Cracking the Quality Code – Part 1

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While Mike is off fighting other battles for the next couple of months, John Tooley has stepped in to talk about quality from his unique, practical, and effective perspective.

Over the course of my 30-plus years in the home performance industry, I’ve found that most contractors have only the slightest notion of what constitutes quality work. I reached this conclusion while talking to thousands of contractors across the country.

I started handing out 3 × 5 index cards asking contractors to write down their definitions of quality. If there were 50 people in the audience, I would usually get back 50 different definitions. In many cases, it was the first time any of them had stopped to think about the subject. Although most of these people want to do good work, their lack of clarity concerning good processes makes it hard for them to deliver— and it’s costing them a lot of money!

My aim in this article is to provide a clear definition of quality and to provide guidance on how to achieve it.   I will also demonstrate why dedication to quality not only pays for itself but also adds to the bottom line.

What Is Quality?

The definitions I’ve seen on those 3 × 5 cards include phrases such as “goodness,” “better products” and “work that satisfies the customers”—little more than well-intentioned sentiments. Such sentiments have two major shortcomings: They’re open to interpretation, and they’re not measurable.

Real quality work starts with a definition that’s clear and measurable. Here’s the one I use: Quality is meeting agreed-upon requirements and standards for every part of every job. It is important to understand that agreed-upon requirements and standards must leave nothing to the imagination. They cannot be open to interpretation, and they cannot be based on feelings or wishful thinking.

As an example, if I agree to make the room above a garage more comfortable, that promise is open to interpretation. The homeowner and I may have different interpretations of what feels comfortable, which     could cause conflicts or callbacks. A clear and measurable goal would be to agree to insulate and air seal the room and install new windows, which would result in a temperature in the room that would not deviate more than 5˚F from the thermostat set point. If we met the goal after the work is complete, yet the homeowner decides that a 5˚F variation isn’t comfortable enough, we can adjust and set a new goal. However, the original goal was clear and no one can argue that we failed to meet the original goal.

Quality Control Vs. Quality Assurance

In the above example, there was a process (measuring the temperature in the room) in place to determine whether the contractor met the agreed-upon goal. The act of measuring, actually monitoring the work to ensure that the contractor’s work performs as intended, is what is meant by quality assurance (QA).

If the contractor is working for a utility or government program, then the program usually performs the QA. However, if the program isn’t consistent with the QA process, or if the contractor is working for private clients, it’s in the contractor’s interest to have an in-house QA program.

In addition, contractors need to have a set of processes in place to avoid deviating from the requirements and standards to meet the agreed-upon goal. This is what is meant by quality control (QC). Unlike quality assurance, quality control is always the contractor’s responsibility.

Remember, our definition of quality is meeting agreed-upon requirements and standards on every job. Our standard of quality is zero defects, not 1% or 2% defects, but zero. Either you meet the standard or you don’t. In short, we must refuse to tolerate defects. Our culture must be one of prevention. When we make a mistake that causes a defect, we set in motion a process that will prevent the mistake from happening again. The sad truth is that most contractors still lack the processes to make sure the work gets done right consistently, or to confirm that it has been done right in the first place.

One of the services offered by my company is helping contractors implement quality programs. We start by looking at their current work processes. In doing so, we have found that defective work is costing most of them 25–40% of their operating budget. For example, even a small problem like forgetting to weather- strip the attic hatch can be expensive once you add up the time it takes for a worker to go back and fix it. Avoiding those problems will cover the cost of good in-house QC and QA programs.

A good measurement of quality is the cumulative cost of such problems. Although perfect conformance to standards is the goal, no one is perfect. However, if the cost of poor quality reaches 3–5% of the company’s operating budget, it’s time to take a hard look at that work. In fact, a few common but costly errors can take a company to that 3–5% threshold quite rapidly. For instance, an insulation project requires blowing insulation into every bay in the exterior walls of a home, but the crew misses one bay. If that uninsulated bay shows up on an infrared (IR) camera scan, it will be flagged for repair work. Returning to that job to install the missing insulation can become very expensive.

Tomorrow: Setting the Quality Standards


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About the Author:

Hailed as a visionary in energy efficiency and quality management, John has diagnosed and repaired more than 5,000 homes. He has participated in the weatherization of more than 10,000 homes. He is recognized for his contributions to many of the largest utility and building programs in the nation. Before joining Advanced Energy in 1996, John led a number of companies dedicated to preserving the state of Florida through quality building practices. Today, John is responsible for technical oversight and business development. Regarded as a pioneer in the world of energy efficiency, John trains builders and contractors throughout the United States and frequently gives keynote addresses at national conferences. John can be reached at

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