Should You Get Certified?
Unfortunately, the market for energy improvement work has never really taken off in my area, mostly because hoped-for energy savings don’t actually add up. The SIR alone just isn’t attractive enough to sell most jobs, and I probably don’t spend enough time selling the loans and incentives that might make the numbers more appealing.
Over the past three years, in fact, I’ve become a little disillusioned. I’ve put on hold my plans to purchase a cellulose-blowing machine and an infrared camera, stopped taking additional classes, and decided not to become a HERS rater. A contractor I know who dropped out of the program said he felt like he was competing against Disney World. “If people have a choice between air-sealing and insulating an attic or basement, or going on a family vacation, they will most likely choose the vacation,” he told me.
Another problem is that most “clients” who get a free audit are tire-kickers who aren’t really planning to spend any money on energy improvements. That means I have to perform a lot of audits to find a serious customer. Many building-performance contractors agree that eliminating free audits would be a good idea, because then we could charge market rates to serious customers.
Finally, the financial goals set by BPI are difficult for small contractors like me to reach. Though I am still a certified contractor, I’m no longer accredited, because I was unable to sell enough jobs. (By the end of the first year of participation, an accredited contractor must report at least 12 completed projects or at least $50,000 of contracted work. At least 24 completed projects or at least $100,000 of contracted work must be reported for each succeeding year of participation). Currently, I’m doing audits and quite a bit of improvement work for a local accredited contractor — who’s also in danger of failing to meet BPI’s financial goals.
Was It a Good Idea?
When my certification expires this fall, I’ll be faced with the tough decision of whether to spend the time and money to maintain it. On the one hand, there’s no question that my drywall and insulation business has improved. Thanks to my BPI coursework, I now offer airtight drywall, dense-packed cellulose, and other improved insulation packages to my customers. I don’t mind the continuing education or recertification requirements, and I think the accountability measures are needed to ensure high standards in the program.
But I wish I could set my own fees for audits, and it would help if BPI relaxed its restrictive financial requirements — I would like to continue to use my home-improvement work as a supplement to my regular business while remaining a BPI-accredited contractor. Over time, I believe I can turn building-performance work into a profitable part of my business, and I feel that the time and money I’ve invested in learning more about building performance was worth it. It just hasn’t worked out quite the way I had hoped.
Myron Ferguson is a drywall and building performance contractor in Galway, N.Y.