As usual, the ACI conference last week was excellent. I had the chance to share and to learn. Great people, great energy, and insights to ponder and translate into action in the weeks and months ahead.
Here are some of the highlights. (OK, maybe I won’t list 101 things. But these were good takeaways for me.)
Day of Home Performance Leadership
It’s good to see that some programs and the market are still trying to explore better ways forward, learning lessons and considering new ways. Keith Aldridge and Dan Kartzman provide an interesting discussion of how program might tap into market forces rather than undermine them, including some paradigm shifting thoughts on valuing efficiency as a resource. Many in the audience found the discussion thought-provoking. At least a couple were almost overcome by apoplectic fits in disagreement. Maybe we’re onto something here!
There was a lot of discussion of the 80/20 Rule, including some data suggesting that it’s very real and universal. The 80/20 rule? Within a program, 80% of the work gets done by 20% of the contractors. And the corollary that the other 80% of the contractors don’t do much. Add to that the Misallocation of Resources Theorem in which that same 80% of the contractors takes at least 80% of the program’s time. There were good ideas shared about how to change that dynamic including enforcing program rules, drumming out non-actors, ramping up support through things like coop marketing and enhanced business mentoring for contractors who do provide results.
In some circles, much ado is made of the importance of third-party audits. While some people might want a third party and be willing to pay for it, my experience has shown that many don’t and won’t. There are other pros and cons of the approach which we could discuss another time.
Paul Grimyser, representing Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy program, provided some good food for thought. Since converting from a consultant-based to a contractor-focused model in 2012, completions in their program grew from (in non-income-qualified sector) 1,461 to 2,145 and are projected to hit 2,700 in 2014. Over 80% of projects move to completion versus 55% before the change. And both of the above results may be driven in part by the fact that the project duration cycle dropped from an astoundingly long 180 days to only 33 days. Now, I don’t think programs should exclude a consultant-based approach. Programs who dictate business models often fall short because they can’t tap into different market actors and motivators. But clearly, prohibiting contractors from driving the process from start to finish doesn’t help move homeowners tackle projects as efficiently as might happen with closer contractor involvement.
Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center
Mentioned several times throughout the conference, Danielle Byrnette unveiled the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center. The Solution Center is “a repository of lessons, resources, and knowledge for residential energy efficiency programs…intended to help program administrators and their partners plan, implement, manage, and evaluate their programs.” This fill an important need to help programs learn from what has happened before rather than having to reinvent the wheel (hint, most of the best wheels aren’t square.) In website form, the Solution Center is now in beta and users can request access by emailing BBRPSolutionCenter@erg.com. This will also get you on the list for upcoming web-based demonstrations, with the first two being May 19th and June 4th. Check it out.
Not too long ago, sales was a dirty word with many attendees at ACI. That’s changed. While a sales seminar previously might have had 5 people attending, in a half-day pre-conference Sales Booster session as many as 50 people eagerly and actively participated. (Couldn’t make the session? See the presentation.) On Wednesday, there were also plenty of folks gathered to listen to Jay Gentry give same great advice on opening, questions, and listening your way to yes. Others saw Peter Troast dispense marketing wisdom in a few sessions. I take these as good signs that we’re getting more serious about bringing building science to market and helps millions, not just hundreds or even thousands, make their homes perform better.
Women in Home Performance
Women have long been involved is helping guide this industry beyond their disproportionately small numbers. We saw Courtney Moriarta honored last year. And this year the industry applauded the work of Linda Wigington and Jackie Berger. But there’s no doubt the women are underrepresented in this industry’s ranks much to our detriment. (And gents, not infrequently because we have failed to recognize the valuable contribution that half the human population can make!). That’s changing steadily. With leaders like Amy Beley keeping the drumbeat going, and contractors like Ecotelligent Homes owner Amanda Godward proving how vital woman-owned businesses are, we have reason to be optimistic. At the Women in Home Performance reception Monday night, sponsored by Xcel Energy, the conversation didn’t revolve around shoes or why women shouldn’t be in crawlspaces. Instead it was celebrating success and exploring what we can do to see more. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) had a couple of representatives in attendance, and I hope the cross-fertilization can continue. Kudos!
The HVAC Industry Continues to Inch Toward Home Performance
Slowly but surely, the march of HVAC contractors toward more comprehensive offerings continues. There were actually HVAC contractors in the Beyond the Box (see a version of that discussion) and they were asking great questions—the kinds of questions I hear from people who are serious about figuring out the business. Despite overall attendance being down slightly, several vendors and others commented that they saw more HVAC contractors than ever. And I had conversations with manufacturers such as Owens Corning, Retrotec, and vendors like Tru-Tech Tools who recognize the impact that enlightened HVAC contractors can have. I remain very bullish on this!
ASHRAE 62.2 v. BSC-01
Following the Great Ventilation Standard Debate, I walked away with a reaffirmed sense that BSC-01 is a better standard that corrects some of the big problems that where introduced in the current revision. (My thoughts on the standards from last year.)
That seemed to be the prevailing opinion in the audience, too, with many agreeing that Joe Lstiburek landed solid arguments that were as effectively rebutted by the ASHRAE 62.2 Committee. Rick Karg (who remains one of my ventilation heroes) did counter Joe with good points, but not enough to turn the tide. Paul Francisco made the most mind-blowing statement of the debate saying the 2013 standard wasn’t quite ready, but that they released it because it was due to be released. Whoa!
While I think they blew it with this one, I nonetheless have tremendous respect for the committee, and they have a very difficult task balancing many factors some more well-understood than others. It was clear that some of Joe’s arguments are having an impact, and there was even talk of Joe rejoining the committee—he and the committee both seemed open to that idea. The broader debate has been good and healthy, and I hope it moves us quickly to a better incarnation of 62.2. A contrapositively-inspired variation on an old saying, “If it’s broke, fix it.” Soon.
And paraphrasing what co-moderator Duncan Prahl added as the debate was wrapping up, if you’ve got something to contribute, don’t just throw rocks from the audience, join in the process.
The building science and business swirling around ACI is bountiful. But we combine it with fun, too. For the ancient ACI tradition of Zymurgy (started by Andy Padian when he was younger but no less grumpy), a bunch of people brought representative craft or microbrews from around the country and we gathered Tuesday evening to sip and share. There were a lot of great beers to be had—and plenty of great conversation to be had. While the Heady Topper I brought was widely acknowledged to be top notch, my personal favorite with the Dripa IPA from Warren Michigan’s Kuhnhenn Brewing Company’s—the host state offered up excellent fare. (To be fair to the Heady, it sat in my luggage unrefrigerated for four days.) Thanks to all who participated!
Flexibility Boosts Contractor Satisfaction
In another eye-popping turnaround stat, Gavin Hasting pointed out the complete reversal of participating contractor satisfaction, from bad to good, following a simple switch of a single program-mandated energy-modeling tool to open choices with tools using the HPXML standard. Now, it may be improvement in the tools or the flexibility and choice itself, but this is an important signal. The great work that the Building Performance Institute, Robin Lebaron, and many others have done putting together this standard holds tremendous promise in helping attract and unleash market forces. I’ll be looking forward to more data on this next year as New York, California, and others continue down this path.
The Energy-Water Nexus
Water and energy are joined at the hip. John Tooley did an excellent job making the case for just how important water is, and how poorly we’ve protected this resource. And while the crowd make have been hungry for the residential efficiency solution to the problem—and residential efficiency is part of the solution—John laid it out on the line and pointed to one of the biggest problems. Our diet. It tastes a lot of water to raise the beef (and their feed) for meat-eaters, and much less to feed vegans. This was not the presentation I expected—but I sure appreciated John’s telling of it. If you get a chance to catch John delivering this in the coming year, do.
The conference this year was one day shorter than it’s been for many years, and that meant my calendar was packed morning to night. I fell at least a day short tracking down people that I hoped to talk with. I was also running from location to location so much I didn’t make the time to hang out in the hallways (and lobby and tradeshow) as much as I’d like. This, and the spread out nature of this year’s conference, made if difficult for the many happenstance conversations that usually make the conference even more amazing. I’ll have to resort to the phone in the coming weeks to chip away at that list.
Home Performance Coalition
Interesting news that bodes well for the residential efficiency industry is the announced merger of ACI (Affordable Comfort, Inc.) and the National Home Performance Council. Both have a history of working with a broad class of stakeholders to educate the industry and advocate for it. Home. Performance. Coalition. As Van Jones said, those are three great things and it speaks to the importance of the new combined organization. Here’s to building on the foundation that these two organization have laid. Other industry organizations have marked the merger with increased discussions and collaboration. While I’m not sure that utilities, program implementors, contractors, manufacturers, IT mavens, and more can agree on a common agenda, and a mega-merger may not happen, the more we can row the boat together, the straighter and faster we’ll go.
Next year the conference will be held in New Orleans. Whether the above merger means rebranding or not, I’m still looking forward to it. And I’m not alone. I’ve already heard people making plans to attend, coming earlier, staying later. (Jazz Fest, anyone?) Between an economy that continues to improve, more businesses discovering the opportunity and yearning to figure it out, and an agenda that would lure even the jaded, I expect the conference in New Orleans to be the biggest and best ever. My advice: mark it on the calendar, and keep your eyes open for the opening of the hotel block. See you there!