ACI 2014 -- Bridging the Gap

Shawna HendersonJune 03, 2014

Reflecting on last month’s adventure to Detroit and the ACI national conference...

Biggest takeaway: I love building science wonks and home performance fanatics. They know how to discuss, argue, collaborate and host a wicked party (talking ‘bout you Mike Rogers and zymurgy accomplices).

We kicked off our collaboration with Bill Spohn and TruTech Tools at ACI. And standing at the booth, surrounded by all the testing equipment, I certainly had a yearning to get back into fieldwork full time! (I tried to be discreet about fondling air flow meters and such.) I’m very happy Blue House Energy is associated with TruTech. Bill and his crew are knowledgeable, likeable guys, with a great reputation in the industry.

So many good sessions to hit, not one person could take them all in. I’m happy to read recaps of the Great Ventilation Debate on the Energy Vanguard and OMStout blogs. I have to turn some focus back onto the state of ventilation standards in Canada to grock how the ASHRAE changes will impact F-326, or not (will post what I find out sometime).

I got a lot out of the speed dating session on on-line tools and resources.

I took in the sessions around bridging industry gaps, because that’s what I’m all about right now. Identifying the places where understanding energy efficiency and building science are blocked, or are blocking, uptake by any segment of the value chain.

In the session titled ‘Bridging the Gap’, the focus was on creating learning networks for cross-industry collaboration: bringing real estate, government and NGOs together.

Robin LeBaron, Managing Director, National Home Performance Council, talked about ‘unleashing the value of an energy efficient home’ (link is to full report of that title from Aug 2013). The problem is making energy efficiency visible, and to whom, and why – there are several audiences before the seller or buyer. The listing or buyer agent. The appraiser. The potential lender.

It’s easier with new homes, as the branding for various standards are now recognized as meaning something to those who are looking for energy efficiency. On the majority of house sales – existing houses – the value of home performance improvements still gets lost in translation during the real estate transaction, and misunderstandings about the relative importance of those improvements abound. Robin used the example of a house being marketed as Energy Star because it comes with Energy Star rated appliances to highlight the problem and some of the reasoning behind BPI-2101, Standard Requirements for a Certificate of Completion for Residential Energy Efficiency Upgrades (link takes you to the standard if you want to 'read it in its mind-numbing standardiness...').

Whatever you might think of BPI-2101, there’s no denying that we need a reliable, 3rd party vehicle of this sort to push whole-house upgrades to have meaningful data input into the MLS for agents, buyers, and lenders to depend on for valuation. BPI-2101 and the Green Addendum have been adopted by Arizona, Utah, Kentucky and Cincinnati, according to my notes from the presentation.

Brindley Bird, Executive Director of Michigan Energy Efficiency Contractors Association presented a case study of a crazy expensive, huge house that was marketed primarily on home performance (which resurrected my eternal, internal rant about the incompatability of stupidly big houses and the term ‘energy efficiency’). More importantly, he spoke about what MEECA is doing through their Home Performance Council: draft legislation that will provide for the documentation of energy efficiency features using consistent and standardized methods to define the difference between a walk-through Home Energy Inspection (HEI) and a Comprehensive Home Energy Audit (CHEA), who can carry out a CHEA and what data must be collected. 

Cynthia Adams, Executive Director of Local Energy Alliance Program in Virginia reported on their successful market transformation with a roadmap of how to get from here to an MLS with the Green Addendum listing AND real estate agents who know how to use and promote energy efficiency. Her presentation was geared to NGOs and how to engage, educate and build capacity through becoming a resource and offering workshops, sponsoring training for agents. LEAP created special broker partnerships that offer a branded gift checkup to the buyer at the time of close – LEAP auditors mean that the message of energy efficiency is consistent. LEAP created a package for agents that included a write up of the non-energy benefits that don’t show up on the utility bill: healthy, quieter, etc., in other words, focusing on what does it mean to me and my family to buy into home performance?

Bruce Mast, Deputy Executive Director of BuildItGreen California spoke of BIG’s challenges and successes: after training 75 realtors, they saw no uptake in the skillset or use of the Green Addendum fields in the LMS. They started focusing on buyers agents, and created an incentive with PMZ, a large regional brokerage (500 realtors and 20 offices) for each referral to GreenHart, a regional home performance provider. BIG upgraded their training, and have a target of 400 realtors trained over a 2 year cycle. BIG has combined this training with continuing education requirements and a homebuyer outreach campaign as well as case studies and valuation studies on the seller side to show the value of green labels in the California housing market. Which, by the way, is a 9% premium on the selling price of a new house across the board.

BIG is now tackling appraiser training, but Bruce noted that the stumbling block for appraisers is always the lack of comparable instances: inventory is needed for green home certification before this can really take off. Existing homes outweigh new homes 10 to 1 in California (a roughly similar ratio exists in most markets).

David Heslam, Executive Director of EarthAdvantage, stressed the need to understand the value chain and everybody’s business model. For example, if realtors are not marketing home performance, there is no resulting value proposition in the sales transaction. The appraiser has no way to value home performance features, as the house was not sold based on that information. So...

David indicated that where they have valuation data, it is showing a 5-9% premium on energy efficient new homes from Portland to Seattle. However, again, he stressed the need to align marketing efforts for home performance and existing houses with those for energy efficient new homes, especially when it comes to the MLS and the Green Addendum...which brings the conversation right back around to a standard that can be used to consistently and easily compare energy hog to energy producer houses.

C'est ça!


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