Assessing Home Performance

Potential opportunity, but the industry and individual companies need to be aware of movement
By Katy Devlin, Glass Magazine
June 16, 2011
FEATURE ARTICLE | Operations, Energy Efficiency, Methods & Techniques, Channels

Should window dealers become home performance companies? While the home performance industry is still in its infancy, indications in the marketplace and in regulatory arena point to sharp growth in this field in the near future, according to many window and door industry professionals.

“The green movement is the next frontier. If you’re not a business owner willing to change, you’re not going to stay in business,” says Steve Abramson, president, Pace Windows & Doors, Rochester, N.Y., a manufacturer and dealer which more recently developed the Pace Energy business segment.

 Blower door testing, part of a home energy assessment, is performed by a BPI-certified employee of Pace Energy, part of Pace Windows & Doors. The process also includes an infrared camera used to sources of air leaks in walls.

About Home Performance
“The home performance industry is a group of certified and accredited contractors with one common goal—to reduce energy consumption through various home improvements that make the existing home more energy efficient,” explains Fritz Gentile, Comfort Windows & Doors, a manufacturer and installer with four locations in New York, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Two main organizations provide certification—the Building Performance Institute, a national standards development and certification organization for residential energy efficiency retrofits, and the Residential Energy Services Network, known as RESNET, a national standards making body for building energy efficiency rating systems and certifier of energy auditors/raters and qualified contractors. Both enjoy recognition from the Department of Energy.

Strong in New York and a handful of other states with programs encouraging home energy efficiency, the home performance industry is made up of those certified home performance auditors and contractors–including several window and door companies–that can provide a homeowner a holistic energy assessment of a home's energy performance. These contractors look at everything from windows and doors to HVAC and insulation. Home performance companies can provide recommendations of energy improvements and perform energy updates—or subcontract other contractors to perform upgrades.

Pace has become one of those companies, Abramson reports. “We’re promoting Pace as an energy company,” he says, which means gaining expertise in other aspects of the home. “We’ve gotten involved in insulation, heating, cooling—everything that has to do with performance, from health and safety to insulation.”

The Drivers
The home performance trend is being driven by three major factors: utility companies, government programs and, of course, consumer awareness, window and door executives say.

“Probably the largest driver to the home energy performance business has been the efforts by utility companies around the country,” says Gary Delman, president of Sunrise Windows, Temperance, Mich. “As part of their mandate from utility regulators, they have set up programs to promote energy efficiency with residential, commercial and industrial customers,” he says. “At the Consortium of Energy Efficiency Conference in Chicago [an event he attended last September], it was stated that more than half of the electric utilities and three-fourths of the gas utilities have energy efficiency programs that include some aspect of whole house performance.”

 A NYSERDA brochure for a program promoting the use of home performance contractors to perform energy efficiency upgrades.

Government programs have been in flux in many regions, but where they exist they are having an impact. In New York, Gentile points to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “The public awareness regarding energy reduction and Energy Star-related improvements, along with the multiple consumer incentives that NYSERDA offers to have the improvements done are what's driving this industry,” he says. A federal program to advance the movement on a national scale has yet to come to fruition, but the Home Star Act of 2010 would have provided consumer incentives for residential efficiency retrofits.

The Silver Star program under Home Star would provide rebates for the purchase of specific products that meet certain energy efficiency criteria. The Gold Star portion of the program, however, would provide larger rebates to homeowners that chose the home performance path. To qualify, homeowners would have to use BPI-certified home performance companies. However, the legislation stalled in Congress last fall. “It’s disappointing that Home Star has been pushed back. It would have provided some stimulation to business, encouraging people to buy windows,” Pace's Abramson says.

Another potential boost to the home performance industry could come from the DOE’s Home Energy Score program. Currently in the pilot phase, the program uses qualified assessors—including BPI and RESNET certified contractors—to provide homeowners with a home energy efficiency rating and recommendations for energy efficient upgrades. Sister government programs are also in development to encourage low-interest loans for homeowners who invested in such upgrades.

In April, members of the Window and Door Dealers Alliance met with DOE officials to ensure the window and door industry is part of the conversation during the program development. While the success of Home Energy Score is not a given, a government home performance program is probably inevitable, reports Charles L. Smith, CEO of THV Compozit Windows & Doors in Louisville, Ky., and one of the WDDA representatives at the DOE meeting. “Some program is going to succeed. It could be five or even 10 more years, but it’s inevitable that something is going to set a new course.”

Others agree that home performance will gain traction—with or without a government program. “The prospects of the home performance industry are for continued growth,” Delman says. “The efforts by the utility companies will continue to grow this industry with or without Home Star.”

Speaking of what's happend in New York, Gentile notes,“This program has been growing for the past few years without the Home Star program. The media and public awareness has grown concerning Energy Star and the NYSERDA incentives, so I would imagine that the demand for the program will stay strong.”

The recent rise in energy costs will also play a role, Smith points out. “Energy is becoming a growing concern to people. Energy costs are becoming more real to people, now that gas is over $4, and utility bills are what house payments used to people.”

Industry Involvement
The home performance trend could be a huge boon for window and door companies. “Given the amount of energy used in residential settings as well as the aging and growing stock of existing homes within North America, there are considerable opportunities for the replacement window industry,” says Sunrise’s Delman. “Appearance, comfort, ease of use, energy efficiency and low maintenance are all primary reasons a homeowner chooses to undertake window replacement. Those needs will still need to be met. What we may find is that whole house performance may become an additional entry point for homeowners to learn about the benefits of replacing their old, under-performing windows.”

A number of these executives emphasize, however, that it is critical for the industry to make sure the home performance programs put in place recognize the role fenestration has in building performance. “If you look at the information that’s out there about home performance, it becomes obvious that windows aren’t being talked about," THV's Smith asserts. "America is turning toward conservation and we’ve got to embrace the energy rating industry. We have to educate them on why windows are important. We have to educate them about windows and products and work with them.”

Programs like DOE’s Home Energy Score could boost the replacement activity, Smith says. Aspects of the program, however, such as a 10-year payback requirement for any upgrade to be recommended, could exclude windows and doors from the program, he continues. That is one of the main reasons WDDA members decided to meet with DOE officials.

Additionally, the industry should work with the performance rating organizations, BPI and RESNET, to provide input on window and door products, he adds. “We have to do our due diligence and gather the scientific data that RESNET and BPI raters are used to looking at [from other industries].”

Individual window and door companies also need to be aware they could get left behind, if they don’t get involved, Smith warns. “This is not the time to sit on the sidelines. I would rather spend a few dollars and be on the forefront [of this trend] than wait and get left behind.”

Pace and Comfort windows both have employees that have gone through the BPI certification process. Smith went through RESNET certification for THV and intends to go through BPI certification. Both certification processes include training at accredited organizations. “There are several courses out there. For BPI, there are 80-hour and 40-hour courses. I went through a five-day course for RESNET,” Smith says.

“For us, being a window manufacturer, it was a sensible and necessary responsibility to advance into BPI home performance,” says Comfort Windows’ Gentile. “Traditional window and door dealers may be reluctant to make the commitment when they realize the cost of certified personnel, education and equipment. Without the commitment to the program, they would tend to sell against it as an unnecessary, but the continuing education of the public through TV commercials and the Internet is leading serious and concerned home owners in the home performance direction.” 

If companies aren’t ready for certification, they should at least become educated on the home performance industry, because it will only continue to become a bigger part of the market, Smith suggests. “I recommend that people take some time online to learn about RESNET, BPI and the DOE efforts in this area. There is a wealth of information available.”

Katy Devlin is an editor with Glass Magazine, Window & Door's sister publication, also published by the National Glass Association.