I’ve been hearing for years that you’re working to “transform the market.”
In the New York home performance world, though…you ARE the market. Anyone who’s not in your system has to compete against it. So I don’t think you’re transforming the market. I think you’re killing it, or at least strangling it.
I get it. You have a long-term plan, but contractors live in a short-term world. We have bills and mortgages to pay, every month, but you don’t. You’re looking a decade out. In 2025, you hope that “solutions are implemented on non-affordable housing buildings without subsidy.” (1)
In 2025, I’ll be fifty-four years old. My pre-pubescent son will have been out of high school for years. I don’t have the energy to wait around for you to hope that things will turn out the way you planned, because what you’re telling me is that you’re giving up; you’re just taking a long time to do it. It’s right there, in your words – you don’t want to subsidize projects. So why are you?
You’re stifling the market. In 2012, you had 231 Home Performance with Energy Star (HPwES) contractors. In 2017, you have 240. (2) In five years, you added…nine contractors. I was one of them.
You say, in your reports, that contractors “continue to be willing and eager to participate in this offering.” Are you sure about that? I think that’s boilerplate language. I keep seeing it. I don’t think you read your own reports.
Maybe you feel that way because you’ve finally managed to increase the number of projects you’re doing:
All of this says to me that your CURRENT contractors are doing MORE work. (edit: a source mentioned to me that a potential reason for the recent increase in the number of jobs was because combined EmPower/HP jobs are now being counted, where they weren't before - there's no actual "real" increase) I think that’s great. More power to them! But if you want to grow the market, that means that you need more NEW contractors, and I’ll tell you why they’re not joining you.
You simultaneously promote and devalue my work. It’s confusing. You promote “free” energy audits for homeowners, but only pay me $250 to do one. Before you got in my way with your free-audit program, I was paid $400. Some people charge more than $1000 for them, and that's completely justifiable because an energy audit doesn't just look at "energy." It also looks at the safety and health of the home. But now, people are used to the idea that "energy audits" are free. When the audit is free, homeowners start to think that the work to fix their house is free too. You dug a hole, and I need to climb out of it. You made my job harder, so I raised my prices.
Your rules are so convoluted even you don’t know what they are. The Building Performance Institute changed its standards, but your paperwork still references the old ones. I don’t think anybody actually knows what standards we’re supposed to follow. That’s just one example; you have so many rules, only a company with a dedicated staff can handle them. The little guy can’t. It’s too much and there’s no value in it. I’m sorry to even bring up the complex financing and how your financing partner killed some of my projects with their non-responsiveness. I lost money by being your partner, so I raised my prices to account for that.
And then, you added so much work to my day, I had to charge for it. So you’re not lowering prices. You’re raising them – in several different ways. The 10% rebate/incentive you give used to feel like the difference between a “market rate project” and a “NYSERDA project.” We could justify our higher prices because you made up the difference, but the work involved to make you happy has increased.
I never got an argument from you when a project involved replacing equipment, but I did when it involved insulation and air sealing. You questioned my pricing, time and time again. It’s as if you like “things.” “Things” are easy to grasp. You can touch them and they’re shiny. Maybe that’s why your Instagram is full of solar panels, electric cars, and windmills.
You like things, but I like processes. I like to help my clients with whatever they need, and I like to be a partner with them in deciding what that is. You just don’t seem to like what I do and how I do it. You have a vision of what a contractor should be, with an office and a staff and equipment. But that costs money. A lot of money. It’s more than $4000, minimum, just for the equipment needed to start working with you.
I recently did a project through you. I finished it on June 16 and submitted all of my paperwork. It was a clean finish (none of your staff could find anything wrong with it), and you paid me on August 3.
It took 48 days for you to pay me.
In that time, I had to make a mortgage payment, and was about to make another one. Plus all the usual credit card and utility bills, and food for a growing boy with a hollow leg. When you hold onto contractors’ money for a long time, we raise our prices because of it.
To participate in your home performance program, a contractor needs to be many things. They need to be an accountant. They need to be good with computers. They need to be a scientist, a counselor, a technician, good with their hands, and a fortune-teller. They need to predict issues that might arise due to their work. They need to be good at time management and marketing. That’s a tall order. The people who can do this and be successful charge appropriately, and they can do it without you. That’s why they’re not joining you. You’re not bringing anything new – just a promise that they’ll have to raise their prices so much that the value for their clients will get worse.
Do you see what’s happening? All the ways your contractors are raising their prices because of you?
I used to think we were in this together. I used to think that if I tried hard enough you’d be happy. But you don’t seem happy. I tried so hard to win your approval, but I realized that I didn’t need your approval any more.
You dole out approval with “awards,” and assume that plaques are a motivational strategy. It doesn’t work, because it’s extrinsic. Most of us don’t do this work for certificates, we do it because it helps our clients and we feel satisfied at night. And besides, your award-winning contractors are the same ones that win the same awards, over and over, because you recognize volume. Not quality. If I try hard, someone else will get your awards. How is that motivational? The good contractors don’t care. We just do it because we like to do good work. What about the contractors who don’t get your awards? They deserve awards every day. Every day they’re crawling through puddles of mouse pee in a crawlspace. Every day they’re in a 140-degree attic. Every day they’re changing out a furnace next to the litter box. Every day they’re shoveling out their work van so they can get out of the steep driveway in January.
They don’t need awards. They just need an ice-cream sandwich and an uninterrupted lunch break.
I let my insurance lapse. You didn’t even notice. I let my BPI accreditation lapse and you didn’t notice that either. You can’t even keep track of the basics.
I feel like your head is spinning. You have so much on your plate, and the landscape is changing so quickly, that you’re having a hard time keeping up. And by the time you acknowledge things aren’t working, something new has come along and you start the cycle all over again. Dual-fuel furnaces don’t fit into your guidelines. Heat pumps aren’t eligible for your subsidies, even though it’s been proven (over and over again) that they work in cold climates. You’re still using ventilation guidelines from 1989. That's the year I graduated high school.
You like it when things are simple. Simple is easy, but houses are hard and they’re outside. They get rained on, snowed on, frozen & baked. The climate-change pendulum keeps swinging and we get polar vortices and torrential rains and toxic algae blooms in our lakes.
You should know by now how much energy & carbon is saved from my work. We’ve been doing this together for TEN YEARS. We shouldn’t have to keep modeling individual houses to figure that out, but your emphasis on energy savings is holding us back. Making our projects all about “savings” and “payback” devalues the greater benefits of what we do. When I’m done with a house, it’s healthier. Its indoor air quality is improved. Carbon emissions are reduced. None of these has anything to do with savings-to-investment ratios.
You’re not my first, you know. I was a willing participant in a 3rd-world educational bureaucracy. After that, I worked for the most-visited museum in the world. I used to think that bureaucracy was the worst - it was a mashup of all of the worst elements of an educational institution and the government’s bureaucracies. But you…you’re different. You make it personal.
You’re old-school. I used to respect that, but the world has changed. Millennials are buying houses, they want to control them with their phones, and you don’t have an app. You can’t show any data about the kind of results homeowners can expect. My colleagues in the industry and I have given you a DECADE’s worth of data to work with, and you haven’t done anything with it to market my work to a new generation. From their perspective…there’s no proof that what you’re supporting actually works. That makes them less likely to do something, like text me. I keep trying to open doors, but you keep putting up walls.
Ten years together. 20,000 hours of my life, dedicated to your mission, and you haven’t done anything with it to help me.
So I’m done. I wish you well. Maybe you’ll find someone new. But if you don’t, I encourage you to look inwards for the reason why.
But if you do find someone new…be nice to them. Help them.
Terrawatt's Blake Reid owns a deep commitment to doing things right on both micro and macro levels.