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Explaining Home Performance Using 4-3-2-1

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For my own company to be successful in the home performance industry, I strive to distill complex concepts and practices to their most essential and basic elements. This does two things:

1. It enables a professional to keep a cool, clear head when faced with complicated challenges in the field

2. It helps frame the way we talk to our clients about our work (clients, professional or otherwise, tend to tune out when we get technical)

To keep it simple, let’s take a tour through all of Home Performance Contracting in a 4-3-2-1 approach.

The 4 Elements

I describe Home Performance to my clients with four basic elements:

1. Heat Flow (which everyone thinks they understand, though they generally don’t)

2. Air Flow & Pressure (two sides of the same coin, HVAC and building professionals rarely think deeply about.)

3. Moisture (which damages the home’s durability)

4. Air Quality and Safety (including carbon monoxide, electricity, and structure)

This list is in increasing order of importance. You’ll notice that the two elements which have to do with energy efficiency aren’t at the top of the list. This is why your title is better defined as a Home Performance Expert than an Energy Efficiency Expert. People will continue to call it ‘Energy Auditing’ when you’re testing, but if you remind them that you’re doing so much more than saving energy, you make yourself more valuable.

The 3 Steps And 3 Recommendations

Before you whip out your tools and get to work, always remember your most valuable tool is your own experience, senses, and taking time to think. There are 3 stages to any really valuable activity in this field:

1. Inspection

2. Diagnostics

3. Recommendations for Improvement

What you see, hear, smell, and feel in the home (or taste, but please don’t let your client see you) is oft en the most valuable testing you perform, and it can tell you a lot about what you expect to find in the diagnostic stage. Never use your testing tools until you know what you’re looking for (for example, if the A/C isn’t running well, discovering that the coils are filthy should NOT lead to superheat and subcooling testing—clean the coils first).

Diagnostic tests are what separate a pro from an opinion-giver; nonetheless, diagnostics are seldom performed in the HVAC field. In fact, most HVAC techs do not possess the necessary equipment or training!

You should only offer recommendations after performance diagnostics, so you and your client can be sure that the solution offered will solve a pinpointed problem.

There are generally always three recommendations you’ll make in any home:

1. Air Sealing

2. Insulation

3. HVAC (including anything that heats, cools, or moves air)

Air leakage defeats any insulation or HVAC improvement you make. Starting there is inexpensive, straightforward, never needs maintaining or replacing, and is energy efficient. Likewise, insulation, is inexpensive, efficient, and must be consistent for the HVAC to function properly. Lastly, make sure the HVAC is properly sized, selected, and installed, AND THEN VERIFIED WITH PERFORMANCE TESTING. Everyone thinks they do good work—most are woefully mistaken. The pros who know, know because they tested their work before they left. Those pros don’t waste money on callbacks.

The 2 Systems

As far as the home performance professional is concerned, there are two main systems in any home:

1. The Envelope (air sealing and insulation)

2. The HVAC (anything that moves heat or air within the home)

The important thing to remember is that the Envelope will always defeat the HVAC if they’re working at cross purposes.

The 1 Goal Of Home Performance

Since we’re not talking about energy efficiency, as already mentioned, and we’re not talking about sustainability or ‘green’ stuff , what ARE we talking about? CONTROL. Control is the goal. If you control all 4 ELEMENTS by using the 3 STEPS to make 3 RECOMMENDATIONS on the 2 SYSTEMS, then you’ve achieved a high performance home, regardless of what the occupant chooses to do with the space. The only way to demonstrate control is with PERFORMANCE TESTING. Because of requirements of ARRA funding of 2009, all building codes across the country will require performance testing (at least of ductwork) by 2017. Eventually, homeowners will understand that they can demand a guarantee on any contracting work they pay for, and there will be companies who can continue to profit in that business. However, companies who have never tested their work before may not survive. Make sure your company does excellent work before your clients ask to see the proof!

Corbett Lunsford

Posted In: Building Performance, Residential Buildings

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