by Heather Rae
Cleveland hosts the 21st ACI Home Performance Conference this week. Over 1,000 people registered to exchange information about “house as a system” building design and operation.
ACI President, Laura McNaughton, greets attendees, “As this conference opens, the issue of climate change and the urgent need for affordable energy present both environmental challenges and economic opportunities. Many people are struggling to stay warm, and we wonder if we are running out of fossil fuels. At the same time, consumer demand for green homes that are energy efficient, durable, comfortable, healthy and safe has made the ‘house as a system’ approach more relevant than ever. Home performance contracting is poised for mainstream expansion.”
ACI attendees represent the crossroads of residential energy; there are utilities, national laboratories, government agencies, technology vendors, non-profits and, of course, consultants. I attended a full-day session with the EPA on the national Home Performance with Energy Star program to learn how to best manage and market the program and how to motivate contractors and homeowners to participate.
Time and again, studies and anecdotes find that people’s priorities for their homes are comfort and operating costs, indoor air quality (health), resale value and environmental impact. All of those concerns are addressed through home performance.
Our challenge with home performance is not so much to ‘transform the market’ but to create a market for a concept that is entirely new to the general public. Unlike green billboards — like solar panels — which announce to the neighbors one’s ‘greenness,’ home performance is a mostly invisible endeavor. Like solar, however, the energy benefits of home performance can be measured and used to demonstrate ‘greenness.’ The EPA (with the help of Performance Systems Development, my employer) is working on a certificate that lists the improvements made to a house — things like air sealant, moisture remediation, insulation. The certificate for the Maine Home Performance with Energy Star program will include carbon savings as well. A homeowner can take that information to the IRS for tax credits, to the bank for home equity loans, to the real estate market, and to future carbon trading markets.
The certificate is a marketing hook for a concept with significant marketing challenges, the first one being that nobody knows what you’re talking about. (‘Oh,’ you might hear, ‘energy audits!’ Well, sort of, but not really, you might reply, as you force yourself not to talk about science or diagnostics or even energy but about the things that really matter to people like drafty rooms and wet basements, ice dams and moldy rec rooms and the costs of maintaining a home.)
Efficiency remains the red-headed stepchild but is gaining recognition. Greg Thomas, president of Performance Systems, and past president of ACI, wrote of a report by the American Solar Energy Society (Tackling Climate Change in the U.S.), “fifty-seven percent of the expected carbon reductions would come from efficiency, followed by only fifteen percent from wind. The remaining sources were geothermal (not heat pumps, but hot earth), biomass, concentrating solar and solar PV, and biofuels, such as ethanol. Interestingly, this is almost in reverse order to the attention these possibilities get in the press.”
The potential for dynamic marketing of home performance is as big as the challenges and the rewards.
Heather Rae, a contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.