The Three Laws of Home Performance Contractor

First Law 

A performance contractor must do no harm through action or in action.

Second Law 

A performance contractor must follow the principles of building science unless they are in conflict with the first law

Third Law 

A performance contractor must protect their own interest unless that protection conflicts with the first and second law.

Oth law

A performance contractor may not harm by inaction or allow harm by action.

For those of you whom have not read the Robot series by Isaac Asimov will not appreciate my total and complete rip off of the three laws of robotics. The Oth Law came later and you cannot promote 3 laws through three books and then simply change to four laws in your next literary endeavor hence the zeroth law which proceeds all but really came later.  By the way the title is also a rip off. I would suggest reading those books rather than my blog  as they are actually interesting

As I have noticed over the years we seem to put many rules on ourselves in performance contracting. As we embark out on our journey to make a difference I wonder if we are hindered by our own rules?

When does do no harm paralyze us to the point where we do nothing at all? Are we so afraid of the results of our actions that we are relegated to inaction?  Have we become robotic that we are unable to break from the confines of our own rules to do the right thing? Have we set the bar so high that we simply gaze up at it and never get over it?

So some of you might wonder how dare I ask these questions and who the hell is Isaac Asimov and those that do know who Isaac is you are probably musing that this guy is no  Asimov but he is somewhat of an….

So I read that we need to rid the world of all atmospheric drafting combustion appliances and cannot recommend anything other than sealed combustion furnaces. That all energy models lie and therefore we are liars. That we cannot seal duct systems because we might reduce the airflow across the coil and cause the system freeze and fail.

This causes me to  ponder at what the hell can we do?

While it appears often the goal is to separate ourselves from the Construction Industry but somehow fail to recognize that that is the industry we are in. I have seen and heard from many how we need strict quality control to promote the integrity of the industry with qualified findings and third party verification. While it might just be that we talk too much and don’t do enough.

Has this fear of never doing anything wrong left us paralyzed and stuck in a quagmire of good intentions?

Tell me if this model would work in the plumbing industry. Customer has a clogged drain. Drain unclogging analyst is called and agrees your drain is clogged. He has 3 immediate solutions

1)      Use a plunger

2)      Use a toilet auger

3)      Use a snake

He then devises three long term solutions

1)      Camera the line for anomalies

2)      Provide a plan for a deep sewer retrofit

3)      Install a zone multi zone flushing kit on your current sewer system

He then further explains there is a rebate for the multi zone flushes kit and after its installation a third party verifier will show up and confirm the multi zone flush kit is installed and working properly

Customer explains he really only wants the line cleared and questions whether you do it or not. You explain that you are a third party drain analyst with certifications as a HIMS Rater which is an acronym for Hydro Industrial Mensa of Sewers  and  if you want to participate in the MZFK or multi zone flush kit program you have to call an MFPC or certified multi flush performance contractor that is participating in WGA or water go away program.  And furthermore in order to qualify for the rebate he needs to have his lines cameraed and receive a bid for a deep sewer retrofit performed by a  SUA or Systems Unclogging Analyst use the flusherator 2000 WGA approved program and that you happen to be both a HIMS and a SUA professional and have the Flusherator 2000 program

Customer again ask if you can unclog the drain You shake your head and smile of course not as a HIMS and SUA you only advise but that you will be extremely happy after the report which tell more about s@#t that you ever imagined! You will upload the information to the WGA database and they will get back to you as to whether or not you have the certification and then you can hire a MFPC. You further explain that this system really does make sense after all as you would certainly not want a MZFK by anybody other than a WGA approved MFPC

I think our system might be a tad bit  over complicated and has way too many acronyms. Our quest for perfection has left us with complicated checks and balances that have left us at the end of the day ineffective. If we are to drive forward in the industry we need to find a balance of what we want to perform and simply the process and get things done.

It might be that this over complication confuses customers and ultimately drives work away from our industry. I think we need to recognize that in any industry there will be good guys and bad guys and we should just focus on getting customers and doing good work.

I think Paul Raymer sums it up best when he asks “How hard can it be? I will now quote the most dynamic quote in modern American history that can save us all.

“Git er done”

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Comment by Patrick Michaelyan on December 22, 2012 at 3:37pm


Your story (and I'm sure you have many others) are ammunition for why a middle ground must be found.

I truly feel for you. I have been in your shoes, and it is very frustrating. I can only implore you to reconsider going back to cabinet making, as this at times screwed-up world needs you.

My brother and I (co-owners of our HP business) often have internal arguments about how to "sell" what we do, and the conversation is ongoing. What we agree on is that sometimes you have to sell your industry a bit short to get acceptable results. I hate discounting energy assessments to get my foot in the door, but I know what the alternative typically is: Less-than-scrupulous "contractor" blows some cellulose on top of existing attic insulation; shoves some batts in a wall; etc. The homeowner is left with a bad taste in their mouth about our industry. Is this what we want? Obviously not. But, are we willing to short change ourselves as we try to elevate our industry to a status which it deserves? I, for one, am. In one year, my brand new HP company has gone from barely getting by to securely in the black. We are genuinely improving homes and lives, and pushing the competition (the less-than-scrupulous types) outs slowly but surely.

What we all really need is true network and partnerships between us all in the HP industry. My brother and I have begun to see early dividends from a partnership with a great HVAC contractor in our area. But this is only a start.

So, what say you Ron, and what say you others? What will we do to help the Rons amongst us thrive?

Merry X-Mas my friends!

Comment by Ron Jones on December 18, 2012 at 10:27pm

And of course, the drain clog analyst would bore the customer for an hour with the building science behind why shit rolls downhill.

This posting hits so close to home for me as I analyze why this beautifully logical approach to building a better built environment has cost me a number of jobs. Case in point: I recently visited a client who's attic was infested with rats. He could hear them running around up there at night and it was driving him nutty. I took a look, and proposed the obvious.

Since his existing insulation was not only poorly installed, at inadequate levels, and hiding potential entry points, we would need to remove and dispose of the existing material.

As it was infested with rat droppings, we would need to remove it under containment and negative pressure to reduce the possibility of distributing the contamination throughout the house.

Since his 1940's house still had knob and tube wiring, we would need to replace it before installing new insulation.

I would perform an envelope leakage test,  in and out, at no charge. 

As his bath fans were noisy and not doing the job intended, I suggested replacing them as well.

His knee walls and skylight shaft would need insulation and a sixth side to perform properly.

His furnace was sitting on the rafters and would need to be raised so we could get insulation under it, and a platform installed to make it accessible from the access hatch.

With that done, we could then install blown-in insulation to adequate levels.

I had an option to replace the existing 25 year old ductwork which had not been replaced when he had a 92% efficient furnace installed last year, and bury it in the new insulation (he had mentioned the house didn't seem to be very comfy).

And, of course, he didn't want to get a building permit.

I've omitted a few incidentals, but the bottom line is, he just wanted to get rid of the rats, and there was no easy solution. He ended up hiring a contractor with no building science knowledge who is doing some form or another of my scope of work, which I considered minimum standards. 

I think I'm going to go back to being a cabinet maker. Clients always smiled when I was done.

Comment by Patrick Michaelyan on November 23, 2012 at 1:24pm

Well, it's this and other concerns that have led me to find what I consider a happy medium.

Test in and out, do some basic combustion safety and visual analysis of the building (checking for moisture issues, etc.), but always be thinking first and foremost about providing solutions through action plans (rather than about providing information through reports).

People are chilly\hot in their houses, have sh*tty bathroom exhaust fans, have poorly ventilated attics, etc. They wan solutions and they usually don't want to or cannot pay a great deal to reach such solutions.

I get down and dirty, educating as much as possible along the way, allowing my actions to speak for me, my profession and what it is that we can offer in the way of real solutions. I have participated in residential and commercial energy efficiency programs. Ultimately they are great if they can get people over the first cost hump, but most appear to be way too full of data gathering and far short on results.

I sleep very well at night, continue to watch my business grow, and have extremely happy clients. I suggest that all of us agree on what\where is the happy medium for 90% of cases that we encounter.

Ultimately, let's all push for the abbolishment (without regulating for it) of anything but sealed combustion, high-efficiency mechanicals. Let's drive HOs towards high-performing envelopes and high standards for indoor air quality in stages. We should win and HOs should also win. 

Your thoughts, all those of you far wiser than I?

Comment by Glen Gallo on November 21, 2012 at 12:14pm

Allison thanks

Curt I am also a GC so I can also perform when programs allow me to

Comment by Allison A. Bailes III on November 20, 2012 at 9:34am

Yep. That about sums it up, Glen. Great article!

Comment by Curt Kinder on November 17, 2012 at 4:26pm

I spend most of my time performing audits but THIS is why I am a licensed AC I can actually DO something.

Our projects get graded every month by the utility company's billing, so it behooves me to well predict savings for each improvement whether I do the work, sub the work, manage the work or advise client how to do the work.

All that said, I do occasionally run into a customer that despite our dazzling array of energy saving products and services, just wants the darned AC fixed or replaced with code minimum, so that's what we do.

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