Green Remodeling: Top 5 pitfalls of home energy auditing

Energy audits can be a boon for remodelers, but can also end up costing too much time and money

February 08, 2011

Evaluating a home’s energy performance is a crucial first step in any green remodeling project. Energy audits identify the most egregious causes of uncomfortable rooms, air quality issues and energy waste, and help contractors develop truly cost-effective home performance solutions for their clients.
Done right, auditing also can create opportunities to increase both project size and margins, but many remodeling firms find it hard to justify what is often perceived as a costly and labor-intensive step — one that can slow down the sales process and impact the bottom line. Here are five common missteps that can turn a well-intentioned foray into building science into a retrofit contractor’s worst nightmare.

Pitfall No. 1: Spending Too Much Time on Data Collection, Not Enough on Sales
Aesop’s fabled tortoise — the one who proved that “slow and steady wins the race” — clearly wasn’t in the energy remodeling business.
Every hour your audit crew spends in a customer’s home costs you money, and if you inconvenience the homeowner by staying too long, you risk getting the contractor-client relationship off to a bad start. While data collection is a crucial part of the process, it’s important to remember that the time you spend auditing a home is also your first and best sales opportunity.
Be sure to spend time with your clients discussing their concerns, and explaining how you’ll be able to address those issues with cost-effective solutions. Remember, this isn’t a science project, but a chance to gain the homeowners’ trust and
craft a realistic remodeling proposal that will satisfy their needs.

Pitfall No. 2: Testing Overkill
The battery of tools and tests available to energy auditors these days makes it possible to develop incredibly detailed profiles of a home’s energy performance. But in the real world, completing every possible test on every home you audit is a recipe for red ink.
Relying on a combination of training and the right tools, auditors can save time and money by making informed choices about which tests are most likely to yield actionable results in a given home. While some tests — such as blower door readings, infrared imagery and combustion safety testing — should be routine in all homes, some equipment is best left in the truck unless you really need it. Other tests — like measuring duct leakage — may produce interesting results, but at a high cost. In many cases, these tests can be done later when your crew begins work on the house, or they can be replaced by simpler tests, like using a pressure pan and a blower door to identify leaky duct runs.

Pitfall No. 3: Delayed Reporting
For years it’s been a common practice to gather home performance data during an initial site visit, then take the test data back to the office for analysis and report generation. This approach requires homeowners to wait several days at least to see the results of the audit, which can dull their enthusiasm and negatively impact the contractor’s audit-to-retrofit conversion rate.
Armed with the right software running on tablet or notebook computers, contractors are increasingly able to analyze the data, access product specifications and pricing information, and generate accurate retrofit proposals on the spot so their customers won’t have to wait for a follow-up visit.
In other words, bring the computer to the house, not the house to the computer. Striking while the iron is hot is the best way to keep homeowners engaged and close more deals.

Pitfall No. 4: Inaccurate Cost Estimates
By its very nature, home performance retrofit work addresses a wide range of household systems, and typically involves a diverse array of products and building materials — from insulation, sheet metal and replacement windows to high-efficiency furnaces, heat pumps and hydronics.
While pricing these various components and making realistic estimates of the labor required to install them can be a real challenge, delivering vague or inaccurate cost estimates is no way to gain a homeowner’s trust — and can cost you dearly when it comes time to implement the project.
Having reliable energy savings and pricing information at your fingertips is key to crafting deals that are competitively priced for the homeowner yet profitable for the contractor.

Pitfall No. 5: Clumsy and Time-Consuming Reporting Methods
Computer modeling of home energy performance has come a long way in recent years, making it much easier for auditors to translate raw performance data into meaningful predictions of potential energy savings.
The next step — generating consumer-friendly audit reports and accurately priced retrofit proposals — typically involves a mixed bag of computer programs and information sources, and that’s where the process can get seriously bogged down. Auditors typically waste hours juggling product catalogs, technical manuals, rebate or tax incentive specifications, simulation or load calculation programs, word processors and photo editing software to achieve the desired result.
At Recurve, we believe that the future success of our industry will depend on integrated reporting tools that merge all of these functions and resources into industry-specific software applications, so contractors can produce professionally formatted reports and estimates on-site at the time of the audit, with accurate energy savings and pricing information that homeowners can understand.
By fast-tracking the preparation of retrofit proposals, contractors can spend less time crunching numbers and focus more on selling to their customers, which will enable them to convert more audits into profitable remodeling contracts.

Matt Golden is the founder and president of San Francisco-based Recurve, a leader in home retrofitting and developer of advanced tablet based energy auditing tools for contractors ( Matt also serves as policy chair of Efficiency First, a national trade association representing home energy contractors and related businesses

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