I’ve been successfully hanging drywall for nearly three decades, but when work started slowing down a few years ago I decided to add home-performance contracting to my business. Getting trained and certified felt like a logical step, since drywall work directly involves the building envelope. I also do a lot of insulating (which is common for drywall contractors in my area).
Originally, I just wanted to increase the scope of services I could offer my clients, though I also thought that the added knowledge would give me an edge over my competitors when bidding drywall jobs. My hope was to derive about a quarter of my income from building-performance contracting to help cushion the blow if drywall work fell off again. But after taking the classes, I was pretty excited and open to the possibility of doing even more building performance–related work, figuring I would add certifications as I gained field experience. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way, for reasons I’ll describe in this article.
There are a number of paths into home-performance contracting, ranging from utility training programs to private franchising opportunities. I chose to get certified by the Building Performance Institute, a national trade-based certification organization with home offices in Malta, N.Y., just a few minutes from my house. BPI certification — or its equivalent — is not necessary for private work but is often required of contractors working with government agencies, utilities, and other organizations that offer energy-efficiency programs.
Coursework. BPI doesn’t actually provide training; for that I attended classes at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, offered through New York’s Workforce Development Institute. Independent training organizations in your area can be found on the BPI website.
I started with a course called “Building Analyst Professional.” It met twice a week for about a month; during the afternoon and evening classes, which lasted about five hours each, we covered general building science topics like air leakage, moisture management, and ventilation. By the end of the course we had accumulated 24 hours of classroom time and 12 hours of field class.
After that I took a building-envelope course, which covered the same subject matter but in greater detail, with a little more time spent in the field. As in the previous class, there were 12 to 15 students, most from the building trades and many sent by their employers.
Even with my years of experience, I found the coursework to be rigorous. Those who think they’re just going to breeze through the courses and tests are usually surprised; about half of the students in my building-analyst class failed the written test.
Costs. Each class cost $1,200, with an additional charge of $250 for the written test and $350 for the field test at the end (the cost of a practice field test is $300). At the time I took the courses, I was eligible for an 80 percent refund from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), our state workforce development program.
Accreditation. After earning my certifications, I waited a year before becoming an accredited contractor. During that time I performed a few audits and enough improvement jobs to determine that there was real potential. Accreditation requires an annual renewal fee of $500 and a BPI quality assurance fee that varies depending on revenue — $1,000 if annual revenue is under $250,000, for example. This fee helps cover required meetings with Conservation Services Group (CSG), which also checks my field work and occasionally accompanies me on an audit.
Since accredited contractors must meet BPI standards, I figured that accreditation would help sell jobs to otherwise wary homeowners. Another benefit is that accredited contractors are listed on the BPI website, where a lot of people look for information about energy audits.
Equipment. After completing the coursework, I spent $3,500 on equipment, including a blower door, a gas-leak detector, a pressure pan, a foam gun, a CO detector, and an IR thermometer. I bought everything online directly from individual manufacturers; being an accredited contractor qualified me for a 20 percent refund.
Continuing education. Certifications are valid for three years. To renew a certification, I have to earn a certain number of continuing education credits (CEUs), retake a field exam, and in some cases (depending on the actual number of CEUs taken) take online exams for each designation. At least one field exam needs to be retaken every three years at an affiliated test center, at a cost of at least $600.
Insurance. BPI-accredited contractors must carry at least one million dollars in liability coverage, which is not significantly different from the amount I already carry as a drywall contractor.
All these expenses add up: I estimate that the yearly cost to remain accredited is about $2,500. In addition to the expenses mentioned above, this includes about $200 a year to keep my diagnostic tools calibrated and at least 30 hours per year meeting with CSG and taking CEU classes.