How RESNET is Working to Develop the New Market for the Energy Upgrade of Homes

October 27th, 2010 - Posted by RESNET under Energy Efficiency, RESNET News, RESNET Notes - October 2010

By: Steve Baden RESNET Executive Director

The building performance industry is facing a dynamic cross road. This article will explain RESNET’s perspective on the industry, where it’s heading, and RESNET’s strategies for leading the way.

RESNET and its network of home energy raters have had a significant impact on the new homes market.  Since RESNET was formed, over one million homes have been rated.  In 2009, 100,045 new homes were rated.  This represents over 31 percent of all homes sold in the nation.

While we have every right to be proud of this accomplishment, we have to be aware that times have changed.  Because of the downturn in the economy, the sale of new homes in the U.S. dropped from 750,000 in 2008 to 374,000 in 2009.  Unfortunately, this trend is continuing in 2010.  To remain economically viable, the rating industry has to expand its scope.

The existing homes market offers the greatest new long term opportunity.  There are over 100 million existing residential units in the U.S.  Most of these homes would benefit from energy efficiency upgrades.   The Brookings Institute estimates that two-thirds of all buildings that will be in use in 2050 have already been built.

There’s no doubt that home energy efficiency is getting more attention than ever, but there is still a long way to go in terms of being understood by consumers, and even contractors.  While a federal HomeStar type legislation could provide a major boost, we can’t depend on it alone to answer all our prayers.  Whether incentive programs are federal, statewide or local, they come and go as the funding runs out.

With or without incentive programs, there is a viable market for what we do.  RESNET is focused on ensuring the long-term growth of your businesses, not just immediate success You’ll be pleased to know RESNET has recently launched a campaign to vigorously promote its membership and the services they provide to Washington policymakers and the American homeowner.

But before we get to where we’re headed, let’s be clear about where we are now. We currently have a “Valley of Death” so to speak, for energy audits.  Auditors inspect and test the home, and leave recommendations for energy-saving improvements with the homeowners. The homeowners are then left to fend for themselves and find contractors to do the work. Consumers, however, are naturally skeptical of contractors and don’t know where to begin to find ones that are really qualified to do the work,  so nothing gets done.

As we shift at least some of our focus to existing home upgrades, you can see we’re facing some extraordinary challenges as an organization, as raters and auditors and as small business owners.  Perhaps our biggest challenge is the need to educate homeowners as to exactly what we do, and how they can benefit from our service.  To that end, RESNET is now very proactive on several fronts.

We recently secured the services of a major public relations firm to get our message out in the media – including the many ways RESNET members can help homeowners, how our industry is contributing to our country’s economic recovery and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and its positive impact on the environment.  They will position RESNET as an objective, non-profit organization of energy professionals providing a total solution to homeowners for saving energy and improving their in-home comfort.  RESNET has also retained a marketing research firm to help us better understand what drives the marketplace, so we can deliver a more impactful message to consumers.

We have engaged the aid of a public policy consultant to work with Washington policymakers to advocate legislation that will move our industry forward.  RESNET has also entered into strategic partnerships with contractor associations to aid in this effort.

The new RESNET website was designed to be more accessible and user-friendly for the public as well as for professionals.  Our goal is to have Americans looking to RESNET to find quality home performance experts who can go beyond simply helping them qualify for the latest incentive program.  Our separate site for homeowners allows us to maintain consumer-focus, providing many helpful references about what we do and how they can benefit from our services, without all the clutter of information that doesn’t pertain to them.  In particular, the new premium promotional directory makes it far easier for homeowners and builders to find raters in their area.  One of the chief objectives of the new RESNET website is to drive business to our member raters.

So where are we headed with all of this?  We believe that the future of the industry, and the best way for our members to prosper is to fully expand services to existing homeowners by providing them with a TOTAL SOLUTION.  That is, raters working together with competent home improvement contractors to audit the home, complete the required retrofits, and then test-out to assess the improvement.

This has been the missing link in our industry, particularly in the case of existing homes, where an audit is performed and the homeowner is left with a list of recommendations but doesn’t know where to turn to get the work done.  More often than not, energy-saving measures are never implemented and for all intents and purposes, the audit was a waste of time and money.  To become a valuable resource for homeowners, we need to break this cycle.

To accomplish this, we’re encouraging our members to create home performance teams, where raters work with a group of trained, independent contractors that covers the spectrum of energy-saving improvements, from HVAC to air sealing and insulation contractors.

To this end, RESNET recently created the RESNET EnergySmart Contractor designation, where contractors complete training to give the contractor a familiarity with energy-related building science and building envelope fundamentals and a competence to work seamlessly with raters, so they speak the same language.  More specifically, they’re trained in combustion safety, the house as a total system, RESNET and BPI work scope protocols and what to expect on a final inspection and test-out.

This is how we’re going to build the industry.  This is how we’re all going to succeed,and this is how we’re going to best help homeowners.  All the policy in Washington is not going to educate consumers, and PR can only go so far. It will happen when a contractor is sitting at the kitchen table with their customer and asks them if they know what an energy audit is, and how it can help them reduce their energy bills each month. It’s when the contractor enrolls them into having a rater provide guidance for comprehensive, total home solutions instead of looking solely at one component.  Help us convey to your colleagues and contractors that building this industry is a shared responsibility from the ground up.

As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is merely a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”   Raters and home improvement contractors all trained and working together for a common goal is success.

This is our vision for the future and how it will guide our actions moving forward.  We recognize that we’re in a complex and growing industry that’s changing very rapidly, and we don’t have all the answers immediately.  Some of the answers we have today may not be suitable tomorrow.  So we encourage input and suggestions from all of our members, many of which have insights from different areas of the country, from different experiences.  Your help can only make us stronger as an organization and as a force in the marketplace.

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  • http://www.healthandenergy.com Jon Traudt

    Homeowners want safety and comfort along with energy efficiency. RESNET certified raters enjoy greater success when they actually provide what customers want.

    Fortunately, there are tens of millions of homes in which the safety, comfort, and energy efficiency can all be upgraded.

  • http://www.techknowledgeonline.net Mike Gorman

    Steve, I’m big on the idea of Energy Smart training. However often those entities who provide contractor training overlook the contractors need for business training as well. While the technical training provides the opportunity, often the opportunity is missed or botched because the contractor doesn’t understand the importance of; ‘how to determine a fair price’ and further; ‘how to get the customer to pay that price.’ If others here express an interest my point will be reinforced.
    Best, mg

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