By Xavier Walter April 3, 2023
Home performance professionals are often called in after a solar array was installed when the customer is saying, “It’s not saving me as much as they said it would.” That can be avoided by simply going beyond the electric bills and taking a holistic look at the energy consumption of a home.
The phrase “home performance” describes how all aspects of a home work together as one comprehensive system. Solar is within that system, but many solar salespeople and installers don’t realize that — and they’re losing money because of it.
With $8.8 billion in efficiency and electrification rebates coming to the United States housing stock through the Inflation Reduction Act,1 it is more important than ever to have contractors from different trades work together for mutual benefit. Estimating multiple upgrade measures at the time of solar installation can increase effectiveness while improving overall customer satisfaction.
Solar contractors may consider expanding their businesses to include whole-house services such as energy audits and efficiency upgrades to take advantage of the rebate funding these acts provide. This comprehensive approach could help contractors increase sales and create jobs while improving energy efficiency for customers.
Every home performance professional wonders: How can a solar installer best understand the load of a home before efficiency upgrades are completed? Measures like air sealing, insulation, water heating, HVACR and fuel switching can dramatically impact the sizing of renewable energy solutions and change the cost-benefit analyses.
It is necessary for solar salespeople to educate themselves and their customers about the benefits of a whole-house approach to energy efficiency and the impacts of what they sell. This could involve explaining to customers how improving the energy efficiency of their entire homes impacts the solar and battery system sizes, can lead to greater energy savings, and can increase the value of their homes.
Let’s Work Together
Solar is more mainstream than home performance, so it’s often the solar installer who is the first point of contact for customers who may also benefit from energy efficiency upgrades to their home. One potential way for solar contractors to add home performance to their businesses is to collaborate with other companies that offer complementary services.
Partnerships are an invaluable way to increase volume, reduce costs and improve project outcomes. For example, a solar contractor could partner with a home performance contractor or an insulation company to offer comprehensive energy efficiency upgrades to customers. A simple, transparent agreement between parties can outline shared revenue and responsibilities.
The fact that a solar contractor may be the point person for eligible electrification rebate items, like electrical-box upgrades, makes them an ideal candidate to process other rebates offered to homeowners. Partnering with other trades and acting as a general contractor may help a small company grow without adding to its payroll.
Installers in hot markets are swamped with leads and often cannot add additional services to their regular businesses, but they don’t have to do it alone. For example, a heat-pump water heater is an easy add-on to any solar project, but often requires a bit more conversation and a capable plumber for installation. So, why not partner with a plumber and offer this to your customer?
Solar project administrators are accustomed to interconnection paperwork and Solar Renewable Energy Credit registration, making them ideal candidates to process the rebate paperwork on behalf of the partnering plumbers. In fact, office administration is often a strong suit of many successful solar companies today, which can be a valuable resource for other home contractors to participate in federal incentive programs.
Solar is sexy and insulation is itchy, so I can completely understand that efficiency measures may not be seen as being as important as renewable energy. The reality is that simple air sealing and insulation can reduce heating and cooling costs by over 15% on the average house.2 Coupled with HVAC, water heating and electrical expenses, savings can exceed 35%.
Under the HOMES provision of the IRA,3 some homeowners may get up to $4,000 in point-of-sale rebates to complete these efficiency upgrades. These savings may make the sale of a renewable energy solution more attractive for a homeowner looking to make an investment.
Training and Education
If a solar contractor really wants to dive in, it is best if they train someone within their organization to become an energy auditor.4 Partnering with a local certified energy auditor, mentor or trainer could also provide the employee an opportunity to learn while immediately meeting the needs of their customers.
Adding the cost of a third-party energy audit to the project scope has very little impact on customer cost or contractor revenue. The provided service can help with system design and consumer education and can result in better equipment performance.
Mike Studholme, a solar power consultant and installer at Mountain View Solar, said, “Getting my BPI Building Analyst Certification training helped me better understand my job, making me a better salesperson, project manager, and really made me more confident in the field.”
Another option is for solar contractors to invest in training and education for all their employees to enable them to offer a wider range of services or to improve customer experience. This could involve obtaining trainings for products and services that impact energy consumption in a home. The BPI Building Science Principles certificate trainings are a great way to get quickly educated about the house as a system and to prove your knowledge on an exam.5,6
Now’s the Time
Adding whole-house services to a solar contracting business can be a lucrative and rewarding way to take advantage of the funding available through the IRA while also creating jobs and providing benefits to customers. Certain aspects of potential rebates and incentives will require full-service home projects. Now is the time to start preparing for more than $8 billion in residential energy efficiency and electrification investments.
About the Author
Xavier Walter is the state outreach coordinator at the Building Performance Association. He organizes support for contractor needs, advises state governments on how best to use their resources to advance the home performance industry, and furthers the association’s policy positions at both the state and national levels.