It Was a Very Good Year

2015 Was a Very Good Year, 2016 Will Be Better

I’ve always loved the Frank Sinatra song ‘It Was a Very Good Year’. I especially love the strings. Many have told me I was born 70 years too late because of my taste in music. That aside, 2015 was a pretty good year. My business finally became profitable doing what many thought couldn’t be done – selling and executing truly market based Comprehensive Home Performance projects as a standalone business. In a hostile market, no less.

As 2016 begins, I have to say for the first time in a long time I think it will be a very good year both personally and for the Home Performance industry. To be frank, I’m writing this as much for my future self as for my readers. Here’s a look back, then a look at what is to come.

Reflections on 2015

  • The formula for selling effective and satisfying Home Performance projects finally fell into place. In February I bumped the price of initial consultations to $250 out of frustration. Completely by accident, it worked. This was the last big piece. I no longer feel like I have to sell something in anything that I do because I’m getting fair pay for my time. I just tell it like it is. I am truly a consultant. And I finally could make a living doing it 40 hours/week. (Not that I will ever work that little…)
  • A year of deep learning. Holy cow have I been devouring stuff.
    • Utility Industry & CleanTechThe Energy Gang talked about our One Knob efficiency program design in January, and I fell in love with the podcast. I’ve listened to 3 years of back episodes. It’s helped me see how HP fits into the huge beast that is the power grid, and the role it can play in not just reducing energy use but optimizing capacity utilization and managing demand. Thanks to John Semmelhack for posting a link that introduced me to the podcast.
    • Indoor Air Quality – Home Performance and IAQ are inextricably linked yet few seem to grasp exactly how significant this link is. I’ve been learning as much as possible about it, devouring Indoor Air Quality Radio episodes, even getting interviewed on it in June. Joe Hughes and Cliff Zlotnik, the hosts, are wonderfully open and knowledgeable guys. I highly recommend the podcast. Also, I’ve talked with 4 different IAQ device manufacturers, and borrowed one device that was worth as much as a good winter beater. (Thanks to Adam Giandomenico of Particles Plus!) I’ve bought a number of IAQ devices or had clients buy them, and am trying to figure out which one I like best, and write about it. (NetAtMo, Awair, Foobot, Hobo.) The edges of the picture are starting to come into focus, I remain convinced that IAQ is going to be a massive driver of HP work.
    • Getting to Know the Media – I’ve only touched the tip of this iceberg, but getting our message out is key. While I do have a business-serving motive, it’s been fun getting to know folks in the media on a personal level. Stephen Lacey of GreenTech showed his goofball side in an epic danceoff. Clayton DeKorne of the Journal of Light Construction gave me daughter advice. Jigar Shah welcomed a little boy into his life. I really look forward to continuing this part of my quest. The extrovert in me loves it!
    • Project Management – To be honest, I kinda suck at this. I am not a detail oriented person unless there is a gun to my head. I’ve been working on figuring out how to keep a (figurative) gun to my head and develop processes for keeping projects on track and clients happy. I’m happy to report that I only kinda suck now, where I pretty much sucked in early 2015. Here’s to only slightly sucking by the end of 2016!
    • Developing Partnerships – In January of 2015 I sent in money to the state of Ohio to create an LLC for One Knob Consulting. I still have no idea where it will go, but a growing group of us has been talking every Tuesday about how to create a Measured Home Performance market. Daniel Kauffman of ResiSpeak, which collects and analyzes utility data, has become a friend (especially over hurricane cocktails in New Orleans in April.) His tool has helped me to understand a lot more of the utility side both big and small picture. Figuring out how to give freely, while not knowing what the heck is going to come out of it, has been fascinating, fulfilling, and frustrating all at the same time.
    • Conferences – I only meant to go to one, I went to three.
    • Strategic Planning – After years of flailing, it’s time to get good at chess. I’m working on it. Thank you to the very surprising number of people that have endorsed me for it on LinkedIn. May I begin to deserve it.
  • I’m still pretty clueless as a husband and father, but making strides. My wife Rachel and I figured out each other’s Love Languages and have been working to feed them. I highly recommend the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

2016 Prognostications from Energy Circle

Once again, Peter Troast of Energy Circle put up a post on what a number of people think will happen in 2016. It’s well worth a read. It inspired this post. Once again Peter, I owe you thanks.

Here are the rough outlines of what that article talks about, be sure to read it.

  • Energy Efficiency & Real Estate – Efficient homes will begin to be valued.
  • Efficiency Programs 2.0 – Moving to performance based solutions, not deemed. Contractors may begin to ignore programs.
  • Smart Homes – The healthy side of this plays into our hands.
  • Big Data and Energy Monitoring – These will begin to drive utility programs.
  • Home Performance Expertise Will Be Increasingly Valued and Necessary – Hear, hear!
  • Non-Energy Benefits Will Become Increasingly Recognized – Comfort, baby!
  • More Demand for Net Zero Homes, Retrofits, and Other High Efficiency Products – I question this one a bit personally, but the idea of energy independence has appeal across the political spectrum, quite a feat.

My Goals for 2016

It’s odd how many of those things I’m thinking about and working on. They say written goals are more likely to get done, and making them public makes execution even more likely, so here goes nothing – my goals for 2016.

  1. Write The Home Performance Book (yes, the title is presumptuous, I hope my book will live up to it). Rather than focusing on efficiency it will focus on solving consumer problems by helping them understand the principles causing them and the methods to solve them. Efficiency will follow as the natural outcome of good performance based design. I’ll talk about a mixture of NEBs and measured performance. It should define the HP niche and hopefully drive work to the industry nationwide. First quarter 2016.
  2. Publish case studies of our projects in a template that others can use. Use in the book. First quarter 2016.
  3. Train 1-2 local people on the Energy Smart sales process. Middle to end of year.
  4. Collect IAQ data and compare devices. Begin to understand what the heck said data means. Currently doing.
  5. Continue doing audits, selling projects, and executing them. All year.
  6. Begin development of a tool to rank contractors against each other nationwide, completely outside of programs. Rankings based on blower door numbers and actual energy usage. It will judge how well practitioners predict leakage and energy use reductions, compare average leakage and energy use reductions, and other ways to slice and dice those figures so contractors and consumers can show and know what outcomes they can expect. Hopefully a beta product mid year, better yet get it funded by DOE. Middle to end of year.
  7. Compete with other practitioners in the rankings. Tracking projects is ongoing. Competing ASAP.
  8. Advocate for paths that truly value efficiency in the real estate market. The One Knob tool should help with this by showing home EUI (Energy Use Intensity, how many kbtu/square foot/year homes use.) Talk about on bill financing, Negawatt incentives, peak shaving, load shifting, and the complex but exciting alchemy between all electric homes, electric cars, energy storage, and solar. Ongoing.

Oi, looking at that, some of it ain’t getting done. The book, training others locally on our sales process, and continuing to do measured projects are the critical ones.

Thinking Strategically

2016

Market Driven Home Performance – There is enough talk about what a Home Performance company completely outside of programs that is truly market based with measured results might look like, but until now it’s been conceptual. Talked about, like sasquatch or loch ness, as an elusive goal of “market transformation” for 30 years. Very few do exclusively HP work this way, we may be the only ones. If we’re going to be a real industry, it needs to be proven that this can be done. Energy Smart is doing it and our data transparency is the proof. Our process provides the big, high energy savings, high predictability jobs our industry and our environment needs. It genuinely works at the kitchen table for both homeowners and practitioners. That is the central goal driving everything else.

Pushing Towards Measured Results – Measured results need to be the main part of the dialogue moving the HP industry forward. Proof of past performance = high consumer confidence. Currently there is not a good and/or inexpensive tool for providing this proof. A case study/contractor ranking tool layered on top of Resispeak could be a catalyst for HP; a JD Powers for our industry that corrects the race to the bottom on price by providing a way for the best practitioners to be recognized and leverage their performance into easier, larger and higher margin sales.

2017-?

Creating Residual Capital Value for EE and solar. Measured results, when tied with property values, can give homeowners fairly high confidence in what the value of their homes will be after upgrades. This can help drive the market by making actual cost effectiveness (in resale value) a real possibility, rather than a huckster’s pitch.

Integrating with the Grid – High performing homes can act as thermal batteries, which has major grid benefits. Combined with solar, electric cars, and energy storage there is some real alchemy to be achieved. Telling this story is tricky. Ultimately, though, this alchemy is the consumer solution to climate change and moving off of fossil fuels.

It appears that all of these things are being moved towards by multiple players on multiple fronts. That bodes well for the future.

It’s going to be a very good year! I wish all of you the same and look forward to working with many of you!

Maybe go listen to a little Frank, now.  Frank Sinatra – It Was a Very Good Year Thanks to RateYourMusic.com for the image.

Resources
Energy Smart Audit and Project Reporting – A complete list of our projects, including client goals, energy use, blower door reductions, and much more. Redacted somewhat for privacy. Note the square footage of the homes, these are almost all middle class clients.

  • Bill Nickerson

    Nate ,I have to say once again I truly enjoyed reading what you have to say. I believe that your frank honesty has probably shown itself in your client interaction which intern produced higher closing rates. Your humility and humor is clean air in a industry full of pay-per-click sales funnels…..
    Truly all the best

    • Thanks for the kind words, Bill! Fair warning, with the upcoming book the PPC funnel is coming for the consumer side at least…

      To be frank once again (pun intended) we need to be a hell of a lot better at marketing ourselves than we are today. When a furnace conks out, WE need to be top of mind, not an HVAC contractor. The best HVAC contractors are moving this way now, but in the short term I think one off practitioners like ourselves are the best path until the business model for having shell and HVAC crews becomes viable. Being an auditor has low overhead, that’s what makes Energy Smart’s model work for now.