Nate Adams – What is Energy Smart Home Performance?

Air Date: 6-5-2015|Episode 371                                                                                Listen|Download

This week on IAQ Radio one of the modern day pioneers of the Home Performance industry Mr. Nate Adams joins us for the hour…

Full Description:

Energy Smart Home PerformanceThis week on IAQ Radio one of the modern day pioneers of the Home Performance industry Mr. Nate Adams joins us for the hour. Nate started out in outside sales for a fiberglass insulation manufacturer. He then started a retrofit insulation contracting business in 2009, Energy Smart Insulation, earning the Department of Energy’s Century Club award in 2012, one of only 97 contractors nationwide.

Nate grew frustrated with the fact that all too often he was not truly solving the problems he was called to solve and the unsustainable treadmill of small, unfulfilling jobs that is typically the life of an insulation contractor. Searching for a better way, Nate has spent the last two years developing and honing a sales process to sell the large, complicated Home Performance jobs typically required to solve homeowner problems at their root. These jobs typically involve air sealing, insulation, and new HVAC equipment and often result in large IAQ improvements. Average job size has risen from $2500 to over $15,000 with much higher client satisfaction and personal job fulfillment.

Nate blogged throughout this painful transition on the Energy Smart Blog and his work was picked up by the Journal of Light Construction where he frequently writes the Energy column, GreenTech Media, Green Building Advisor, Energy Vanguard, and more. He has spoken at industry conferences, most recently about using energy modeling to sell larger jobs. The focus on results has also lead Nate to focus on measurement, and he has found that energy savings are predictable in these projects. These energy savings are a good proxy for a successful job and a happy client. It could also lead to a larger market and unlocking large scale financing. This discovery has lead Nate to advocate for measured results in the Home Performance industry via the One Knob blog.

Nate would like to see the Home Performance industry finally fulfill its promise to make the nation’s homes healthier, more comfortable, longer lasting, and less expensive to operate while providing fulfilling, high paying jobs and leaving a better world for our children. LEARN MORE this week on IAQ Radio!

Z-Man’s Blog:

There is no performance in home performance

Nate Adams was our guest on today’s episode of IAQradio. Nate attributes his entry into the business to dumb luck getting a job with an insulating distributor after college. The distributorship was sold to an insulation manufacturer. After the economy tanked both Nate and his wife found themselves unemployed. Needing to make a living he started an insulating business. His business was a 2012 DOE Century Club award winner for completing >100 retrofit projects under the Home Performance with Energy Star program.

Nate has gone from insulation salesman, to insulation contractor, to home performance consultant. He has told his story through his Energy Smart blog, articles in industry magazines and presentations at industry events. He advocates for measured home performance industry results through his One Knob blog.

Nuggets mined from today’s episode:

  • Critical of the insulation contracting industry for having a lack of vision and lack of measurement resulting in holding contractors, their job sizes and margins down. After 40 years the Home Performance industry has not moved forward.
  • Doing good work costs more money. Good insulation/Home Performance contractors are losing money and shutting down.
  • At a recent contracting conference (ACI 2015) only a shocking 10% were contractors.
  • Insulation/Home Performance contractors are chasing rebates not solving problems.
  • The industry name of Home Performance is a lie, there is little industry training available and no measurements are taken after projects are done. Contractors don’t conduct performance follow-ups and there is no customer feedback loop. (Nate: The training is actually pretty good from both BPI and weatherization programs. The trouble is consumers have know way to know the quality we can deliver, so there is no consumer demand for good work, without measurement and feedback loops we will remain where we are for another 40 years.)
  • Contractors learn from each project. Contractors need motivation and feedback to get better. Nate wants to publish contractor rankings.
  • He defines performance as measureable characteristics (such as reduction in air leakage, energy savings and improved IAQ).
  • Energy companies really want to sell more energy not less. Free rebate money is a stimulant for greed in consumers, often leading to disappointing results.
  • In retrospect some of his former clients obtained little or no energy from the insulation work. In 20/20 hindsight if he had the opportunity to have mulligans on prior projects he would have done more planning, air leakage reduction and diagnostics.
  • Advocates a whole home approach.
  • Few ACI contractors net $100K/year or more.
  • You don’t need a smart meter to track annual energy savings, it can be done with a review of the energy bills.
  • *“A negawatt is a negative unit of energy like a kilowatt hour or megawatt of peak usage: a megawatt of power saved by increasing efficiency or reducing consumption. Physicist Amory Lovins coined the term and introduced it in a speech in 1989.” *WhatIs.com
  • Deemed energy savings are grossly overstated. At only 34% California’s energy realization is the worst in the US.
  • Alignment of the incentives for all the stakeholders begins at the kitchen table. Where nothing happens unless a sale happens. Ask the client what problem(s) they are trying to solve? If we can solve consumer problems at their root, we can deliver substantial energy savings at the same time.
  • Balancing and fixing houses systematically improves IAQ. Typical client household earns $75K+. He uses a 3 tiered package approach: budget package, sweet spot package and complete package. His complete package typically includes an ERV/HRV or his favorite a ventilating dehumidifier. Solutions must effectively resolve problems and save energy. Costs need to be presented on a monthly basis not a lump sum basis. Typical projects run from $15K – $30K.
  • Whole house ventilating dehumidifiers use a MERV 14 filter attached to an outside line resulting in slight pressurization of the home which improves IAQ by pushing contaminants out. They are best used in tighter homes to reduce the energy penalty.
  • Houses in the Midwest are too dry in winter because they are leaking too much air. A tight house with right sized HVAC system = happy clients with 30%-55% RH.
  • How Nate’s client consultation process works:
  • 1. Initial Consultation: discussion of client’s real problems and concerns, a primer on building science and a blower door test. The service fee is $250-$300. The client needs to understand the pain they have in order to work them up to spending what is necessary to treat causes, not symptoms.
  • 2. Comprehensive Planning Process – His energy audit provides 10-30 suggestions. For example resolution of an ice dam problem entails air sealing and insulation.  Projects are designed with 3 custom tailored packages at various costs to solve problems. This runs from $750-$1000.
  • 3. Project Implementation – Helps client obtain and vet contractors and follows up on work details.
  • He attended the “Great Ventilation Rate Debate” about the 62.2-2013 standard where the ASHRAE committee publicly acknowledged that the standard was incomplete and they decided to publish anyway. According to Nate’s scoring Joe Lstiburek decimated the committee. Nate agrees with Richard Rue, that ASHRAE 62.2’s recommendation is too high and that better choices exist. GBA Article.
  • Recommends 4” media filters in HVAC systems along with right sized equipment that runs a lot.
  • Final Comment: After tightening home, consider ridding your home of combustion appliances entirely due to back drafting risks. Gas stoves and natural draft water heaters are often IAQ problems.

In addition to being knowledgeable, Nate comes across as deeply honest and very likable.

This week the IAQradio flag is flying at half-mast to honor and mourn the loss of Martin King. Marty was a teacher and mentor to many in the insurance repair field. He is best known for his long term service as technical director at RIA, founder of the Certified Restorer Program, for his technical writing and presentations at RIA events and as primary author of RIA’s Fire Restoration Guidelines. Marty was the man who ignited the disaster restoration industry. He will be deeply missed.

Today’s music: Transfer Song (Hot To Cold) by Mister C  YouTube

Z-Man signing off

Trivia:

In what country and in approximately what time period was natural gas first used as a fuel?

Answer:

China, 500 BC

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