From Home Improvement to Home Performance

John G. Swanson
August 3, 2010
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Energy Efficiency, Markets & Trends

Many of us in the window and door business would consider ourselves part of the home improvement industry. But what about the “home performance” industry? My guess is that a lot of us have probably never even heard that term.

Home performance deserves our attention, however. Home performance contractors are energy efficient retrofitters. They don’t just sell siding or HVAC systems or windows and doors. They go into a home and look at all its elements. They do analysis and provide homeowners with a list of potential upgrades, what the cost of those may be and what kind of payback can be expected. When they’ve done the analysis, some home performance contractors will naturally perform the upgrades while others will subcontract them out.

This concept has natural appeal to homeowners. This person coming into my home isn’t just selling a particular product. He or she is an expert that is going to tell me what I need to do to save money on my energy bills and make my home more comfortable. It also is very appealing to government officials, utilities, and financial institutions looking to support energy efficient upgrades of homes—and wanting some assurance that the money spent is doing that job. Under the umbrella of “weatherization,” policy makers have spurred the emergence of the home performance contractor in many parts of the country.

Many window and door dealers have dabbled in this business—not necessarily as home performance contractors, but as subcontractors or suppliers. Some window and door manufacturers have targeted this business specifically as well. Fearing red tape, many companies in our industry have probably shied away. Others probably just have done nothing to go after this niche. That may become more difficult, however, as home performance is poised to hit the mainstream.

That will certainly happen if Home Star legislation is passed—something that could happen before this issue goes to print. The government program, that as of this writing has passed in the House, but still awaits action in the Senate, is designed to both create jobs and increase our nation’s energy efficiency—two laudable goals. In addition to enjoying the support of the Obama Administration, the Home Star concept has attracted enough interest from Republicans that its passage into law seems probable.

Home Star consists two rebate programs to encourage homeowners to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes. The Silver Star program would provide rebates for purchases of products—including windows, doors and skylights meeting certain energy efficiency criteria. The Gold Star program would provide larger rebates to homeowners that chose the more comprehensive “home performance” path.  That would certainly raise the profile of home performance contractors. It would also provide momentum to the creation and development of a whole new infrastructure of training and certification requirements for companies that wanted to offer these more holistic services.

Such organizations are already busy at work. One of the big promoters of Home Star is Efficiency First, a Washington-based trade association “that unites the Home Performance workforce, building product manufacturers and related businesses and organizations.” There is also the Building Performance Institute, which describes itself as “the nation's premier building performance credentialing, quality assurance, and national standards setting organization.” There are no doubt others out there.

It is too soon to tell what impact the emerging home performance industry may have on the window and door industry. Home performance contractors could be a new sales channel for some window and door businesses, but they could also potentially be competitors. Some window and door businesses—particularly those that sell siding or other products already—may want to become home performance contractors. A movement that encourages more energy efficient retrofits seems likely to translate into more window and door sales, making it a positive overall. It will bring change, however, and companies need to be on their toes and be ready to adapt.