by Donald Prather
Ever wonder why one of your customers called when they had a mold issue…that was obviously caused by a roof, window, or siding leak? It might be because your customers know little about their home’s envelope, and they trust your opinion and feel you can solve their problems. So, why send them elsewhere for home related repairs? ACCA recently finished an update to the ANSI recognized ACCA 12 QH Standard (Existing Home Evaluation and Performance). Home performance evaluation is already what professional HVAC contractors have been doing when they do a Manual J load calculation. However, HVAC contractors usually don’t get the credit they deserve for understanding how their customers’ home are put together. Often, that is because once a problem with a leaky air barrier is identified, traditional HVAC contractors’ have no turnkey solution for addressing their customers’ envelope energy loss problems, other than installing a larger HVAC unit.
A growing number of HVAC contractors see offering home performance as a natural way to expand their market, and are revising their existing business models to take advantage of this evolving market. By reinventing their companies, they have found new ways to more fully serve their existing customers. This new service offering is generally accomplished by hiring outside experts, or retraining staff to undertake home performance. Other common approaches are to subcontract retrofit repairs, or to develop partnerships with home repair companies. Whatever method HVACR contractors select when putting together a home performance team, they have the inside track for making the related sales proposals. Additionally, due to their ongoing long-term relationships, when a customer gets sticker shock on what is needed, contractors can prioritize the elective home energy-based retrofits into groupings based on a customer’s current needs. Over a period of time, many comfort, and health related problems, can be taken care of within a budgeted and staged whole home upgrade plan. Elective work is good for contractors, because it often can be scheduled between peak service seasons.
Home performance audits, and the related retrofit work, are normally driven by an existing problem that needs to be addressed sooner, rather than later. Often, home performance upgrades can be coupled with HVAC system size reductions, a further win for providing energy-efficient comfort to their customers.
HVAC contractors who take an ownership position on more of their customer’s problems will have more opportunities to profit. Professional whole-house contractors can differentiate themselves in that most home performance auditors and companies do not offer HVAC upgrades, and most HVACR contractors do not offer whole-house home energy performance options. Thus, a home performance, energy upgrading, HVAC contractor can offer seamless solutions and turnkey approaches for homeowner energy-related comfort, and indoor air quality upgrades.
So, how does that initial conversation about an energy audit take place if you don’t get called out for mold or a leak? Your technicians have excellent relationships with your customers. Technicians can be empowered to take action when they identify home performance related issues. When a service technician recognizes a home performance related problem, like signs of envelope leakage, why not have that technician point out the problem, and suggest a home energy audit? If the customer is not home or, if the technician is not comfortable with sales, they can leave behind appropriate consumer information on the problems found.
If you are interested in moving in the direction of offering home performance options, ACCA can help; ACCA provide various technician training materials and customer focused handout materials. ACCA has developed a series of Technical Bulletins related to the basic understanding of home performance issues. The Technical Bulletins provide the technical information your technicians need to recognize and identify home performance related issues. Once you have empowered your technicians to identify and report home performance problems, they can report the problem to the homeowner. One good practice is to photograph the identified problem for inclusion with a note in the job file. What is the worst thing that could happen when they report a non-HVACR problem? If it simply ends with your technician’s report to the homeowner, your company has already provided superior service and extra value to your customer.
Early in this decade, ACCA began developing standards and guidance to facilitate our member’s expansion into the home performance market. The first move was the release of ACCA 12 as the ANSI-recognized home performance standard in 2011. This effort was followed by the development of Technical Bulletins designed to help technicians identify home performance problems. The Home performance related Technical Bulletins includes:
- Residential Vapor Retarder and Air Barrier Retrofit Primer
- Ensuring ASHRAE 62.2-2013 Ventilation Compliance for Residential Structures
- Determining Insulation Values In Existing Homes
- Encapsulated Attics and Their Impact On Manual J8 Load Calculations
- Understanding CAZ Depressurization Testing
ACCA’s Technical Bulletins are available to ACCA members here.
Author's Note: Donald Prather is the technical services manager at ACCA.