Standard Work Specification Tool

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sws imageA fan of clear processes and procedures in a contracting business, I like the work that went into the Standard Work Specifications (SWS) and the SWS Tool on the NREL website. (I like this much better than the measure cost database I talked about last week!)

As described by NREL, these specifications “define the minimum requirements to ensure that the work performed during energy upgrades in single-family, multifamily, and manufactured homes is effective, durable, and safe. The SWS can be used as an industry guide for workers, training instructors, homeowners, and program administrators involved in the home performance industry.”

Consistent standards both within contracting business, and across programs (rather than the hodge-podge of ad hoc standards in each program we too often see today) are extremely useful and can help us achieve quality at volume. These really could form the technical basis of contractors’ in-house installation procedures and quality management (with a lot more work still required). One question: is anyone using them yet? I’m curious to hear examples from the field.

This is a good beginning. DOE really should take the next step with the SWS and add a companion series on step-by-step best practices, with illustrations and photos, so that the specs can more readily be pushed out to the technicians in the field. Beyond technicians, what if as NREL suggests, trainers can start training to standards? What if quality control inspectors at the program level could review completed work against a consistent set of standards rather than just each inspector’s undocumented and often uncommunicated sense of what was right? I’ll tell you what: we’d have better quality work and a lot less frustration!

This has the potential to be the most useful work DOE has done in the home performance realm. DOE, whaddaya say?

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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+


  1. Jason Scheurer  December 13, 2013

    We do need a consistent standard that all contractors should follow. The only difference should be what climate zone the work is performed in. As one of those Quality Control Inspectors in the field, it would be nice to see consistent work habits. Contractors have their own work policies that make them the most money, but if they followed the SWS, they would still be able to be profitable and satisfy the DOE work scope on a level playing field.

    • Mike Rogers  December 13, 2013

      Thanks for the comment, Jason.

      We do need consistent work habits. It’s easier to get there if we have consistent training. And consistent requirements across inspectors. Trainer A says X. Trainer B says Y. Trainer C say Z. Inspector 1 says Q. Inspector 2 says R. Inspector 3 says S. (Very fun when those three inspectors all work in the same program!) But then we put all of the blame and burden–often big financial burden–on the contractor because they do U. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know. But sometimes it’s because they’ve been told to do it 6 different ways.

      Clear standards and expectations help everyone do a better job, not just the contractors.


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