The Future of Quality Control

Dr. Richard Knaub, a Project Leader in Weatherization & Workforce Development at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has been actively participating in developing Weatherization training and standards both at the state and national levels for the last several years.  In anticipation of four new Home Energy Professional Certifications (offered by BPI and funded by DOE and NREL) that are almost ready for prime time, Richard has penned a couple of articles about them and why they matter.  We posted them here on the IREC website.


April 30, 2012
By Dr. Richard Knaub
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Knaub

I’m not a gambler.  Outside of a dollar bet on the Super Bowl with members of my family, I don’t make bets.  I do make projections, which basically means I don’t have anything at risk when I try to tell what the future holds.  That doesn’t mean that other people don’t have something at risk.  It just means I’m less biased in my fortune-telling.  That might help you gamble less on your future.

So my crystal ball says you are going to meet a stranger who is going to evaluate your work and that will affect whether you make any money on the job.  OK, maybe this isn’t much of a prediction.  Most utility and weatherization programs have some kind of random QC inspection, around 5%.  So maybe one out of twenty jobs, there is some stranger evaluating your work and that affects if you make money on the job.

But there are two things that could come together in a way that might make that a more common occurrence.  First is that second to used car dealers the most consumer complaints are against contractors.  The second is that the national Home Energy Professional Quality Control Inspector certification will be introduced in June.

The first one is nothing new.  There are plenty of bad apples out there making life difficult for everyone else.  This means that when the Department of Energy funds the creation of a QC Inspector certification, there are some immediate opportunities.  Suppose some jurisdiction wants to protect consumers, increase energy efficiency and improve indoor air quality.  All politics are local and if there has been a problem in that jurisdiction with a mold problem or carbon monoxide, this message would carry some weight. Obviously, there is a campaign slogan in there somewhere.  But that jurisdiction could move to require inspections by a certified Home Energy Professional Quality Control Inspector.

Before this new certification, putting in place an inspection process would have been nearly impossible, particularly with tight budgets.  But now, this certification makes it a snap.  Just have a certified inspector, inspect.  Who can argue with protecting consumers, increasing energy efficiency and improving indoor air quality?  You might as well argue against apple pie and motherhood.

Then there are the home inspectors.  All three of the largest home inspectors groups are getting into energy education with homeowners, because that is an area homeowners are concerned about.  Between the three groups, they sit down with about 5 million new homeowners a year and spend several hours talking about their homes.

The average new homeowner will spend $8,000 in the first year on that new home.  That is $40 billion of work being influenced by the home inspectors.  Some of that may be on increased home performance.  The home inspector already has the trust of the homeowner, but the contractors…not so much.  So the home inspector has a GREAT add-on sale with a simple “I’m a certified Home Energy Professional QC inspector.  I can come back and inspect the work afterward for a small fee. “

This might not be much of a prediction, either.  It is in the home inspector’s interest to both sell home performance and the inspection afterward.  The inspector has already built trust with the homeowner who may not have a trusted contractor in the area.  That offer to do a QC inspection afterward, by a certified Home Energy Professional, might be just the thing that reassures that new homeowner.

Then there are the all of the different energy incentive programs credits.  Only two states in the country don’t have at least one kind of program for energy efficiency.  Some are a type of tax credit most are rebates, grants or loans, but needless to say in this time of budget and revenue scrutiny, these programs are all receiving careful review.  Someone is likely to suggest that the Home Energy Professional Quality Control Inspector is a way to see to it that the Government gets the energy savings it is paying for.  I won’t make a prediction here, but any talk of fiscal responsibility begs the question “how do we get what we are paying for?”

If you are paying attention to these signs, there are some opportunities that may be opening.  First, having a certified in-house inspector is a great selling point to assure clients your work is high quality.  If for no other reason than the peace of mind it gives the client, it may be worth it.  When it says in your Yellow Pages ad, “certified inspector on staff” and that isn’t in your competitor’s ad, it says something to a prospective customer.

Second, with other programs using or potentially using certified inspectors, this is another add-on for your business.  Your inspector can be inspecting other contractor’s work.  Your inspector can be doing QC for rebate programs or for IRS tax credits.  Having your company’s name on a QC report is pretty good advertising for quality work.

Then there are the home inspectors and that $40 billion dollars.  Sure their business model is to sell the QC inspection after you do the work.  But they really don’t want to have to tell the homeowner that the work wasn’t done right.  The homeowner might be glad to know that, but he or she won’t be happy.  The home inspector would rather do a QC inspection knowing that there is a 99% chance that it is going to pass, because there was an in-house inspector who looked it over first.

My crystal ball says that in a couple of years, there are going to be a lot more QC inspections of home performance work than there are now.  For the companies that do high-quality work, this is a good thing; for the others, not so much.  My crystal ball says that companies with an in-house inspector will likely get more business than those without, and that the home inspectors are going to be driving a lot of home performance work.  Finally, my crystal ball says it is going to be a lot easier to tell the good contractors from the other guys.

If you are wondering how to take advantage of these growing opportunities to distinguish your business from the other guys, then check out www.bpi.org/pilot for information about becoming a certified Home Energy Professional.  There is information about all four Home Energy Professional certifications, including QC inspector.

 

 

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