When the Home Star legislation still looked like it was going to happen, one buzzword was inescapable: certification. Many of the programs that Home Star would have funded required that installations, energy audits, and other tasks be performed by a certified technician or contractor. Even though Home Star is now out of the picture, some contractors are still moving forward with certification. Then again, some aren't.
“Homeowners, employers, and incentive program administrators all want people who know what they're doing,” says Larry Zarker, CEO of the Building Performance Institute (BPI), one of the major home energy certification bodies in the U.S. “BPI's certifications demonstrate that these professionals have the building science to properly evaluate a house and trace problems to their root causes. They then prioritize problems and prescribe solutions based on the house-as-a-system approach.” He adds that although Home Star did not pass, there are well over 100 other residential energy efficiency incentives that rely on BPI standards as a hallmark of their programs.
The Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) is the other major player in the certification game, and the organization's executive director, Steve Baden, says that as energy costs continue to rise, it just makes sense for consumers to want to improve the energy performance of their homes for both savings and comfort. “And as tough as the economy is right now, a contractor who has independent training and certification has the built-in advantage of consumer trust over someone who does not,” he says.
But before you can get that coveted seal of approval, you need to train for your certification. Training is conducted online or in classroom settings at various outlets around the country, mostly through community colleges or other programs such as the EverBlue Training Institute, Home Energy Team Institute, and others.
PAY TO PLAY Costs of the training courses vary but EverBlue's online class schedule shows that anyone wishing to become a BPI-certified air sealing and insulation technician would need to shell out $1,995 for a three-day course or $1,595 to become a BPI-approved energy analyst or energy auditor over a five-day course.
But don't put away your check book just yet; you still have to pay for the cost of the BPI exam ($500 to $600), and $1,500 annually for the accreditation fee. “We're funded by contractors to keep these standards in the market, to do market surveillance, to protect the integrity of the brand, then to deliver these certifications to deliver quality assurance,” Zarker says.
Prior to certification, RESNET requires its contractors to complete an eight-hour training course and to pass an exam within 90 days of registering (certain BPI certifications may exempt some individuals). The training costs anywhere between $350 and $1,649 and often includes an exam fee. The exam consists of 50 multiple-choice questions with a two-hour time limit. An annual membership fee for a contractor/builder is $150, a rater is $200, and an auditor is $100. There are additional fees based on what sort of directory listing you require. Rates vary for raters and auditors.
The first question most contractors would ask is, “Is it worth it?”
COSTS VS. BENEFITS Tom Kelly would say it is. President of Neil Kelly Co., in Portland, Ore., Kelly has seen his business boom, and having certified employees has certainly helped. To qualify for retrofit projects funded through Clean Energy Works Oregon, contractors must have at least one BPI-certified employee. In 2009, NKC did $480,000 in retrofit upgrades and $1.3 million in 2010. After reevaluating his leads for upcoming CEWO weatherization projects, Kelly had to revise his budget to double the 2010 levels.
Scott Barr, owner of Southwest Exteriors, in San Antonio, is at best ambivalent about certification. His company currently has one RESNET-certified employee and another on the verge. He says that the main reason why he considered certification was due to the now defunct Home Star legislation and his plan to incorporate home performance contracting into his company's core business. “I don't think the energy audit by itself has a lot of value, but I do think some of the tests do,” he says, referring to the blower door and duct blaster tests. “The actual report is great but I don't know that it's worth the time and effort.”