Posts Tagged ‘Long term thinking’

Healthy Home Evaluator Training

October 13, 2016

Fall River, MA     October 13, 2016

hhe-class2_troost-avenue For two days – November 15th and 16th – Paul Raymer of Heyoka Solutions will be teaching a pilot of the BPI HHE course at the Fall River campus of Bristol Community College (BCC).  The purpose of this course is to blend the knowledge of building science with the ability to recognize home environmental risks.

For years qualified building scientists have been striving to make homes more energy efficient.  The same tools can be used to recognize a healthy home environment.  Using their building science knowledge, students taking this course will connect what they already know to environmental concerns that are being overlooked.  The class, based on a course developed by Healthy Housing Solutions, is a combination of classroom sessions, group exercises, hands-on tool use, and situation analysis in BCC’s unique test cabin.  This class will review basic building science fundamentals and analysis tools that are used to apply the six Keep It principles: Keep It Dry, Keep It Ventilated, Keep It Clean, Keep It Pest Free, Keep It Safe, and Keep It Contaminant Free.

What is Integrated Pest Management?  What if the homeowner says the house is too dry?  What does that mean for energy use?  What does that mean for health impacts?  What impact do air fresheners have on the environment?  What impact do they have on energy efficiency?  What elements of a home environment might impact asthma in children?  What issues are chronic?  What issues are critical and an Immediate Danger to Life?

Consider healthy home evaluation an investigation, like CSI.  Understanding building science fundamentals can be lead to a clarification of a healthy environment.  A house is a system.  It’s all connected.hhe-class1_troost-avenue

Upon completion of the course students will be ready to challenge the BPI HHE 1.5 hour certification exam offered on November 17th.  Class will be held at  BCC – 1082 Davol Street – Fall River, MA  Phone: 774-357-3644

Contact Rosemary Senra at BCC for more information.

Teaching is a Privelege

June 8, 2015

Teaching is an honor and a privilege.  I know something and you want to learn it and you are Labrador Classroomwilling to listen to me define, describe, demonstrate, and pass on the information in my mind into your mind.  Wow!

When I was in school, the teachers or instructors or professors were the authorities.  They could throw chalk at me if I dozed off.  I had to be there.  It was a requirement.  They were in charge.  I didn’t understand much of what they were babbling about.  But in fact, teachers don’t have jobs if there aren’t students.  The teacher works for the student.  It works like the Vulcan Mind-meld in Star Trek without the touching.  The students should not sit there passively just listening.  They should be actively engaged in the transfer of information. And if they don’t understand a point, they should make the teacher or instructor or professor explain it another way until it makes sense . . . until it is clear, equally clear in both minds.  I never had a teacher explain that he/she was working for me.

John Krigger says that “teaching is not proving how smart you are”.   And he’s right.  There is a definite sense of power standing in front of an audience of eager faces, hanging on your every word.  And it is tempting to drop names and connections of the famous and powerful whether you know them or not, puffing up your character.  There is a point for a teacher to establish their credentials.  But as my grandmother used to say, “Enough is as good as a feast!”  We all like to be taught by recognized authorities.  The point is not who you are but your ability and skill to transfer the information.  If you know a lot, you have a duty to pass it on.

My first teaching experience was in a one room school on the coast of Labrador.  It was the extreme authority experience.  I was just 22.  Straight out of college with no teaching training.  When the ship I came in and dropped me off, they started ringing the church bell in the town.  I learned later that they expected me to hold a service.  Tradition was that the teacher was the authority figure in the town.  The teacher made the rules . . . for the whole town!  It was akin to being the king.  No one had explained that to me so I didn’t know the tradition.  But I felt it in the respect they gave me.

It took me a lot of years to get back to teaching and even more years to understand the honor and privilege that it is to be allowed to do it.  I learn more every single time I teach.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

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TV Sets, Homes, and QCI

May 18, 2015

I have had the pleasure of talking to a lot of wonderful people about the challenges of the BPI QCI CertificHomeowner checkation, and I am getting some unique insight.  I started out working on my book – Residential QCI Handbook on a quest to help candidates who are preparing to take the exam.  I wanted to get a clearer picture of how to prepare for the exam, what to study, what to learn, and what to brush up on.  But there is a lot more to it than just sharpening your pencil or memorizing a table.

For one thing, there is a lot to being a Quality Control Inspector for homes.  Early in my career I worked as a technician in a company that made television sets.  Electronic components were stuffed by hand into circuit boards.  Hardware components were mounted on large, copper back plates, wires were run between point A and point B . . . and C, D, E, F, G, etc.  Lots of wires.  For awhile I had to solder those wires in place.  Individual components like the power supplies and the channel tuners were tested at individual stations.  And then the whole thing was put together, shaken for a half hour to see if everything would stay in place, and then turned on and aligned and then put in a box to be shipped.  Every person in the process had something to do with making that TV set work . . . every person from the person who stuffed the resistors into the holes on the circuit boards to the final test technician who made sure that it actually would work when it arrived in someone’s home played a role in the success or failure of the product.

I started out connecting wires, but I ended up performing the final alignment – performing the final quality control on each television.  There were a lot of smart people putting those things together, but the level of risk was small.  If the TV set didn’t work, people in a bar weren’t going to able to watch the 3 Stooges!  (They told me that when I was doing field service.)  If someone doesn’t properly check the spillage on a water heater in a house, a family could die.

Quality Control for homes is a lot more serious than quality control for TV sets.  Over and over again as I have talked to people I heard that the economic rewards for the job are barely considered.  The rewards are emotional.  Clients are grateful when their homes are more comfortable and the heating bills lower.

So that’s another thing.  I had heard that candidates struggle with the “soft skills” questions on the written test.  It’s very difficult to write “soft skills” questions that have only one right answer.  Those are generally the questions that attorneys answer by saying, “Well, it depends!”  How do you assess client satisfaction?  You talk to them.  We don’t do this work ON clients.  We do this work WITH clients.  The crew and the weatherization agency brings the skills and that has to blend with requirements of the house and the people who live there.  It is all one beautiful, functional entity.  It’s like the TV sets I worked on only much more significant.  Most of those TV sets that I worked on back in the 1970’s are in the dump by now.  Houses will be around for a few hundred years.

100217_4760Tamasin Sterner of PureEnergy Coach told me that you can’t have an ego to be a Quality Control Inspector.  It’s just not about you.

You, however, will provide the final quality control checks on my book.  I am honored to have been certified as a QCI Master Trainer by IREC.  I am honored to have been able to talk to a lot of people for the contents of the book.  I have tried to pull together a lot of useful knowledge and tools to get the job done.  But there is so much out there that it is overwhelming.  You really need to know a lot to be good at this job.  For those of you who are about to challenge the QCI exam, take courage, eat some dark chocolate (Amanda Hatherly mentioned that), and believe in yourself and what you are doing.


If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

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Shades of Gray in Residential Construction Morality

April 27, 2015

I was called in to perform a last minute duct test for a modular home builder.  He was all in a dither to have a duct test and a blower door test done on a Friday so that he could get his Certificate of Occupancy (CO) so the homeowner could move in the following Monday.  He said that he’d just found out that he needed these tests.  The building inspector asked for them at the last minute!

I was glad to do it partially because it’s good to have builders aware of what is going on despite the fact that he might have been warned for the past year or more that the code had changed.  General awareness of these changes take time.  After all, this wasn’t the first house that he had built since the new codes went into effect, but this was obviously the first building inspector who had made him do it.  The 2012 IECC is quite demanding in contrast to the 2009 version, and it is clear that builders can’t just build the way they used to.  The IECC requires 3 ACH50 and ducts that leak no more than 4 cfm per 100 square feet.  This house leaked at over 7 ACH50 and the ducts were at just under 9 cfm per 100 square feet.

So the builder ran around with a caulking gun.  He stuffed paper towel under the basement door.  He pulled off electrical receptacle covers and installed those little foam pads.  And then he looked at me.  This is the point where the rubber meets the road as a Quality Control Inspector.  The house performed better than many houses that have been built over the years.  It wasn’t likely to explode or rot away in a year.  After all, it had been mostly assembled in a factory – indoors where it never rained.  So why didn’t the modular manufacturer get it right?  They could have sealed up the tops of all the wire chases in the attic.  There was air coming up from the marriage wall gap.  Whose responsibility was that?

We called the factory.  They were apparently shocked!  How could air be leaking at all the outlets?  Using a pressure pan I showed the builder which ones were connected to the outside and which ones weren’t.  It wasn’t all of them.  Attitude in the factory came into play.  Maybe someone had been assigned the task of sealing all those holes but ran out of . . . foam?  attitude? time?  Maybe it was Friday afternoon.

Open Panned Return1

Panned Return

Then there were the ducts.  The only return in the house was a large opening in the living room floor where the joists had been panned  down below.  There was a wind blowing up from the basement (outside the conditioned space) when the blower door was running.

We called the HVAC contractor.  “I sealed every joint with mastic!  We do that every time.  I don’t know what could have happened.”  Using the theatrical fogger, it was pretty obvious that they hadn’t sealed every joint.  The filter slot was uncovered and beyond that, it was located in such a manner that the gas pipe and some wires would always make it extremely difficult to change the filter.

By this point, the builder recognized that the house was not going to pass and he was not going to get his certificate of occupancy for Monday.   He told me that he would arrange to have the HVAC contractor back and would spend time sealing and tightening up the house.

Open Panned Return

Vision of the Living Room

A week went by before he called me back.  Now, all of this is unfortunately too common, but it was the second visit that really disturbed me.  On the phone the builder said the ducts had been retested and they were fine.  All he need from me was the blower door test.  I asked to see the duct test results.  He said that the HVAC guy was having trouble with his email, but he sent me a photograph of the test results.  I noticed that the building size was wrong.  The results were remarkably good.  I couldn’t read the signature or the name and there wasn’t a BPI or HERS number.   No, the builder said, you don’t need to retest the ducts.  Just do the blow test.

When I got to the house, the builder was running around with his caulking gun again.  Proudly he showed me how the marriage wall had been foamed in the basement.  He said he had talked to the factory but they really hadn’t done much.  I looked at the ducting.  The section of the floor joist panning was wide open at the end.  You could see the daylight of the grille in the living room.  There was absolutely no way that the testing could have had the results that it did.

While we were in the basement, the HVAC contractor showed  up and started caulking around the floor boots.  If the ducts were so tight, why was he still trying to make them tighter?  I showed him the open panned return.  “Don’t know how that could have happened!  We had a guy who was doing bad work.  I had to let him go.”

I asked him about the guy who tested the ducts.  “Oh, he’s just a guy that works for me.  Does this once in awhile.”

So the duct testing was a lie.  It was a lie by an employee who worked for the HVAC contractor.  The builder accepted it and refused to let me retest the ducts once the HVAC company had worked on them.  He wanted the CO and he wanted to be done with the job.

This situation was obvious: the end of the ducting was wide open.  Without my testing, they would never have known.  The system would have been running that way for its entire existence.  Even with my testing, the builder was willing to accept the results and walk away.  The HVAC contractor was willing to accept the results and walk away and complain about onerous rules and regulations.  The homeowner would have gotten a shoddy product and the building inspector would have received invalid information and had to accept it because he couldn’t recheck the result due to lack of time and money.

If we are going to make this system work and have any value, at the very least there ought to be simple ways to verify the credentials of the people doing the testing.  There ought to be a way for QCI inspectors to ding the contractor or the builder for making stuff up.  I want to believe that this was a learning experience for both the builder and the HVAC contractor and that they will do better next time.  But when I saw those original duct testing results from the HVAC contractor, I didn’t believe them.  Should I have compelled the builder to let me retest?  Obviously the ducting system would have failed miserably.  If it had been a health and safety situation, there would have been no question.  But it was a performance and long term durability question.  Are there shades of gray in residential construction morality?


If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

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What does it take to be a certified Home Energy Professional Quality Control Inspector (HEP QCI)?

April 13, 2015

A quality control program requires knowing a lot about a lot of different subjects.  A HEP (BPI Home Energy Professional) Quality Into the Crawl SpaceControl Inspector is qualified to compare a project outcome to the project requirements or work scope so that the final result is satisfactory to both the program and the homeowner.  It requires both technical knowledge as well as “soft skills” which are difficult to teach, learn, and test.

Receiving QCI Certification is a major commitment of time and money and not a task to be entered into lightly.  You must be technically competent and experienced and you must be convinced that the commitment will be worth the reward.  As of January 1, 2015 the DOE Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) requires program grantees to meet their Quality Work Plan.

The Weatherization Assistance Program’s (WAP) comprehensive Quality Work Plan establishes a benchmark for quality home energy upgrades. The plan includes an inspection and monitoring requirement that all WAP Grantees must meet.  All units reported to DOE as completed will be inspected to ensure compliance with the specifications in the SWS (Standard Work Specifications).  All quality control inspections, including monitoring inspections, must be conducted and signed-off by a certified Home Energy Professional Quality Control Inspector.

There are about twenty-five Weatherization Assistance Agencies throughout the U.S. and there are about sixteen regional weatherization assistance training programs.  (These numbers come from the WAPTAC website

Most of the QCI inspections are likely to be performed by internal staff at the weatherization agencies and programs.  It is expensive for an independent contractor to carry the necessary liability insurance, although many independent energy efficiency contractors are already carrying a heavy insurance load for audits and HERS ratings.

The HEP QCI certification is a BPI (Building Performance Institute ) certification program.  In order to be qualified to challenge the required exams, there are a number of experience requirements as defined on the BPI HEP prerequisite page.  One of the biggest challenges is being able to prove the experience related credentials.  It is important that anyone thinking of achieving these credentials begin to log or document their experience.  This might require going back to former employers to get them to sign off.   Experiences are summarized by adding up a minimum of forty points from five different areas:

1)    Industry inspector experience;
2)    Other industry experience;
3)    Building experience;
4)    Training;
5)    Industry certification

Inspector experience can include site visits, inspections, and diagnostics for a maximum of twenty points, defined as ten points for every one thousand hours of experience.  If an average energy audit takes you two hours, it would require five hundred audits for ten points.

If you were an energy auditor or crew leader, you could include five points for crew leader and ten points for energy auditor as long as you have completed a minimum of fifteen documented audits.  You will need to have an organization attest to the fact that you have completed two thousand hours as a crew leader and/or two thousand hours as an energy auditor and completed fifteen audits.

For building experience such as framing, roofing, drywalling, or siding you could include a maximum of ten points with five points allocated to every one thousand hours.  You will need to have an organization verify that you have completed one thousand hours of building experience for each five points.

You can include a maximum of ten points for eighty hours of training (five points per forty hours).

Finally you can list five points per industry certification (with a maximum of ten points) for RESNET, BPI, NATE, or EPA.  Other industry related certifications are also considered.

Once you have applied and your experience verified and you have been approved to take the exams, you will have two and half hours for the written exam at a cost of approximately $250 (depending on the testing organization) and three and a half hours at a cost of approximately $700 to take the field exam.   (Reportedly the field exam can be accomplished in less time if the house is relatively basic.)

The HEP QCI certification is valid for three years.

There are twenty-nine organizations that offer QCI training (according to the BPI website).  The first thing to look for is a training provider that is IREC (Interstate Renewable Energy Council) Accredited.  An organization that has achieved IREC Accreditation has gone through an extensive review of all of its practices and programs from the content of the courses to the solidity of its economics.  An experienced IREC assessor has reviewed it all: everything that a student would want to know.

There are fourteen organizations in the U.S. whose HEP QCI courses have been accredited.  Go to the IREC website for their locations.   This is not to say that the other training programs are not good.  They may be excellent but seeing the IREC Accreditation gives you one more level of assurance – quality assurance – in the program.  And if you’re going to invest that kind of money, you should use the best.  It may not necessarily be the closest – and there is something to be said for limited travel costs – but you’re making an investment so it should be a good one.

The QCI course is based on a Job Task Analysis or JTA developed by a team of industry experts.  The QCI JTA consists of five knowledge domains:
Domain I: Conducting Quality Checks – In-Process Visual/Sensory Inspections
Domain II: Conducting Quality Checks – Post-work Visual/Sensory Inspection
Domain III: Conducting Quality Checks – Post Work Diagnostic Inspections
Domain IV: Ensuring Worker Professionalism
Domain V: Ensuring Program or Project Compliance

Each of these domains are broken down into four or five tasks.  BPI has a “Field Guide” on their website.  The Field Guide includes everything that is on the field test.  It would be reasonable to go through everything listed on the Field Guide and make sure that you know how to efficiently perform every task.  It would also be advisable to rewrite the field guide (including all the items) into a checklist in the order that you are familiar with.  (Note that you want to be sure to perform every step in the Field Guide.  Just because a task seems obvious or inconsequential or not applicable to the present home, doesn’t mean that you should ignore it.)  The BPI Field Guide is grouped in similar areas – all the items related to work problems in one area and all the items related to CO in another area.  Bouncing back and forth will be inefficient and time consuming.  It makes much more sense to reorganize the Guide in a logical and sequential list.  At the same time you will be familiarizing yourself with what is included and less likely to be fumbling around during the field test.

More on these  Domains and Tasks to come in future blog posts.


If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

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150 Years to 10

April 6, 2015

Houses should last a very long time.  The Knap of Howar was built approximately fifty-five hundred years ago.  Pueblos in New Knap of HowarMexico were built over a thousand years ago.  Saltford Manor House, in Somerset, England was built sometime in the twelfth century and is still occupied!  These houses are built of extremely durable materials like stone or adobe.  But even the wooden houses built in the U.S. are intended to last a very long time.  It is interesting to think that we don’t actually own our houses.  It is rare that a house is passed along from generation to generation endlessly.  We’re just borrowing the shelter for a time, and then it is likely that it will be sold and passed along to someone else.  My house – at least parts of it – has been around since the middle of the eighteenth century.  I don’t know the people who lived here before except for the nice lady I bought it from.  There have been a lot of lives and a lot of stories enclosed within these walls.

When it was built, heating was accomplished by individual room stoves.  A central, warm air coal system was installed with very large ducts that allowed the air to move around convectively because there was no electricity and no fans.  Coal fired, single pipe steam was added and that was eventually converted to oil.

Electricity was added with knob and tube wiring to a fuse box.  More recently that was converted to Romex.

Running water and indoor plumbing was added, requiring the installation of pipes and drains one of which finally rusted out in the deep, dark recesses of the crawl space this winter.

I added insulation and storm windows and some passive solar heat.

The point is that some of this house is still over 150 years old.  The world has changed.  Building technology has changed.  Materials have changed.  Comfort has improved.  Houses are adaptable.  But not all the materials are going to last 150 years.  Some things – like network computer wiring – change very quickly, lasting less than a decade.  Knowing that, we shouldn’t be creating new houses that require the removal of the 150 year stuff to replace the 10 year stuff.  Repair and maintenance is a fact of life.  There are cars like that and they are not always exotics.  The Dodge Stratus, for example requires jacking up the car, removing the driver’s side front wheel, removing the inner fender skirt, in order to unbolt and replace the battery.  Not that a car is going to last hundreds of years.  We should not have to throw the car away because the battery dies.  If we are to be good stewards of the planet, knowing that things break and maintenance is required, we should build in such a way that conserves the good, solid, 150 plus year materials.

Quality Control should be more than just getting the job done.  Every time we work on a house we should think about the legacy of what we are providing for the future.  There is going to be love and sadness, laughter and joy and history will be made within the walls and that is not something to be treated casually.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.  Scheduled for publication on June 1, 2015.  For updates and a discount on publication, please add your name and email address by clicking on the book below.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

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Remembering Common Sense

March 23, 2015

A house is meant to be a shelter from the weather, a small, controlled subsection of the planet earth where a family can live safely and comfortably. Caves worked but they were hard to keep warm. But they mostly kept the rain off and blocked some of the wind. House design has advanced over the years becoming safer and more protective. Most of the time. There have been problems with chimneys, for example. A hole in the roof works to let some of the smoke out, but it was an improvement to enclose more of the smoke and guide more of it out. But there was a problem with wooden chimneys. Common sense dictated that chimneys be built of fireproof materials. In fact, many of the improvements in building science were dictated by common sense, wisdom, and skill. The problem came into it when unskilled builders decided that it couldn’t be all that hard and there was money to be made by ignoring some of the details. So rules and codes and standards were created.

Now there isn’t anything inherently wrong with having rules and codes and standards. The problem is that the focus tends to drift from why the rule or code or standard was created in the first place to developing rules and codes and standards just to regulate the rules and codes and standards. Let’s face it: we’re not perfect. And our rules and codes and standards won’t ever be universally perfect either no matter how hard we tweak and tinker and debate. Some people like a airconditioned thatchlittle more salt on their meat and some a little less. And some don’t like meat at all. One rule that covers all the ways to eat a steak simply wouldn’t work. We could have committees and conferences and technical papers ad nauseam but we would still never come up with the perfect rule. When a committee or a society or a club self-perpetuates by simply constantly making changes to a set of rules, the original point is lost. No doubt we are learning more and things change, but we’ve lost the link to common sense. There is no room in our rules or codes or standards for the application of common sense! And we need to just stop and try to remember why the rule or code or standard was written in the first place!

What is the fundamental, bottom line point for the existence of the ASHRAE 62 Standard, for example? (Having been on that committee for over ten years now, I feel that I have a right to use it as an example.) The Standard says, “This standard defines the roles and minimum requirements for mechanical and natural ventilation systems and the building envelope intended to provide acceptable indoor air quality (IAQ) in low-rise residential buildings.” That sounds pretty reasonable. The basics of the standard are great – segmented and detailed to define important stuff. Why can’t we just finish it? Maybe tweak it a little once in a while as we learn more and technology improves. But a huge amount of brain power and hours of discussion and tons of paper go into the constant adjustment of the standard.

When a 747 is landing, it is important for the pilot to line the plane up with the runway accurately so that that little or no adjustment is need to keep the plane rolling straight when it touches the ground. At those speeds, any moderately radical change of direction would be disastrous. A consensus standard is the result of general agreement about diverse views. Can you imagine what would happen if a 747 was landed by a committee? A compendium of diverse views doesn’t always allow room for common sense.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful. Publishing date is June 1, 2015.  Add your name to stay in touch.  Thanks.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

KSAs – Teaching the ‘A’

March 16, 2015

What are KSAs?  Kosher Supervision of America?  Knights Saving Armadillos? In building science terms (and others) KSA is an acronym for Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities.  There is no question about the Knowledge part.  You definitely have to know what you are doing when you are working on a house.  You have to know about the concept of the “house as a system”.   You have to know how to do basic math.  You have to know what ACH and CFM mean.  That knowledge can be presented and learned.  You can read it in a text book or hear it from a trainer.

Attic soffit stuffing

KSAs in an attic

There is also no question about Skills.  You have to have the skill to operate a blower door or a combustion analyzer.  Once you know how to do it, you can develop the skill by continuing to do it.  Some people can play their manometers like Stradivarius violins.  That’s a skill.

And there really is no question about the requirement for Ability to get the job done.  The problem is that you can’t teach ‘ability’.  Ability is either there or it’s not.  No matter how much knowledge you have or skills you have learned, if you’re not able to do the job you can’t do the job.  It might be better, however, to consider that the ‘A’ stands for attitude.  Ability and attitude go hand in hand.  When someone says, “I can’t!”, does that really mean that they lack the ability to do the job?  Or is it that they lack the right attitude?  They don’t feel like doing the job or the task or the event?  You can’t teach attitude either.  Maybe it’s in the motivation.  Maybe it’s self confidence or desire or the reward for getting it done or the punishment for failing.

Imagine you are in a hot attic sealing duct work and you are there by yourself.  It’s the end of the day and you are tired.  It’s dirty and dusty and cramped and your legs hurt and your arms hurt and your head hurts from bumping it on the underside of the roof.  There is one last joint off there in a corner.  No one will ever know if you finish the job and seal that joint . . . no one but you.  You have the knowledge.  You have the skill.  And you have the ability.  But do you have the attitude?

A quality control inspector has to have the knowledge and skill and ability to read the crew members’ attitude.

If you are planning to challenge the BPI Quality Control Inspector’s certification, you might find the Quality Control Inspector’s Residential Handbook helpful.

QCI Handbook Cover copy

If we’re going to do the job at all, we might as well do it right!

March 2, 2015

Gas ChecksDespite our best intentions, everybody makes mistakes.  It may be from lack of knowledge.  It may be from laziness.  It may be from just not paying attention.  Some mistakes have no consequences.  Some mistakes can kill people.  There are a lot of skills that go into making a house more energy efficient.  You can learn the fundamentals of the laws of thermodynamics and how to operate a blower door or an infrared camera, but the only way you gain wisdom is through experience.  When you are in  a crawl space sealing up the ducting joints and there is one more joint way back in the corner that no one will ever see except you  and it is damp and dirty and you’re lying on the floor covered with building rubble, are you going to go back there and get the job done?  Are you just going to work your way back out of there, shrug your shoulders, and justify it to yourself?  That’s what KSA means: Knowledge, Skills, and . . . Attitude.  Some people say it’s Knowledge, Skills, and Ability.  And you do have to have the ability to get the job done.  But you also need to have the right Attitude.

Quality Control Inspectors are the last line of defense.  They must have the right attitude.  The energy auditor checks out the house and creates the work order.  The crew comes in with the crew leader and gets the job done.  The quality control inspector makes sure that the ‘i’s‘ are dotted and the ‘t’s‘ are crossed and . . . that last connection in the crawl space is sealed.  Sometimes the QCI is called in because there is a problem like excessive humidity on the windows.  Sometimes is just a matter of signing off on the job.  If everyone did their jobs perfectly, QCIs wouldn’t be necessary.  And who’s going to check the QCI?d

The BPI Home Energy Professional (HEP) certifications take a lot of knowledge, skills, ability (attitude), and experience.  You have to prove that you know a lot about a lot of things.  To assist in that process, I am creating a Quality Control Inspectors Handbook.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) Job Task Analysis (JTA), what the certification is based on, covers a lot of fundamental and soft skills.  The book will go through all the Domains and Tasks in the JTA as well as all the elements that are included in the BPI field exam.  There is a need for more QCIs to meet the states’ Quality Work Plans.  My goal is to provide a resource that can support these efforts.  If we’re going to do the job at all, we might as well do it right!

If you would like to stay updated on the progress of the book, click on Keep Me Updated!  QCI Handbook Cover copyThank you.

Ice Dams and Soffit Vents

February 25, 2015
Ice Dam

Ice Dam and Soffit Vents


Right now in Massachusetts people are going crazy because of the ice dams on their roofs!  A company has arrived from Minnesota that has steam generating devices and personnel that will climb up on your roof and melt the amazing amount of ice that is collecting in the gutters, weighting them down, backing the water up the roof, and leaking into the ceilings below.  Companies have produced melting products like salt that can be thrown up on the roof to melt the ice.  Why is this happening?

Obviously because there is an enormous amount of snow that has fallen on roofs in Massachusetts!  But this really only highlights a problem that festers every year.  Before we insulated attics we didn’t have ice dam problems.  Heat from the interior of the house passed through the ceiling, heated the attic, and melted the snow evenly.

To save energy (and money) we now insulate our attics so much less heat escapes from the house which is great for a whole lot of reasons.  If air sealing was done prior to the installation of the insulation, reducing the amount of air that moves through the holes in the ceiling, transferring warm, moist air from the house into the attic AND if the insulation is installed perfectly from one edge of the ceiling to the other, there wouldn’t be ice dams either because the entire attic would be almost the same temperature as outside and the snow would melt evenly.

Soffit and ridge vents were the solution to the imperfect installation of the insulation.  The idea is that cold air pours in through the soffit vents and sweeps up under the entire underside of the roof deck and pours out of the ridge vents.  Soffit and ridge vents are there to prevent ice dams!  The building code says that you have to have attic venting.

Soffit and ridge vents are designed to solve the ice dam problem only.  They are NOT going to cool the attic.  The building code is the same in Florida as it is in Massachusetts.  They haven’t had much of a problem with ice dams in Florida.  They do have a problem with hurricanes.

For ridge and soffit vents to do their job inducing an airflow up the entire underside of the roof deck, they have to have an unimpeded path from the soffit to the ridge.  Companies make baffles or chutes to guide the air from the soffit.  These are not easy to install effectively particularly on a retrofit basis.  And when the air sweeps in from the soffit and passes through the fiberglass insulation or blows back the loose fill cellulose, it reduces the insulation value at one of the most critical points in the thermal boundary: the tops of the exterior walls.  Consequently, heat flows up the exterior walls into the attic, melting the snow on the roof immediately before the roof extends out beyond the house where it is exposed to the outside air and cold on the top and on the bottom.  The snow melts, runs down the roof, hits the cold surface and freezes.  More water from melting snow moves down the roof, and collides with the ice dam.  The dam forms a lake above it and the water works it way back in, under the shingles, and drips down onto the ceiling and into the house.

How do you fix this?

Well you can’t do much inside the house until the ice and snow is gone from the roof.  Once that wonderful day arrives, you should try to resolve the problem so that it doesn’t happen again.

  • Before adding insulation to the attic, make sure that as many of the holes between the house and the attic are sealed.  It is a lot easy to do that when they aren’t buried under lots of insulation;
  • Make sure that the soffit and ridge vents are actually open and allow air to flow through them;
  • Install effective air baffles to guide the air from the soffit vents up the underside of the roof deck.  It is very hard to see because it is a narrow, triangular space at the eave and there are nails sticking through the roof deck, but it is vital that the baffles make contact with the soffit and seal the entry air into a pathway to the ridge;
  • Then add insulation to the attic.  Blowing in insulation is like painting the walls.  The hardest part in painting and insulating is the preparation.  Once that’s done, blowing in the insulation is quick and cheap.

You could consider insulating the underside of the roof deck with spray foam.  That is a more expensive process but can be quite effective.  Any of these solutions is cheaper than hiring a company from Minnesota to keep steaming your roof time after time!



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Still to come: the BPI Home Energy Professional QCI Handbook