By: Debra Little
This year, the Home Performance Coalition hosted it’s first annual TEDx event at its national conference in Philadelphia. The room was packed, the BYOB was flowing and the energy was lively.
Fourteen efficiency experts told stories of their experiences in the field. Topics ranged from personal narratives about the challenges of doing this important work in difficult circumstances to inspiring and sobering talks that reminded us why what we do is so important.
While it’s impossible to capture the energy and enthusiasm in the room in summary form, here’s a rundown of each speaker’s presentation.
Jacqueline Berger, APPRISE. “Putting It All Together: Stories From The Field And Data.”
Through the stories of workers and the home occupants they serve in the APPRISE community outreach programs in Princeton, New Jersey, Jackie showed us how multiple elements come together to inform results, conclusions and recommendations.
Working in low-income communities creates special challenges. Dangerous conditions for the APPRISE field staff included things like finding drugs and guns. In this environment, you can see first hand the good and not-so-good intentions of the workforce, and be inspired by the generosity of a staff member willing to go the extra mile to drive an elderly client to a doctor’s appointment. Observing. Hearing how some occupants seem to care more than others and how important and motivating it is for the field staff to know they are making a difference for the good.
People learn from friends and help spread the word. Occupants who are excited about their energy upgrades share with neighbors how much they value the work and teach others.
Jackie loves the people, the stories, and she really loves the data: reviewing the utility reports of thousands of homes, seeing the measured results, noting the variations in contractor performance, analyzing the trends, accounting for savings, and finally evaluating it all to make recommendations to improve.
Nick Lange, Vermont Energy Investment Trust: “We’re Doing It All Wrong and We All Know It.”
Nick started by leading us through a couple visualizations. Close your eyes, he said, and imagine a ton of carbon dioxide. Then imagine what a three degree temperature increase feels like.
Nick pointed out that terms like tons of carbon and temps don’t have a soul, spirit or emotion. To get people to care about climate change, we have to do better with the words we use. It can be simple. Nick suggests that we remember two basics: 1- We care about CO2 concentrations because when we have too much, we retain excess heat energy 2- We want people to understand the problem so that they care about fixing it.
Energy terms become real when we talk about things like toasters, hair dryers and tea kettles. Due to carbon levels today, the earth is adding 252 terra joules per second of excess heat energy. Two-hundred fifty-two terra joules is like having 23 toasters running non-stop or 3 lightning strikes per day per person. The equivalent of four atomic bombs per second (240 bombs per minute) of excess heat energy is added continuously to the earth. We’d like to get to zero.
LEDs, solar, wind turbines, managing food waste, get us half way to reducing the excess heat we’re adding. “If we educate girls globally, this will get us the rest of the way. Open your eyes as you visualize that!”
Ariel Drehobl, ACEEE. “Energy Efficiency as a Resource”
In energy production, there are costs of the energy we create and lack of costs—savings–for energy we don’t have to create. Energy efficiency displaces the need for generation from coal, natural gas and other sources. By reducing demand, utilities don’t have to invest in more generation. When reductions in energy use are treated as a resource, they are referred to as negawatts, an invisible power source, or virtual power plants. For decades, when policies have been in place, utility planners have incorporated the value of negawatts into grid resource planning.
Energy efficiency is the least-cost resource. At an average cost of $0.03/kWh, efficiency typically costs one-third of new generation and can reduce the need to install and upgrade new transmission equipment.
To determine how large a resource of energy efficiency is, a 2016 ACEEE study calculated the state level energy savings since 1990 in 3 policy areas:
1. Utility energy efficiency programs
2. Appliance Energy standards
3. Residential and commercial building codes
The savings was compared to the amount of energy produced from other sources during this period. The study found that efficiency was the third largest electric power source (at 18 percent) since 2015. From 1990 to 2015, efficiency has allowed us to avoid building 313 new power plants, prevented 490 million tons of annual CO2 emissions, and reduced utility bills by $90 billion a year or $460/yr per household.
This is important in terms of affordability. Low income occupants spend a greater portion (3X) of their income on energy. Energy efficiency can help reduce this burden.
Other societal benefits include environmental protection, economic development, job creation, enhanced grid performance, improved facility operations, building system reliability, community resilience and general health, safety, and comfort.
By 2030 efficiency has the potential to be our largest energy resource, meeting 33 percent of generation needs. To get there we need to see utility savings targets of 1.5 percent per year and to continue to improve appliance standards and building codes.
Since 2002, Gallup polls have shown that Americans consistently prefer energy conservation to increased investment in fossil fuel production. Looking to the future, energy efficiency has the potential to the largest source of energy by 2030. Everyone here can be part of achieving that future!
Debra Little, AjO “Let’s Advance Home Performance Data from the Stone Tablet Age to Modern Times”
“HPxml–yeah I’ve heard of it. But what does it mean to me?”
HPxml is a game-changer in home performance but few are aware of its potential.
Home Performance (HP), Extensible Markup Language (xml) is a data standard and transfer protocol, developed by a large nationwide working group over several years that is steadily gaining traction as a way to share data both within and beyond the home performance industry.
Hpxml facilitates the building of networks and data connections like we’ve never had before.
As HPxml expedites data collection and exchange, this talk looked at three areas where home performance project details data can help drive demand: 1- Energy efficiency as a grid resource 2- HP contractors/experts scope of work, project details 3- Appraised value, financing and sales
In stories of homeowners, contractors, local climate action plans and visualization of data, we looked at examples of how access to HP data is essential.
Energy efficiency as a grid resource is increasingly gaining position as a reliable, low-risk, lower-cost source of energy. Due to progress in energy efficiency, Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant, is being phased out. Home performance data that’s transparent and repeatable is crucial to this progress.
Many contractors invest extraordinary effort in tracking their data, but there’s room for maximizing its potential for their own use and others. More would like better control and utility of their data but the challenge for them is not only time but also having the tools they need to streamline their data tasks. Today home performance data is disconnected, causing a data drought for those who can help drive demand.
Data is required to support appraisals and accurate representation in sales and listings. Real estate agents and appraisers admittedly need training, but we have yet to deliver them much data or documentation to help them understand the scope of work and resulting impacts.
AjO is an HPxml coded data tool that contractors and others can use to track home performance project details, metrics, and share the data in support of energy efficiency and its multiple benefits.
Higher visibility of our data and stories is essential to catalyze homeowners’ actions and accelerate progress to carbon-free homes. HPxml expedites these processes.
Andy Frank, Sealed. “Energy Efficiency Is the Largest Energy Resource, it’s Time it Was Paid Like It.”
Sealed, in New York City, finances home upgrades with energy savings.
Energy efficiency is the largest resource but it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. How do we get from here to there? To get paid for delivering the value of energy efficiency?
Energy efficiency crushes any clean or other resource. We are so awesome, they’re not even close. But policy makers say, “Well if it didn’t happen then how can we pay you for it?” Historically, energy efficiency has not been treated as a resource but as a subsidy. “Oh, you should be so happy we’re giving you this money in this program.” And targets are set but they should be the floor, not the goal.
Energy efficiency is creating a ton of value and we should be doing a lot more. From a grid perspective, EE is permanent load reduction and it avoids demand at peak times when the grid is most stressed, when it’s really cold or hot.
Barriers to efficiency as a resource are mostly excuses and double standards. “What about the budget?” Well, efficiency actually passes every cost benefit analysis you could ever imagine. “But can we rely on it?” Yes, we’ve got great data. We’ve got an insurance policy that will guaranty the savings.
Meanwhile they’re throwing buckets of money into the ocean at any number of crazy investments. There was a nuclear power plant built in Long Island in 1979 that was canceled after three days but the utility customers are still paying for it.
It’s time to collect the value we create, no more, no less. One example of a mechanism that will help advance energy efficiency as the first option and not as a rebate is non-wired alternatives. NWAs reduce or eliminate the need for transmission and infrastructure investments.
There’s hope. California and New York are moving in this direction. There’s new approaches to meter-based savings; we can finally create apples-to-apples resource comparisons.
It’s getting harder for conventional infrastructure to be built. There was a big rally in New York City this week; people were chaining themselves to fences to protest the building of pipelines. This political pressure is awesome and will force us to look at alternatives.
The biggest thing is that we have to demand it. No one will give us anything we don’t ask for.
Suzanne Harmelink, WECC. “Weatherization Heroes.”
Since 1976 Weatherization Heroes have helped 7 million children, parents, grandparents, disabled, military vets and families in crisis. They perform great deeds for the common good. At the core of why they love their job is in helping and saving communities. They share a bond; no one is doing this job for the money, prestige or fame. 8,500 jobs are supported by Weatherization programs in local communities in every state. The program serves 35,000 homes annually.
“A hero is someone who voluntarily walks into the unknown” Tom Hanks. Accessing attics, crawl spaces, duct work, under manufactured homes. Facing adversities like bats, rats, raccoons, snakes, wasp nests the size of Texas. Heat, cold, rain, sleet, snow, over the hill and into the city.
“I’m just the average superhero trying to save the world.” — Smash Mouth.
“A mentor enables a person to achieve. A hero shows what achievement looks like”. — John Mather.
Suzanne has known many heroes who became trainers and are still serving with the program.
“I’d like to thank the heroes. Those out in the field getting dirty every day. We don’t applaud them enough.”
Dan Perunko, Balance Point Home Performance. “Two Guys and a Truck.”
Dan Perunko talked about the pressures small, high quality home performance contractors face from other builders who push back on quality performance work to save money and from program and government people who don’t believe quality can scale.
“Two guys and a truck,” he explained, is the derogatory thing you hear all the time when you’re a small company. Program planners recognize the good work and want to see it on a large scale, and they say “how would you do it?” You say, “I’ve got x,y and z skills,” and you outline a plan, and they say “that’s too hard, how can we make this scale?” “You can’t do it–you’re just two guys and a truck.”
No matter how much positive feedback they get from happy customers (and even requests from people who work out of state), Dan said that there’s always somoene who says “no one will ever pay for that,” or talks about how no one else in the neighborhood is doing this level of work.
“And then the government and progam folks who say ‘you must have some really good ideas, let’s talk,’ but when you explain what you’re actually doing, they say, ‘there’s no way we can scale that to a million houses!’”
Dan wondered, however, if chasing scale even makes sense when the results they’re getting are not as good as they could be. Would it make more sense to slow down?
In order to deal with this problem, he said, we’re going to have to think of our substandard building stock as a national infrastructure challenge–one that goes beyond the short-term goals of politicians–and find a way to reach out to the small, idealistic contractors who are too small to be a resource in the “scale equasion.”
In the meantime, he offered the following advice to contractors: • Be brave. He’s gotten huge jobs by sticking to his guns and refusing to do reduce his scope or do sub-standard work just to save money. • Become a master of your trade. There are HP companies that are doing HVAC who know literally nothing about HVAC. They need to learn! • Ask yourself, what changes can we make in our work that would make a real difference? • Say NO, when someone offers to pay for something that won’t yield much. • Never agree to a partial work scope just because of cultural or political pressure. • Always communicate (to home owners and program people) the trade-offs that they are making in their choices. • Experience the rewards that come from a comittment to quality and real, measurable performance. • Surround yourself with smart, idealistic people.
Kevin Brauer, Minneapolis HP Consultant. “Do You Smoke?”
Kevin entertained us with his tips on how he trains workforces in air sealing and the benefits of using props in the shop before going on site. He introduced us to a training prop he invented, a shop table with several mechanical system sections and air sealing points.
J.R. Denson, ACEEE. “Out of Health and Home.”
When J.R. tells folks that he works in public health for an energy think tank, they are usually confused, so he gives examples of real experiences folks have in their homes to demonstrate the connection.
It’s not only the particulate matter and bad air outside, he explains, we can have bad air inside too. Cooking can cause high levels of carbon monoxide. When the temperature is hot and humid it can exacerbate respiratory symptoms and cause headaches, fatigue. (Washington, D.C. was built on a swamp in 1800. J.R. is from DC and went to school in Gainesville, Florida. He knows hot and humid).
Healthy homes can lead to healthier people in the homes.
J.R. recently completed an ACEEE report “The Next Nexus: Exemplary Programs that Save Energy and Improve Health”. http://aceee.org/research-report/h1802 The report describes how hospitals and local health departments all over the US are working with energy efficiency and home performance experts to address the problem of poor housing that’s affecting people’s health. JR will be working with medical schools and associated experts to create a curriculum to help health professionals be more informed about healthy home resources in their community that they can connect patients to.
John Costello, Build It Green. “A Father, A Pigeon and a Four Year Old”
John told us about the jarring, eye-opening moment for a father attending one of John’s home performance classes when he learned about how can lights can be a connection from the attic to living spaces. The man’s four-year-old daughter had been in declining health for six months. The doctors had not been able to diagnose the illness, and had recently told him to prepare for the worst. He had updated his daughter’s bedroom six months earlier and installed four new can lights. Because he was “a nice guy” he was letting wild pigeons live in his attic. At this crucial reveal, the man consulted more with John, and then headed home.
He found three inches of pigeon droppings over the lights. He cleaned the attic and sealed the can lights. A few months later he wrote to John saying, “The doctors wanted me to thank you because my daughter is clear.”
Joe Medosh and Kevin Kennedy. “You’re Already Doing it and Don’t Know It”
Joe and Kevin’s “act” was in skit form with Kevin hidden behind the (cardboard) wall of infinite, but always close at hand, RESOURCES. Pretty funny, we were all having a rollicking time while learning about a fairly serious and impactful topic.
Joe called on us to change the dialogue and the dynamics of how we in home performance approach our current, everyday work and to be mindful that so much of what we do has direct health impacts. A blower door, he said, “is a contaminant pathway measurement device.” Safety is often 50 percent of the a healthy home evaluation, including non-obvious things like trip fall hazards. HP professionals don’t have to say they’re doing healthy stuff, just keep doing what they’re doing.
That said, Joe also made a plea for data, arguing that if the health sectors had a fraction of the data home performance collects on energy savings, it would transform the industry. He called on participiants to turn their energy data into healthy home data, so that they can be “the source of the source.”
And when making the case for the health benefits of home performance, Joe said, always reference the source. (Joe brought his source with him: He always calls Kevin to check for sources and Kevin is always ready to reference a study).
Joe offered eight “keep it” principles:
Dry Clean Pest-free Contaminant-free Safe Ventilated Maintained Climate controlled
Sources referenced throughout the talk: DUST, PARTICULATES, ALLERGENS, HEALTH https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-partic… https://acaai.org/resources/tools/home-allergy-management https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5156485/
VENTILATION AND HEALTH https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/protect-indoor-air-quality-yo… https://www.hvi.org/publications/index.cfm https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.kumc.edu/doi/abs/10.1111/ina.12325
PESTS, INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT(IPM), HEALTH https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/topics/vectorcontrol.htm https://www.ipminstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IPM_Asthma-1.pdf https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3864888/
SAFETY IN HOMES- INJURIES ARE PREVENTABLE https://www.cdc.gov/injury/index.html https://www.nsc.org/home-safety http://cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD005014.pub3/full
Richard Faesy, Energy Futures Group. “Strategic Electrification: Transitioning From Fossil Fuels To Renewable Electricity.”
Today, 45-50 percent of direct fossil fuel use is used for space and water heating. Transportation uses 45 percent and industry 10 percent. In order to meet our climate goals, we need to shift the consumption of these end uses to reduce the burning fossil fuels.
Strategic Electrification is a strategy to do this by adding renewable generation, switching to electricity and increasing efficiency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent.
In his talk, Richared referenced three key strategies to achieve this goal: 1. Dramatically improve energy efficiency, including deep retrofits of buildings; 2. Use advanced electric technology to redirect as many end uses as possible to electricity; 3. Modernize the grid.
Energy efficiency for buildings includes weatherization and changing heating, cooling, and hot water equipment to higher efficiency types like cold climate heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. The ultimate goal is to move from gas, oil, propane to all-electric heating and cooling.
Advanced technologies can be deployed in transportation so that cars, buses and trucks can run entirely on electricity.
Finally, the grid must incorporate more renewables, distributed local energy resources, storage and control, two-way grid communications, micro-grids, load shifting, demand response. Time of use rates is one way to incentivize good behavior.
Vermont’s renewable energy standard (Act 56) aims to meet these goals by: 1. Powering the grid with 75 percent renewable generation by 2032 2. Requiring that 10 percent of distributed renewables be generated locally 3. Energy transformation: Requiring Vermont utilities to reduce customer fossil fuel use each year starting at 2 percent, increasing to 12 percent a year by 2032
The state is promoting electric buses, weatherization and increasing pellet systems, as well as providing maple sugar makers with line extensions to replace diesel generators.
Resources: Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships and Energy Futures Group
Aaron Johnson, Environmental Protection Agency. “Standing Out In A Comfortable, Energy Efficient World With Health.”
Aaron talked about Indoor Air Plus, an EPA asset label for new homes built with IAQ measures above code. He cited a study of a group of LEED certified homes that measured a 47 percent reduction in material emissions. IAP started in 2009 and is now in process of creating a certification for existing homes.
Resource: Healthy Indoor Environment Protocols https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/protocols-home-energy-upgrades
David Keefe, Vermont Energy Investment Trust. “A Climate Report From The Field.”
Dave opened with the resounding call. “It’s time to fight,” he said. “When your home is under attack, it’s time to fight. Climate change isn’t in the future, it’s here.”
David is a 5th generation Vermonter who has lived in the same town for a half century. But, he says, the town that he lives in is not the town he grew up in.
The winters in Burlington, Vermont are now 7 degrees warmer on avg than 40 years ago. When we think of Vermont we think of skiing, fall foliage, maple syrup—all things that are heavily dependent on weather. Ticks didn’t exist in the area until the past 10 years but their population is exploding. David has been treated for Lyme infection twice in three years. There are documented cases of Moose carcasses found in the woods with tens of thousands of ticks on them, blood sucked to a slow death.
“They’ll tell you that you are too puny, that no individual action can make a difference. Individual actions got us into this mess. Individual actions are the only way we’ll get out.” Every time we take action there is a rippling effect, David says. We are stronger and have greater impact than we think.
Everyone in this industry, he says, is already moving things in the right direction, but there’s always more we can do. Everyone should ask themselves: what more can I do in my day job? What more can I do in my personal life? And everyone should vote this fall.
The real work, he says, happens by digging in, where we get our hands dirty. Dave raised a caulk gun, loaded it and in a valiant close, implored us to join him as he keeps fighting until “they pry this gun from my cold dead hands!”
Dave’s talk was a highly motivating rallying cry that I think moved all of us unexpectedly and deeply. A strong finish for the first HPC TEDx event.
About The Author
Debra is a home performance and valuation specialist and creator of AjO, a data tool that equips contractors to quickly collect and report data on energy upgrade projects. AJO produces a One Page Report that supports data requirements of appraisers to attribute value to performance assets. Debra is active in education of real estate appraisers and agents on valuation and market representation of high-performance home assets; energy and water efficiency, beyond energy, and renewables.
Debra’s experience building her own high-performance home in 2007, appraising in CA (2001- present), home performance consulting (2009-present), along with earlier work in data, video production, and marketing in NYC informs her current focus as she directs AjO. AjO integrates behavior and brain science to drive demand for building science.
Images from Kevin Brauer and Debra Little.