Nate Adams, Cleveland, Ohio based company Energy Smart started out as an insulation contractor for existing homes and evolved into doing Comprehensive Home Performance retrofits. These projects are somewhere between a simple attic insulation job and a deep energy retrofit. These projects are sweeping in scope with thorough planning process and careful attention paid to what problems the client wants to solve, what the house needs, and what fits within the homeowner budget. No two projects are alike. Through substantial air tightness and insulation upgrades, and sometimes HVAC replacement, homes are made far more comfortable. Nate is knowledgeable, entertaining and always eager to share his ideas and unique perspective on home performance.
Nuggets mined from today’s show:
According to Nate: “Home Performance is the field of medicine for homes. Art and science of controlling heat, air, moisture flows to make a home comfortable, healthy, long lasting & efficient. “Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.”
Of the groups which operate in the home performance space, Nate’s ideas are most aligned with those of the Building Performance Institute https://www.bpi.org/
which focuses on existing homes. As opposed to resnet.us
which is focused on new construction, or the National Comfort Institute https://www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com/
which he feels is more focused on selling products. Nate opines that focusing on solutions does sell products.
There is a current lack of consumer awareness about home performance. Few home performance practitioners understand all the systems. Nate wrote his book because he feels that consumer awareness and consumer demand will come.
The DOE’s Building America website https://basc.pnnl.gov/
is thinking 1-5 years out. Nate’s thinks similarly, using a combination of cutting edge and leading methods on his projects.
Air flows in and out of a home. It’s important to gain control over air, heat and moisture flows and to control air inside the home.
5 priorities: air seal, more air sealing, keep air sealing, insulate better and install the correct HVAC system.
Air leakage is 30%-70% of the heating load. Using the analogy of a loose knit sweater versus a windbreaker, Nate explained the importance of air sealing and how air sealing can make insulation work better.
Be careful air sealing, as air sealing can cause more problems.
Nate often removes insulation from attics.
In the field of psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is.
Get consumer to understand what they want and need. What are the client’s goals? What does the house need? What is the budget?
A blower door is needed to determine the amount of air leakage, monitor progress, and let you know when you’re done. A blower door is like a surgeon’s eyes. The blower door number is the leakage per square foot.
After air sealing and insulation, the correctly sized HVAC system is usually smaller and should run highway miles not start and stopping of city traffic. Like buying a suit several sizes smaller to celebrate weight loss, the new HVAC system should be selected based upon where you are going. It requires sufficient knowledge, understanding and planning to know where that will be.
Houses with slabs should have less leakage.
Stack effect, chimney height and higher temperature differential make chimneys flow more.
The answer “it depends” in quotes is the right answer to all home performance questions.
Changing rules of programs makes business miserable and contractors out of business. Offering the example of air sealing in basement causing water heater to back draft; programs tell you how to do things and when it doesn’t work programs blame the contractor.
He described the economic ups and downs of the solar industry as the “solar-coaster”. The energy conservation programs of utilities and energy companies causes ups and downs in business. Tax credits going on/off effects business. He recommends contractors disconnect from programs focused on” peak shaving” and rather concentrate on building sustainable year around businesses.
Winner of the Energy Star Century Club award in 2012 (100 successful projects).
Nate is a fan of spray foam insulation. Low hourly rates for air sealing is the incentive for contractors to use less effective more labor intensive methods.
When expectations don’t meet outcomes. Consumers are trained to think about saving money. Savings after a home performance makeover aren’t significant often only $20-$40 per month. Most jobs live in the “Gulf of Disappointment”, where the client is dissatisfied and blames the contractor. The client will then either just live with it or spend more money to fix it. Contractors who start out trying to grab the low hanging fruit, doing the least to get the noticeably positive results will usually fail. The first things that need to be done on a project often don’t achieve significant results.
A well-designed project has a predictable tipping point, where positive results will occur. Using a unique planning process, Nate tries to determine where spending a little more on a project will likely afford amazing results or when additional spending isn’t justified. Like a doctor he gives his clients the odds of success.
Clients need to rank their pain list on a 1-10 basis. [1- they don’t care … 10- fix it now, we don’t care what it costs.]
The 3 What’s?
- What problems do clients want to solve?
- What does the house need?
- What is the budget? Money is wasted when necessary things are done out of order.
There currently are only about 50 people in the US who do what Nate does. Which is turnkey home performance projects from start to finish, including the oversight. Consumers can look for someone to do this work for them on the BPI website. Consumers should confirm the consultant has both building science experience and a blower door. Air-sealing is a natural diversification for HVAC contractors.
Final comments: His book is focused at consumers who want to dig deep and learn more. Free downloads of chapters of the book at his website.
Z-Man signing off
IAQradio interview of Ellen Tohn:
What is home performance?
Home performance is a philosophy and a science based on the premise that homes should be safe, healthy, comfortable, durable and efficient.