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Are Energy Audits for You?

August 9, 2010
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Barb Checket-Hanks

A lot of savvy contractors have been turning their attention to providing energy audits to help validate energy-saving measures to their customers in all markets. Both government and utility incentives are helping to drive this market - which includes validation tools and training programs.

The proliferation of “free” training and audits is highly reminiscent of the early days of IAQ work. Unnecessary remediation after a “mold inspection” became so iconic, in fact, it was not only reported on in major news outlets, it also was parodied on the animated series “King of the Hill.” It has taken that industry a lot of time, dedication, consumer education, and hard work to overcome the biases created in those early days.

In some markets, IAQ inspections became mandated for home sales and insurance purposes. Some inspectors were less scrupulous than others, using scare tactics and referring work to essentially their own company. Thanks to diligence of groups like the IAQ Association, there are codes of conduct and a collection of recommended remediation practices, plus a great deal of common sense.

The energy audit trend, thank heavens, does not have any associated health risks to shoot itself in the foot with in the form of scare tactics. But many marketers are latching onto the already saturated green trend. Others are working with specific companies, like those that produce siding, insulation, and windows. There is a real risk of losing consumer confidence with a combination of heavy-handed marketing, poor quality, and unmet consumer expectations.

HVAC AUDITS

That should not prevent HVAC contractors from getting involved with energy audit work, but they need to proceed with thorough preparation to make sure their customer satisfaction remains intact. With HVAC systems being among the largest energy consumers in virtually all buildings, it makes sense for these contractors to either become trained (by a reputable trainer) in performing energy audits, or to ally themselves with reputable energy auditors.

If you Google “energy audits,” a lot of business opportunities pop up. Take your time with them. It is true that opportunities exist for improvement in nearly all buildings, but if you are going to get involved in this market, do your homework. After all, you will need to provide some education to your customers, as well as your staff. And be prepared for the investments in both training and equipment that proper entry into this market requires.

Check with your local trade group to see if they are hearing about reputable energy audit training and certification, or auditors to partner with. Ask friendly competitors for their feedback. Ask your supplier. Beware of “free” certification.

THE DUCTWORK

If your business plan does not include broadening your scope to include whole-house energy audits or improvements, top to bottom - which is the kind of shift in focus HVAC contractors need to make if they are going to expand into total energy work - you can at least do yourself a favor by stretching just a little bit into the ventilation system. That work should not go to anyone else but you, in all honesty.

However, do not try to couple it with an “energy audit” and just offer this one solution. That would make you no better than the window and insulation salesmen. Do promote it as exactly what it is: an HVAC audit. Explain that this is a major source of energy improvements, as well as comfort.

You really need to learn how to detect and repair duct leaks. Do it now. If nothing else, your customers are becoming aware that their homes are systems; it will not be a stretch for them to comprehend that the box and the ductwork are part of the same system. Consider partnering with a reputable energy auditor who does not have your expertise.

They are looking for solutions to their energy needs. Whatever you offer them, do it the best you can. If you can present solutions that are thorough, with measurable results (and repairing the ductwork will have these), everybody wins.

Publication date: 08/09/2010
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