When it comes to the home performance market, no one is positioned better to serve than HVAC contractors.

According to Brian Castelli, president and CEO of the Home Performance Coalition, contractors are first in line when customers seek solutions to comfort and efficiency issues in their homes.

“The opportunity to sell home-performance services exists whenever a client calls,” Castelli said. “Unfortunately, an emergency situation in which an air conditioner or furnace is not operating can be a tough time to educate customers on the benefits home performance offers. Homeowners may need a new unit immediately, and many contractors feel the pressure to just provide the new piece of equipment and move on to the next job. But there’s another way to approach it. If you’re going to put in a new unit, it might be the perfect time to say, ‘What’s the point of putting in a new, high-efficiency unit if the home is leaky and is going to be wasting that efficiency anyway?’ Homeowners may realize they’re missing an opportunity.”

Nonemergency situations, on the other hand, present a much better opportunity to educate homeowners on the services that are available to make them more comfortable in their homes.

“Educating consumers is critical because they just don’t know enough about home performance,” Castelli said. “When they do understand it, they’re interested in it. And with 115 million homeowners in the U.S., the opportunities are tremendous. But getting the home-performance message across to all those millions of homeowners has never been an easy task.”

A big part of the challenge, Castelli noted, is that, for homeowners, the performance of the mechanical side of their homes is largely invisible.

“If you can’t see it, how do you get people excited about it?” Castelli asked. “This is where there’s a good confluence of opportunity for HVAC contractors who are knowledgeable in home-performance work. That confluence comes when they’re in the home, and they have the knowledge and the tools to start looking at the whole house and making its performance ‘visible’ to homeowners.”

Another challenge in the home-performance world is getting paid for the value of the work delivered. Although selling when customers need new systems is possible, it can be difficult. Customers are already spending money they may not have planned on spending and might not be in the mood to hear about even more expensive options, no matter how worthwhile.

Therefore, the ideal customers for home-performance contractors — and the home-performance industry at large — are homeowners who are targeting individuals who are well-educated about home performance and are seeking it out in their own right.

“Customers who talk to contractors when they don’t necessarily need new systems probably have some knowledge that led them to initiate that conversation,” Castelli said. “They may have comfort challenges or an older unit and realize it’s not operating very efficiently. They may have read somewhere that there are options available to them. They may contact a contractor and say, ‘What can you do for me?’ And those customers are willing to pay for a solution.”

This opens the door for contractors to conduct an assessment of the home. The assessment may include a blower door test and infrared thermography to identify leakage problems as well as an inspection of the attic, basement, and ductwork to find sources of filtration or infiltration. The goal of all these tests, Castelli said, should ultimately be to provide better comfort.

“I don’t think contractors sell many jobs just on cost savings,” Castelli said. “They sell the jobs on the premise of making a home more comfortable. Imagine being able to honestly tell people, ‘You are going to be more comfortable in your home, and your home is going to be a healthier place to live.’ Then, you deliver on those promises. That’s powerful stuff. That’s the reason more contractors are getting into the business and becoming more attuned to the home as a system.”

Home-performance contractors must understand what to look for and how they can best make a home as comfortable, safe, and efficient as it can be.

“The science behind the building is important,” Castelli said. “Contractors must know what the best practices are when they enter a home. They must identify the problem, understand the cause, and know how to cure it. All three steps are critical.”

Tools and testing devices can help make the unseen seen and help identify problems such as insulation dead spots in attics and thermal bypasses in walls. He added that although home-performance contracting doesn’t endorse any specific tools or brands, he thinks Minneapolis Blower Doors and infrared thermographic cameras are two of the most essential tools for home-performance contractors. Castelli also believes data are going to become an increasingly important tool.

“When we started in this business, there was very little hard data available,” he said. “Now that smart meters and thermostats are embedded with intelligence, the amount of data that can be collected is enormous and data analytics are going to be increasingly important. I think we’re going to see more demand-response programs and time-of-day billing from utilities. Customers are going to want to know that their systems can be programmed to use the least amount of energy at the most expensive times.”

Although the utility industry response to residential solar rooftop units has been mixed, Castelli believes growth in this sector is a foregone conclusion, which presents a grand opportunity to contractors.

“Do you really want to put that extremely valuable resource on your roof when your house is leaky? The system must be sized based on how the house performs, so if you have heating and cooling losses, you’re going to be forced to oversize the solar array to compensate for the loss. I think it’s just one more example of a whole new future that’s coming for home-performance contractors.”

Castelli concluded that there are two major characteristics he sees in successful home-performance contractors.

“First, they understand what makes a home work. They get educated and certified, then train their people well. They understand the building-science aspects of homes. Beyond that, they have a commitment to excellence. They truly want to make homes more comfortable for homeowners and not just sell systems. These two characteristics are present in many HVAC contractors who have very successfully moved into home performance.”

Brian Castelli is president and CEO of the Home Performance Coalition (HPC), which was formed in 2013 through the merger of Affordable Comfort Inc. (ACI) and the National Home Performance Council. HPC’s mission is to transform the market for the home-performance industry through research, education, collaboration, and advocacy. HPC researches and analyzes the market conditions, programs, and policies that influence the home-performance and weatherization industries’ growth and works with the Building Performance Institute Inc. (BPI) and others to drive consensus on how industry data are collected, tracked, and managed. HPC also presents the National Home Performance Conference and Trade Show, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016.

Publication date: 10/10/2016

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