Because It’s Time, Part 3

“We recently installed a PV system on a house in Hartland that’s being built by another builder,” says Tim.  “There’s another one in Springfield, and one in Quechee.  A builder can offer renewable energy to their clients by calling us in to do it.  We want to be considered a sustainable resource for everyone.  This is part of our mission, to be a sustainable resource for other builders. We don’t show up on their jobsite in a Biebel Builder’s Truck”

            Paul elaborates on that, noting, “We might provide geothermal to one builder, solar to another.  I’m fine with that.  We’re not out there to take other builder’s work.   We’re coming to a time when a large percentage of homeowners are going to at least be exploring the idea of investing into renewables.   With many builders today, it reaches a point of fatigue to try and keep up with it all but they know that it is here to stay and that they need to be able to provide it to their clients or they might lose their business. 

            “The average builder is a guy just like me.” Paul says, “Most of them come right out of high school, work for another builder for five or 10 years, and then go out on their own.  They don’t always want to have to go through all these training organizations to get the necessary certifications in order to do this kind of work. Not only that, the real kicker is in continuing education. It’s a continuing bummer as far as I’m concerned.  It’s a very expensive ball and chain that we are required to do, but we do it.”  “In our case, we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to designing and installing renewables, and other aspects of sustainable construction.  We get along great with other builders.  We can be part of any team,.  We can work with owners, and with architects as well.  Architects have a wide knowledge of products on the market today and the fun ones are the ones who believe like we do.  Our interest is in the full sustainable package, regardless of whether we do it with other builders or all by ourselves.”

            To this end, Biebel has over the past decade devoted the time and expense necessary to train himself, Tim and the staff.  Paul is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.  Tim is LEED-accredited.  The company is an Energy Star Partner and has been certified by the Building Performance Institute as building analysts (seven employees), envelope and shell specialists (two employees).  Five employees are certified PV installers and Paul and Tim are also certified geothermal installers through IGSPHA.  They are full partners with REV and with Efficiency Vermont.  That is just a sampling of many others.  At times, Paul begins to wonder about explosion of various certifications–many overlapping–that confront builders and designers today.

            “It’s getting to be a trap.  I can’t send every employee away every year to the tune of several thousand dollars per person.  And for what?  We hear the same pontifications about blower door testing, caulking, air sealing, indoor air quality and infrared cameras.  What will we hear next year?  I sure it will be the same thing.   They’re going to have to come up with a different way of doing it as most builders will not just sit year after year hearing the same things while missing productive work and paying tons of outlay. We need to develop a better way of allowing for continuing education in the field for our employees rather than sending them away and just sitting them down for 10 hours of classroom.  Why can’t we have company certifications that can oversee their employees on the job and then log their hours for doing certain tasks that fall within the purview of CEU’s?  It makes a lot more “cents” and will insure that employers train their people. We aren’t taxpayer funded companies, neither are we public institutions.  We can’t simply raise our rates to cover these expenses because we function in a competitive environment.  This is a big problem. While we all want builders to educate and invest into good men, the truth is that their competition isn’t doing it.  Eventually, the continual cash outlay to keep their certifications current will take its toll and everyone loses.

            “At this point, we can build an energy efficient house without all these organizations and certifications. I can build a net zero energy home without LEED, and save the $7-$10,000 for an average LEED review.  Although their actual fee might be less, it’s just another consumption of more of our time and energy.   I’m not sure where LEED will end up but some Architects are beginning to tell me to take my time with pursuing LEED accreditations as some states are already backing away from this program.   Where’s the tipping point, Paul wonders, when people simply conclude, ‘We just can’t afford to keep all these top-heavy organizations going when most of them don’t produce a single product while all the time we sit still in classrooms or in Charrettes ( LEED teams ) spending money nobody has while producing nothing but a huge manual that another team is going to have to enforce?  This may sound slightly exaggerated and biased but I am not biased toward LEED.  We have our LEED GA accreditation for a reason.  Much of LEED is very practical and common sense.  It is good stuff but it is losing its attraction to many who I work for. 

One Architect just laughed at one of the LEED promotional ads he was carrying.  He said to me when pointing at it, “Look at this conference table with 12 people sitting around it, all wearing suits and fancy dresses.  You don’t think they are just volunteering to save the planet do you?  The average price per hour / per person sitting at that table was over $150.00.  Many of them were probably  closer to $200.00 and even more!  That means for each hour of discussing how to harness the energy from cow farts, it costs that project conservatively at $2,400.00!  Now that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?  Most Charrettes ( LEED Teams ) are well-intentioned but they are not cost effective. Not only that, they add another whole layer to the design and permitting process.  We have to fix that.  It’s a wonder anyone actually finds the time to get out there and build anything these days.  They are all too busy taking and re-taking tests and getting certified and recertified. Every three years you have to recertify and it takes about 3 years to do it.

 I think Energy Star and NAHB have some very good programs and established standards that are easy to understand. In Vermont, we also have Efficiency Vermont to work with and they are very helpful.