons to do home performance besides energy saving and bill reduction.” – Dave Robinson, Home Energy
- What is thermal bridging?: “[W]e all wish there was a magic, universally applicable number like car gas mileage with which to compare insulation. But there isn’t.” – Erik North, Green Building Advisor
Creating a Culture of Quality
If you weren't able to attend BPI's Creating a Culture of Quality: The Importance of a Quality Management System webinar, presented by John Tooley of Advanced Energy and Tiger Adolf of BPI, you should take some time and watch the recording here. Hear what John Tooley has to say about eradicating BLAME from the workplace. This webinar is jam-packed with information about developing a well-oiled Quality Management System.
Marketing complex home performance concepts in ways that sell whole-house solutions— such as energy savings, comfort, health, and safety—is more challenging than selling furnace replacements. When successful home performance contractors were asked “how do you simplify the home performance marketing message”, their unanimous answer was “when we make it simple, we decrease our sales close rate.” While marketing home performance is complex, it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money.
My survey of 14 of the nation’s leading home performance contractors revealed a mix of low-cost, innovative guerilla marketing tactics, as well as strategic use of paid advertising and direct mail. This article presents the results of that survey, and offers advice that you can immediately put to use.
Getting Across the Home Performance Message
Fishermen go where the fish are, and home performance contractors go where the homeowners with perceived problems are. Few people wake up one day and decide that they need a comprehensive home performance analysis. But lots of people wake up to broken furnaces and air conditioners, or decide that they’ve lived long enough with their drafty windows.
For this reason, successful home performance contractors respond to what customers think they need (a new furnace or windows) with a home performance message grounded in building science, but directly responsive to the customer’s stated needs. Mike Rogers of OmStout Consulting tells the story of a home energy advisor who arrived at the home of a prospect who wanted new windows, and explained that before he could give the man a quote, he would need to conduct a combustion safety test on his furnace. The homeowner said that the other window salesmen didn’t pretest to see if replacing the windows might make the home too tight. That, my friends, is the “aha!” moment in home performance selling—when you learn whether your prospect values (and is willing to pay for) your comprehensive whole-house solution, or is simply price shopping for a commodity service.
Successful home performance contractors have a focused strategy (they pre- and post-test all installations—even “simple” window installs—as outlined in Building Performance Institute standards), and they exert the discipline to plan their work and work their plan. Consistently, successful contractors insist that you must have a written marketing and business plan—one that incorporates procedures, forms, and ongoing training for your staff. And they stick to the plan.
Home Performance Marketing Tactics from Across the United States
In Pennsylvania, Sean Crane of HomeTown Green, a service provider in the state’s home energy program, lists his three best marketing tactics as networking; optimizing his web presence for search engines; and maintaining ENERGY STAR affiliation. Sean holds free workshops on “Efficient and Healthy Homes” and “Carbon Footprint” for the public, and estimates that three of these free workshops have yielded $46,500 in gross sales.
In Texas, Larry Taylor of AirRite is committed to providing whole-house services, and is a founding member of the Texas Home Energy Rating Organization. He emphasizes trust and solutions; provides ongoing service agreements; and provides guarantees that make customers comfortable to ask him back for additional work. He utilizes tried-and-true marketing techniques, including talking yard signs, flowers or chocolates delivered to the customer’s workplace when the job is complete and prizes (free housecleaning), for customers who provide at least ten referrals.
Become Your Community’s Home Performance Expert
A key strategy is to become the home performance expert in your community. Position yourself as:
- a local or regional subject matter expert on energy, comfort, health, safety, and whole-house improvement;
- an efficiency expert on ways to save money, energy, and time;
- a green or hybrid homes expert; or
- any combination of the above.
Look for nontraditional, free opportunities to market yourself in the media. These might include writing newspaper or magazine articles, or appearing on radio or TV.
Free media coverage is better and more believable than ads, and it’s easy to get. Provide reporters and show producers with stories that sell. People stories and analyses on celebrities’ homes, homeowner testimonials, slice-of-life ride-alongs on interesting jobs and today’s local events—immediacy and proximity make it news.
Workshops can also be valuable tools, and vary in time and scope. Start small, with 20-to-45-minute lunchtime presentations on topics such as “Ten Tips to Save Money, Be More Comfortable, and Make Your Home More Earth-Friendly. More-demanding and broader-based seminars could be held in conjunction with other events, such as trade shows. These seminars might run for an hour or more, and be held on topics like “Whole-House Improvements: How to Do It Yourself and/or Manage Your Contractors.” For the truly ambitious, a full-day Home Energy Makeover Workshop with 15-minute presentations on energy efficiency educates consumers and connects them to the contractors who can best help them.
The following organizations may sponsor your workshop in one of their weekly or monthly meetings: the local Rotary Club and other civic organizations; home shows; homeowners associations; chambers of commerce; adult learning centers; realtor, code official, and other business and trade groups.
Organize a seminar by first drafting a brief description and flyer for the group to use to promote your appearance. Recommend RSVPs and/or charge a modest registration fee to demonstrate value. Script your presentation with plenty of customer stories. Gather attendee information through sign-up sheets, evaluation forms, and door prizes. (You can use these later as leads!) High-cost marketing tactics to avoid include newspaper and magazine ads that don’t include a direct customer testimonial or a “call to action.”
Traditional marketing tactics have their place. Home shows are a prime showcase, if you prepare customer testimonials and article reprints; a clipboard with lead sheets; video clips of you working and interviews with satisfied customers; and clips of live radio interviews. Don’t forget to bring your appointment book! Team up with the contractors you use as subs to maximize cross-telling and cross-selling (Solar? Home Performance is the First Step.) Have your website available on your laptop for people to browse. A well-designed website educates the consumer, a highly visible digitally printed vehicle wrap or “car skins” give brand recognition, and a strong social media presence can give you that viral upper hand.
There are a number of things you can do to create brand recognition, and increase the presence of your company in the public eye. You have to be willing to invest the time, and yes, some money too, but with strategic planning, you will see a great return. The examples above are proven, and a good place to start, but don’t be afraid to try something new, and utilize your own creativity.
John has been with you for several years. He's a great service technician and seems to enjoy what he does. He doesn't complain and is always willing to help when you need something extra. You've been considering promoting him to service manager - after all, who could manage the department better than your best tech, right?
I've seen it dozens of times. A company promotes their best service technician to Service Manager only to see that he is no longer any good. I have seen it compared to sports figures that negotiate a new, big contract only to be a disappointment once they got the money. I know, the money is nowhere close to professional sports figures, but the situation is somewhat similar.
Let's take a look at the skills, values and behaviours needed to be a great service manager, and then I want to come back to this point. There is likely a very good reason they don't perform well in their new role.
What Soft Skills are Needed to be a Great Service Manager?
There are seven skills that your service tech must possess in order to be a great service manager.
Personal Accountability - This trait is a must for any position of responsibility. A great service manager will:
- Accept personal responsibility for the consequences of their personal actions
- Avoid placing unnecessary blame on others
- Maintain a personal commitment to objectives regardless of the success or failure of personal decisions
- Apply personal lessons learned from past failures to moving forward in achieving future successes.
Self Management - This is the ability to prioritize and complete tasks in order to deliver desired outcomes within allotted time frames. A person with the right stuff to be a great service manager will:
- Independently pursue business objectives in an organized and efficient manner.
- Prioritize activities as necessary to meet job responsibilities.
- Maintain the required level of activity toward achieving goals without direct supervision.
- Minimize work flow disruptions and time wasters to complete high quality work within the time frame required.
Results Oriented - Having the ability to identify actions necessary to complete tasks and obtain results is vital. With this, a great Service Manager will:
- Maintain a proper focus on goals.
- Identify and remove potential obstacles that get in the way of achieving those goals.
- Implement thorough and effective plans and apply the resources needed to get things done.
- Follow through on commitments.
Resiliency - Setbacks are inevitable, and resiliency is the ability to quickly recover from adversity. A resilient service manager will:
- Keep working toward goals even when things get tough.
- Handle criticism and rejection from others without objectivity.
- Recover quickly from personal setbacks.
- Move past unforeseen obstacles without unnecessary delay.
Goal Achievement – This is the overall ability to set, pursue and attain achievable goals, regardless of obstacles or circumstances. This person needs to be able to:
- Establish goals that are relevant, realistic and attainable.
- Identify and implements plans and milestones to achieve specific business goals. This also means they need to know what those business plans are.
- Initiate activity toward goals without unnecessary delay.
- Stay on target to complete goals regardless of obstacles or adverse circumstances.
Influencing Others – This person is the leader of the department. They can’t do it all themselves and must get things done though other people. They must:
- Have the ability to personally affect others’ actions, decisions, opinions or thinking.
- Effectively impact others' actions.
- Gain commitment from the service techs and other co workers in order to achieve desired results.
- Analyze the opinions of the people they are working with and lead them to understand and willingly accept desired alternatives.
- Persuade others in a positive manner.
Leading Others – They must have the ability to organize and motivate people to accomplish goals while creating a sense of order and direction. To do this, they must:
- Inspire the service techs with a compelling vision. This also means that, as the business owner, you must have a compelling vision. If you don’t provide one, the vision will be theirs, not yours.
- Empower others to accomplish common goals.
- Be a positive, motivational example for others to emulate in becoming leaders themselves.
- Support those around him/her by providing clarity, direction, organization and purpose.
What Motivators are Needed to be a Great Service Manager?
There are different things that motivate different people. If you match a person to a job that rewards their personal motivators, they will excel. The position of service manager will reward those people who are motivated by different areas, such as utilitarian (rewarding practical accomplishments and rewards the investment of time, resources and energy) and theoretical (rewarding the opportunity to learn and professional development).
What Soft Skills are Needed to be a Great Service Manager?
There are "soft" skills and related behaviors that your service tech must possess in order to be a great service manager.
- Customer Oriented - The job demands a positive and constructive view of working with others. There will be a high percentage of time spent in listening to, understanding and successfully working with a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds to achieve "win-win" outcomes.
- Frequent Interaction with Others - The job requires a strong "people orientation," versus a task orientation. The job will comfortably deal with multiple interruptions on a continual basis, always maintaining a friendly interface with others.
- Versatility - The job calls for a high level of optimism and a "can do" orientation. It will require multiple talents and a willingness to adapt them to changing assignments as required.
Don’t Ruin a Good Tech By Promoting Him
The thing that makes John, our service tech at the beginning of this article, a great service tech may very well make him a lousy service manager; and once you’ve promoted him, rarely can you go back. You either have to live with a lousy service manager or you end up parting ways with the guy. If John looks at it realistically, he may know he won’t like the job. A great service tech enjoys working by themselves, whereas a service manager can’t work by themselves. If they try, they will fail.
If you want to find out if one of your employees has what it takes to be a great service manager, drop us a line. We'll walk you through the process of having them take an assessment where we compare them to the requirements laid out here. Find out if you’re going to have problems with a person before you hire or promote them. (Learn more at the Team Solutions section of our Website!)
Congratulations to Michael Jones of Kalex Energy Company in Utica, NY for cracking the case of the missing upgrade from last month’s Stump the Chump.
As a reminder, a caped crusader of home performance told us about the homeowners of a 19th century duplex who were victims of uncomfortable rooms and high energy bills.
Following a number of upgrades including significant infiltration reduction; upgrading thin rockwool attic insulation to R40; dense-packing 2x6 finished slanted ceilings with cellulose; dense-packing 2x4 exterior walls with cellulose; dense-packing the perimeter of the 2nd floor framing system with cellulose; R19 bandjoist insulation; and a few other minor things, the homeowners still didn’t see much improvement with respect to savings. The mystery contractor returned four years later to make one more upgrade that he had missed the first time around, and asked our readers to determine what that was.
Michael responded in a fashion befitting a home performance hero. He explains that our crusader “upgraded the two single pipe steam boilers to hot water boilers by modifying the distribution piping and adding a pipe to each of the radiators. This allowed the boiler to heat the space without having to boil the water to make steam, which uses much less energy. With the above upgrades, and keeping in mind that only hot water boilers can be low mass, which modulates output design, the savings can be quite substantial.”
Thanks to everyone who submitted an answer to last month's Stump the Chump!
This Month's Stumper
During a recent evaluation of a newly constructed multifamily building, Jerritt Gluck of Bonded Building and Engineering in Oyster Bay, NY, encountered a classic case of stack effect, or so he thought.
The developer of the $30 million + multifamily construction project looking for LEED certification was in trouble, so they engaged BB&E to perform an ASTM 779-10 test of the building as part of the LEED certification process.
ASTM 779-10 tests are performed on individual apartments with the adjacent apartments open to outdoors. The point of the test is to measure unit inter-connectivity. Blower door tests are performed on all corner apartments plus a random 20 percent of those remaining. If they all pass then it can be assumed the rest of the apartments would also pass. Should any one apartment fail, an additional apartment must be added (per each failure) until at least 90 percent of the tested units pass.
Several common conditions that will cause test results to be very low are:
- Interior pressure monitoring stations are placed too close to direct air flow that is typically produced by the test fans.
- Usually tests are conducted with the fan orifice fully open, allowing maximum airflow. For testing smaller envelopes that require smaller test flows, a flow restriction device such as a plug or plastic ring can be installed on the fan. When limiting the fan air flow, the gauge manufacturer requires that the digital gauge’s configuration be adjusted. If the gauge is incorrectly set on a lower range than the fan, then the measured flow will be much lower than the actual flow.
- Interior doors have been left closed.
- Exterior envelope is very tightly sealed.
Several common conditions that will cause results to be very high are:
- Intentional openings have not been properly sealed or have opened during the test (i.e., pressure relief dampers, plumbing traps).
- Windows or exterior doors are left open.
- HVAC equipment is not properly disabled.
- If the gauge is set on a higher range than the fan, then the measured flows will be much higher than the actual flow.
- It is possible the building contains significant holes in the air barrier enclosure and the high readings are simply an indication of the performance of the building.
The exterior conditions at the time of testing were rain and moderate wind at the ground level. Temperature was approximately 48F. Wind speeds were approximately 5 miles per hour as measured at street level. As per LEED requirements, all apartment entry doors were weather-stripped on all four sides. Additionally, NYC requires mechanical ventilation systems to provide fresh air to the residents. The ventilation system typically places supply air in the hallways, and exhaust air from the kitchens and bathrooms.
What was the cause of the “stack effect” measured? How can this be verified? What tools should be used to design an experiment that proves the physics behind the hypothesis? What did the author, a building performance specialist, miss in the initial audit? What was the cure to the problems?
Hint: Just because it’s written as a rule doesn’t mean it’s correct.