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Five Home Performance Skills: Do You Skip Any of These?

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Here are five topics or skills that I believe are essential, or at the least beneficial, if you are in the Home Performance profession.

  1. Building Science teaches you how to build a sustainable home so it does not rot and fall down and is able to be heated and cooled comfortably and efficiently considering the climate in which it exists.
  2. HVAC expertise is the least glamorous. It refers to all the mechanical comfort devices that customers hate to repair or replace when they break. (They also hate to see these machines so they hide them in very difficult places to access.)
  3. Safety is an obvious requirement and all of us boast that this is our first priority. But as we get smarter about safe environments, safety becomes more challenging.
  4. Home Comfort refers to more than just temperature and also includes humidity, air quality, uniform comfort distribution, proper controls and sizing for the days when the weather-hypers tell you to stay indoors.
  5. Energy and Comfort Economics is the topic I would like to discuss in more detail. Simplified, it’s an attempt to maximize returns while minimizing the expense. The returns can be more than money (ex. green pride or comfort) and likewise, the expense (ex. splitting firewood) is not always money.

As you know, all these Home Performance topics overlap. But it’s a good exercise to break them down to see where we need a little work. It’s also fun to ask which of these topics or skills are the most important.

Home Performance, at its best, is the understanding of all five topics. But this is not an easy task. It seems each layer exponentially adds another volume of information and choices. So if you had 10 mechanical devices and 10 levels of safety to choose from, you could offer the customer 100 options. Add 10 options related to Home Comfort and (theoretically) you could have 1000 options. And then, while you’re looking over the customer’s home and impressing them with your thoroughness, you may discover 10 home improvement opportunities related to energy use and comfort. Some quick math and… Do you have a proposal form that will hold 10,000 options?

It’s amusing to think of all we know and how little we are able to dispense to the customer. But, as we soon learn, if you are going to make the sale sometime before midnight on Friday, you are going to need to prioritize and then offer a just few of the most important options. It normally boils down to offering the options that will make the most impact for the customer and hopefully include a decent profit. Inevitably, you will be forced into the economics of the trade. What is the greatest impact or value I can generate for the customer, while keeping the expense reasonable? Do you know?

In sales training we discover that if you listen to the customer, you will learn where they place the most value and then you can fill their needs with products and services. But let’s be honest, it’s not that simple. The customer does not know enough about our products and services and we ultimately steer the conversation to the things that matter most. Again, we are looking for the greatest impact.

Searching for “impacts” was a job I was quite familiar with when I worked for one of the largest electric companies in the nation. As one of their experienced energy savings analysts, my managers frequently asked me to review an energy saving measure to determine the average impact it would have in terms of electrical demand reduction and also customer savings. For years, while we experimented with every conceivable energy efficiency incentive program, they were desperate to find the holy grail of yet to be discovered, cost effective offerings with amazingly significant impacts. An affordable program with these features is extremely valuable to all parties involved.

What does this have to do with you? Well, on a daily basis, you are doing the same service for your homeowners. You are in search of the product or service that will (to the best of our economic skills) deliver the greatest impact at an affordable cost. The only difference is, the big boys employ a team of third party analysts with sophisticated energy modeling and request a contractual year in which to complete the study, whereas most of us are flying by the seat of our trousers.

So it’s you and the customer and 10,000 options. Quick! Before they lose interest, decide from your experience, which options are the best for your customer in terms of significant impacts? Now explain it clearly, be honest and be semi-prepared to back up your estimated energy savings.

This skill was the fifth item in my list of Home Performance topics. In addition to understanding and offering many options, you are forced to participate in the energy and comfort economics and within a very short timeframe, recommend the best action for the customer. You are the expert. You should know. They expect you to know. Sometimes they even ask, “what would you do?”

Quantifying savings, changes in comfort or other impacts is difficult. Many of us bail on this to stay out of trouble. And even if you utilize some software to help you, many times it cannot be done accurately. (Don’t feel bad. My last energy audit from my electric company suggested I upgrade to a new air conditioner and save $182 per summer. Funny, my geothermal system only costs me about $62 per summer in total air conditioning. Now that’s a fantastic impact!)

But you need something! You look bad at both extremes, from “I have no clue” to “It will save you so much fuel they will need to come and empty your tank once a month! Sign here!” In my next article, I will share some easy tricks that will help you sound much more credible than either of these two responses.

Don’t miss Dan’s next article in the January issue IE3 magazine. You can subscribe to the magazine for free online!

Dan Welklin
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Posted In: Building Performance, Residential Buildings

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