When Larry Zarker was named CEO of the Building Performance Institute (BPI) in 2006, the organization was in six states.

Fast forward to 2013 as BPI celebrates its 20th anniversary and the growth is staggering — nearly 40,000 certifications and 200 training centers across all 50 states have established BPI as a major player in the building-performance field.

“What was critical were the people with vision early on who actually laid a very strong foundation (for BPI),” Zarker said. “They focused on high standards and the right credentials for the people doing whole-house energy-upgrade work. … Those people got it right. We had the opportunity to team with a few key state programs and really make it work. It was a solid foundation that allowed us to move into other states aggressively.”

And now, as the calendar takes us deeper into 2013, Zarker said BPI has a vision: taking building performance to the masses.

“We have to take this mainstream,” he said. “If we don’t resonate with middle-class homeowners, we’re never going to reach the number of houses that need to be upgraded. There are 130 million homes in America, and one-third of them are more than 45 years old — built before modern energy codes. They’re uncomfortable, drafty, and expensive to operate. We can stay a niche industry, or we can all get this and deliver high-quality performance to homes.”

As demand has increased, so has BPI. The institute grew from 350 certifications earned in 2005 to more than 40,000 in 2013.

And, Zarker said, BPI will continue to expand its scope as more and more workers seek additional skills.

“Very often what happens in a recession is people gravitate toward training and repositioning themselves, and that happened before the stimulus,” he said. “We saw community colleges and training organizations filling up their classes with people trying to position themselves to find work in the coming recession. It was a whole network of training centers, programs, contractors, and these retrained people who made national expansion successful.”

BPI’s growth has also paid off for contractors who have found building performance as a way to expand their business in light of a struggling economy. Keith Hilligoss, president of Air Solutions Heating & Cooling Inc., Tulsa, Okla., said BPI certification has opened the door to increased profits.

“As we moved along, we found out there’s a lot more to heating and air than just the boxes we were changing out on a daily basis,” Hilligoss said. “It changed our company in the way we approach the market. In our market, there are not that many people who are doing home performance or will take the steps to do so.”

Jerry Unruh, president of ABC Cooling & Heating, Hayward, Calif., said he allowed two service technicians and an installation manager to attend a week’s worth of BPI training. His employees came home with certification and a wealth of new ideas.

“Our installation manager said that we were putting top-of-the-line equipment into houses that leaked regularly,” Unruh said. “If we were to properly seal a house, we could totally change the comfort, safety, and efficiency of that home. So that’s what BPI taught us, how to go in and assess the condition of a home’s envelope.”

BPI is committed to supplying contractors with all the latest information, ensuring their certifications are viable and up to date.

“We try to keep contractors current on the standards and we try to keep them current on the products and technology that can help them improve their businesses,” Zarker said. “We’ve done a lot of work with contractors on what we call the MBA of home-performance contracting. We’re involved with the top consultants in the industry to work with contractors one-on-one on their business skills. … The people who fail in business fail not on a technical level, but because they lack business skills.”

Throughout BPI’s 20 years, Zarker said the group’s focus has centered on customer service, even through the challenges that sudden exponential growth may bring.

“We’ve always tried to be a customer service-oriented organization, and that’s not easy to do when you grow as quickly as we have. But we spend a lot of our time in the field listening to the concerns of contractors and making sure we put in place systems that are fair across the board,” he said. “If there are people out there doing test proctoring that are more lenient than others, we have to step in and stop that. Or if we have accredited contractors that are fraudulently treating their customers, we have to step in, take action, and hang them high, because not only do we want to raise the bar in home-performance contracting, we want to keep that bar consistent.”

That consistency has kept Hilligoss, and others, interested.

“They’ve certainly stepped up,” he said. “They make sure those who are BPI certified are legitimate and understand the concepts of home-performance work. They’ve educated the industry.”

Hilligoss noted that, in many occasions, numerous solutions are available, and it often pays to possess an advanced skill set.

“BPI has opened windows in our company for new opportunities. It’s showed us that the house is a complete system and that all the things connected to that system are very important and easy for our company to sell.”

When going through the process of becoming BPI certified, Unruh wanted to make sure the process worked and was worthwhile. To do that, he put his own home, his sales manager’s home, and a few test homes through the process.

At the end of the day, Unruh deemed the work a complete success. “Our reputation was on the line, and I wanted to make sure this really works,” Unruh said. “Does this really make a difference? Yes. It really does.”

Publication date: 4/1/2013