Success with Collaboration: Home Energy Magazine

Article courtesy of Home Energy Magazine

There’s a saying that goes “Teamwork makes the dream work.” Many companies put posters of this saying in their offices to encourage workers to collaborate to achieve a specific goal. It can, however, be a challenge to align people with different opinions and ideas to work together toward the same end point. This is especially true when they are working across different professions, market sectors, and geographic locations, as we do in the building industry. Collaboration is essential for building a dream home. Every house is a system that must be interconnected perfectly. From the building plans, foundation, framing, and electrical work to the site supervisors, realtors, appraisers, and lenders, each part of the system must be aligned with all the others to create a high-quality, efficient, and comfortable home that the homeowner will value and that sells quickly.

airsealing detail
Critical Details Continuous Air Barrier: Details on creating a continuous air barrier

Advanced Energy, an energy-focused nonprofit organization headquartered in North Carolina, dreams of seeing the building industry collaborate to encourage high-quality work. With such collaboration, there would be clear communication on agreed-upon standards; the work would be done right the first time; and no rework would be necessary—all of which would lead to higher profits per job. To achieve this goal, and to help professionals excel in the field, Advanced Energy has created the Success with Series of easy-to-understand support materials. These materials are designed to teach project team members how to properly implement the installation of all components of a given building.

The Success with Series was first applied to a national program in 2005, when EPA released ENERGY STAR® 2.0, which required tighter and incrementally higher energy efficiency standards. These challenging new requirements, including the dreaded Thermal Bypass Checklist—were met with a lot of pushback, and builders began to drop out of the ENERGY STAR program. Advanced Energy came to the table in Arizona and collaborated with local industry experts to create the Success with ENERGY STAR resource and training initiative. This initiative was designed to help builders, trades, and raters simplify commonly failed local procedures and installations and to learn a few new ENERGY STAR program requirements. As a result of this local initiative, builders began re-enrolling in the ENERGY STAR program, reducing rework and keeping their profits on each job.

tech tips
Framing Tech Tips: Right v. Wrong framing details

Since then, the same approach has been applied to many other programs nationwide. Advanced Energy describes the “portfolio of Success with Series training products” as “a great collaborative effort with local market experts.” It “ensures [that] participants successfully implement what they learn by going beyond classroom instruction and providing the practical tools, methods, and processes [needed] for use in the field for their specific location.” The Success with Series takes complicated energy code and program requirements and separates them out by job function (framer, electrician, HVAC contractor, insulator, and so on). Then it simplifies each requirement into step-by-step directions, with pictures showing the right way and the wrong way to do it. The Success with Series is available in both English and Spanish. It includes information sheets, checklists, technical tips, and critical details.

The information sheets provide in-depth descriptions of energy code or program requirements. They help home performance professionals to understand background information around certain new topics. Examples of these new topics include air barriers and air leakage requirements, HVAC load calculations, and ventilation.

Air Sealing Checklist: Recommended practices for air sealing with code references

The checklists highlight new or difficult requirements. They help installers to verify that the jobsite is ready for their work, or that their work has been done to meet the agreed-upon requirements. After each checklist item, a code or program reference is provided. This reference can be used to ensure that a building is ready before inspections are scheduled. When the builder or contractor can confirm that the requirements on the checklist have been met, the job is more likely to pass inspection.

The tech tips highlight important items by showing a photo of a correct installation and comparing it to a photo of an incorrect installation. The tech tips correspond to items on the checklists. They can be used to show what a good installation looks like, before or during inspections.

Like the tech tips, the critical details illustrate building science techniques in a visual format. Architects, designers, or contractors can access these tips before they receive the building plans or bids. Critical details can also be used to verify that submitted building plans comply with appropriate building codes and can be referenced on-site during construction.

techtip framing
Tech Tip: Framing, What’s wrong with these framing details?

Altogether, the Success with Series helps local professionals to meet code and program requirements the first time by simplifying and visually showing frequently failed as well as new requirements. Through collaboration with local industry experts, Advanced Energy helps identify the details, applicable photos, and appropriate options for the relevant jurisdictions. Advanced Energy’s ultimate goal is to help builders, subcontractors, raters, and code officials to understand and communicate with one another to reduce frustration, waste, and rework.

Currently, Success with products are available for both the new-construction and the existing-homes markets. The materials provide guidance on air sealing, duct sealing, home energy upgrades, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), ENERGY STAR New Homes 2.0, ENERGY STAR 3.0, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Standard Work Specifications. Advanced Energy also works specifically with utilities (both investor-owned utilities and electric cooperatives) to design resources for their programs. Contact your utility to find out if Advanced Energy has already created these materials in your area (for some examples, see “Success with”).

Advanced Energy’s Success with Series encourages collaboration to help everyone in the field succeed. Just as a house is an interconnected system, so professionals depend on one another for success in the building industry. When everyone’s work is aligned and everyone is following the same standards, teamwork is achievable, and the dream becomes the reality!

Kristi Matthews is the business development director and Jonathan Coulter is a building science associate at Advanced Energy in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This article was originally published online in the January/February, 2016 Home Energy.