How Change Happens in Home Performance

I was reviewing an article in Home Energy by Steve Mann that came out in the January/February issue (“DOE’s Challenge Home,” p. 6). He wrote on the latest iteration of DOE’s Challenge Home Program. Steve points out, in his usual insightful and articulate way, what he sees as the strengths and weakness of this program. I hope you’ve read it, or will read it. Send us your comments by email, or on the Home Energy website.

Reading Steve’s article made me think, “Wow, do we really need another government program that requires builders and contractors to get their heads and their business plans around another set of building requirements?” Before I get in trouble with DOE, I have to say that my conclusion is, “Yes, we do need another government program.” Before I get in trouble with the free market folks reading this, I have to say, “Yes, government programs are often a barrier to some businesses thriving.”

One of my history professors in college shared his idea about how organizations change. For 25 years, he said, everyone but the people leading the change fight it tooth and nail. Then for 25 years they go about making small changes that eventually end up bringing the organization in the general direction of the needed change. For 25 years after that people convince themselves that things have always been done this way.

Change is hard, however it comes about. That’s why it takes a consistent effort over a long period of time from leaders who see the necessary change and are committed to push it step by small step into reality—often against a lot of inertia and those who are invested in keeping things the way they are. But it is necessary. We have to find a way to move to a more sustainable way of life, a more sustainable way of building and living in our homes. The survival of our species and a healthy economy depend on it.

Sometimes it helps me to look at the extremes to find a way forward. If we had a purely free market economy, most of us would experience a swift decline in our living conditions, but an elite group of people would live relatively well. Think Black Market. If we had no private sector, the government was all-powerful, and there were no non-profit advocacy groups, I am convinced we would experience a swift decline of living conditions among most of us but an elite group of people would live relatively well. Think Soviet Union. Capitol systems need regulation and democratic governments need people who work and innovate, and those who provide them with capitol to do it.

When change happens in home performance, I think it happens through an interaction among the private sector, non-profit organizations like Home Energy, and government. So yes, I believe we do need government programs to help us move to a more sustainable way of living, even though government programs can be a royal pain in the … neck. Of course some programs are better than others, and all programs can be tweaked and changed in order to work better for everyone.

I wonder how the 30-year life of Home Energy matches up with the timeline of the nations’ sustainable building movement. It’s hard to say exactly, because people have different ideas about when things began. From my purely personal perspective, having worked for the magazine for almost half of its life, it feels like for the last few years we have been, in the scheme of my college history professor, in the second period, where people all over are making the little changes that brings us closer to our goals of broad-based sustainable home building and renovation. Home Energy spent it’s early years in that first period, when very few mainstream builders and contractors were interested in building science and they didn’t want to look at the house as a system. Our authors, along with people at DOE, EPA, HUD, and some other government bodies, have sometimes been a thorn in the side of builders and contractors,  by forcing them to look more closely at how they build and renovate houses. But we are no longer one of a few voices calling out in the wilderness. Others we began with and partner with, such as ACI, EEBA, BPI, RESNET, ACEEE, DOE, USGBC, others, and lots of new players are now advocating for sustainable home building practices. And Home Energy, through it’s authors, staff, and advertisers, provides ongoing support, and sometimes, still, a gentle nudge, to the home performance community. At least that is what we always aspire to do.

I’m proud to say we have been an important part of a building revolution—call it home performance, green building, sustainable building, resiliency, or something else that began decades ago. When we get to the point where builders and contractors read Home Energy, and say to themselves, “This is always how we have done things,” than we will have arrived at our destination. I hope it doesn’t take us too long to get there. Then we could start a new magazine, Home Energy on Mars.

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Comment by Jim Gunshinan on January 29, 2014 at 3:21pm

Thanks Joe for pointing out where the conversation continues. Can't ask for more than that, that thoughtful and knowledgeable people get together to try to make things better.

Comment by Joe Nebbia on January 28, 2014 at 8:05pm

Jim, thanks for the thoughtful piece on how home performance changes.  For anyone that is interested, please see the DOE Challenge Home Response posted on Steve's article where we discuss the issues he raises, and offer some solutions that are already implemented or in the works.  Overall, the DOE Challenge Home is meant to be a challenge that recognizes excellence.  Despite the rigorous target builders all over the country are signing up and certifying homes. 

Comment by Fred Lozoya on January 16, 2014 at 10:38am

Hello Jim.

Totally agree.

Change can be challenging as i have learn that myself. We get to comfortable in our ways,  The Government & people need to in brace new things followed by commitment. Change is GOOD....

Comment by Rob Minnick on January 15, 2014 at 2:10pm

Hi Jim & Ted,

Jim great blog.

Per Ted's comment, I would work on it with you 

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on January 15, 2014 at 2:09pm


All I can say about your positive experience (and hard work) is... Woohoo!!!

Comment by Nate Adams on January 15, 2014 at 9:43am

Jim, I like your view of change. Yes, we're flailing a bit as an industry right now trying to find the best way forward. I look forward to 'this is the way we've always done it.' 

I'm coming to the conclusion that comprehensive is where it's at. I've recently started doing energy audits that don't just diagnose, but make full equipment recommendations to improve IAQ, humidity levels, and so forth. A customer of mine just 2 weeks ago yanked out a 3 year old 120K BTU mid-line furnace that was oversized to replace it with a nearly identical 70K BTU unit - it fixed much of their first/second floor temp imbalance. In a couple months they are going to do shell improvements. It will be around $17K in work on a 3300 sf home.

The wild thing? I charged them $600 for the audit, which included a 3 plan work scope. They thought they wanted the cheap option. They sprung for option 2. Option 3 was a what if plan of things they can do in the future. People WILL pay for diagnosis. (Maybe not a ton, yet, but that can change.) I've sold 7 audits now, and it's a HECK of a lot better than free quotes. I enjoy myself and actually feel like I'm solving the problem.

My point? It can be done a different way. I'm early into this path, but breaking my previous project record of $15K (two mansions came in about the same) with a 3300 sf home tells me something is up, and I can make a living on big projects like that. Better yet, I have a relationship with these folks now, which will continue.

Is a process like this something to map out? Is this the change we want? Will this be the way we all look back on someday? My ego says I hope so, but only time will tell.

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on January 14, 2014 at 7:28pm

Hi Ted,

"we need to come together and agree on process that really serves the homeowner."

"we need to measure performance"

—I couldn't agree more. Emphasis on the "we".

Comment by tedkidd on January 14, 2014 at 7:22pm

With the possible exception of Larry Janesky (Dr Energy Saver) the only companies that even have a model that might deliver Home Performance with consistency, accuracy, and quality are a very small percentage of the very small contractors. 

Before Home Performance can change, a process of actually providing Home Performance to the consumer needs to be mapped. Everybody does it differently, and most try to sell what they prejudge the homeowner as likely to buy.  That is not comprehensive.  That does not optimize performance enhancement opportunity.  That does not provide successful outcomes.  

It's the same "cut off the right arm THEN find the cancer" approach contractors have always used (because they think homeowners aren't willing to pay for diagnostics or design).  "Finding cancer" is guaranteed.  

Or you get folks from the weatherization side, people who have never sold a stick of gum, thinking you simply TELL homeowners what to do to their homes and they do it.  The approach that works great when you do the work for free doesn't work so well when the homeowner is going to be asked to pay.  Amazing how few weatherization guys this occurs to.  

Step back further.  How about BPI, instead of saying "Here's the science - go figure out how to make a business out of it" we need to come together and agree on process that really serves the homeowner.  

You can't manage what you don't measure.  Anybody measuring performance?  

I think we need to measure performance, and we need to develop a truly customer experience oriented process.  One that doesn't look at the consumer as a mark for a quick score.  Anybody want to work on that?  

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