Program Standards – If Only They Were Standard!

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Which Program Is ItWhy would a program want to use existing certifications, audit standards, installation specification, branding, modeling software, quality controls protocols when they can just make their own. Different, but not necessarily better.

And confusing. And certainly more expensive and inefficient, especially for contractors trying to meet the hodgepodge of ever-changing requirements.

A good way to frustrate contractors is not to have any clear standards about what is expected during the audit or installation. Let every quality control inspector make it up, or “use their own judgement”, when they get on site. (BTW, saying you use a standard, but having your QC folks not know the standard is just as bad!)

On that front, there is hope if something like DOE’s Standard Work Specifications were used more broadly to get consistent expectations across the board. (As an aisde, DOE needs to finish these to incorporate the drawings, photos, and stepwise instructions as was started by the Weatherization program in Arizona. Why isn’t that work being shared with all of us?) Ironically, something created by DOE for Weatherization isn’t even being used by DOE in its Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program.

I continue this thought with another example of silliness. For more than a decade folks have been using things like BPI certification in Home Performance programs as a threshold credential. And then DOE creates a whole new series of certifications around the SWS (which you don’t really need because you have the SWS!). Any idea how much contractors have invested to get certifications by BPI, NATE, and RESNET? Any thought given on how to create economies of scale? Hey, Left Hand, meet Right Hand. You guys should talk.

But wait, there’s more! For a long time, programs have insisted on a variety of modeling programs—which generally didn’t communicate with each other nor easily with any other software whether for sizing HVAC equipment or for running a business. Sometimes contractors had to buy several packages, train staff to use the different packages, modify data collection forms and train people to use them simply because they work in more than one state or overlap multiple utility service territories.

No, this isn’t unique to home performance programs. Many of the more than 30,000 code jurisdictions have their own spin in the model codes. It may not be unique, but it isn’t smart either.

And it doesn’t have to be that way. On the modeling front, if you must insist on modeling, there is a helpful solution emerging. And kudos to NYSERDA, APS, LEAP, NHPC, and BPI leading the way and supporting the development of the HPXML standard. If you run a program not listed above and you require modeling, you need to start moving in the HPXML direction quickly. Standardization like this allows contractors and supporting vendors to build consistent processes and interface and reduce the cost and difficulty of scale.

Similarly, the more program can agree of what quality looks like, the more the same standard can be incorporated into practices by contractors. The better that those QC inspectors learn that same standards the less frustration we’re see all around on job sites where even in the same program Inspector A doesn’t say the same thing as Inspector B. Between programs? “Fuggedaboutit” seems to be the current approach. Best case contractors are forced to waste too much time arguing back and forth. Worst case, contractors just don’t participate.

You think you know what an audit should be? Well, work with an existing audit standard to try to improve the standard to meet your needs rather than invent something completely different.

How about branding? Yes, you can likely come up with a new name like Energy Upgrade California or Mass Save. Even DOE can ignore ENERGY STAR if it wants. But why? Why not leverage the best brand in energy efficiency, taking advantage of hundreds of millions in investment advertising ENERGY STAR and the awareness and goodwill built up around that brand?

An extension of that branding problem is the proliferation of scores, indexes, and ratings which use different scales and send different messages. If easier to get people to understand a message if everyone sends the same message! And where ratepayer and taxpayer dollars are being used, it’s unconscionable not to do this more effectively. Can’t we settle on something that makes sense?

Contractors can share horror stories of how different is worse not better.

Programs, you have a choice. You can build on what exists already and investments that contractors, manufacturers, and supporting institutions have already made. Or every 3 years you can start from zero and rebuild. The first way might actually allow you to use momentum to scale. The second means the program will remain nothing more than a poorly attend sideshow.

More in the Program Mistake Series

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Next: Program friction is a drag>>

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About the Author:

Mike Rogers is the President of OmStout Consulting. A nationally recognized expert in residential energy-efficiency, he works with contractors and programs to scale sustainable market approaches to improving homes. More on Google+

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