Home Performance Ninja Team

Creating The Home Performance Ninja Team

Of course most Americans know little about Home Performance, or CFM50’s, Blower Doors or why any of those matter. … But folks who would be reading this know and care a lot about those things.    And when we gather (at ACI conferences or the various forums online) … one complaint sooner or later comes up in the conversations.   How can we get crews trained to do EXCELLENT work?   After all, it’s not like they are working in air conditioned offices,   and they probably aren’t being paid as much as the HVAC techs or electricians who work on our jobs.   (That’s an arguable point for another blog)

One take-away from the recent ACI conference in Baltimore:   I was surprised at the number of sessions that I sat in and was disappointed at the numbers that were being shared.   (I’m glad they were honest but I was seriously embarrassed for some of the presenters … speaking mainly of infiltration here.)

So, why is “less than stellar” Home Performance work so common?  And it seems to be acceptable, at least to some.   Is it the fact that it’s hard work, or the fact that we dont pay enough?   Or the fact that we have the wrong crews?

I don’t think so.   I remember the last “real job” I had … and how my employer handled me.   He was an elementary school principal and I was a first year teacher (4th, 5th, 6th Combo Class.)   He had a 3 point management system:

  1. We’ll agree on the goals.
  2. I’ll give you all the help you need.
  3. I’ll give you all the rope you need.   You’ll use it to climb with or hang yourself.

It worked well for him.  And me.   I didn’t ask for much … but I got everything I asked for.  (It was 1975, the time of desegregation and bussing and Federal Money … So with my allotment of federal funds we bought enough Chess Sets for 42 kids to be playing at the same time)   By the end of the year 92 and 94% were above grade level in Reading and Math.   And I never saw him.   We had agreed on the goals.  And I was using my rope to climb with.   Actually he did come in once with a camera crew from the LA Times to see what was going on in there ….. A “Stand And Deliver” story I’ll share another time…

I share my story as an employee, because that’s how I learned to be an employer.   And in 35 years of contracting, I’ve never changed.   I adopted what worked with me and just keep passing it on.   Agree on the goals, All the help they need, and get out of the way.  Simple.  Not Complex, like we’ve made our Home Performance industry … but that’s another blog.

So when I became the Home Performance Contractor who died and went to Heaven … (Which is how I consider my life the last three years of buying, fixing and selling Foreclosed Homes) … I just did the same thing.   After the third house I realized, “Hey we are making these houses to tight to not have “Ventilation On Purpose” so ever since then we’ve put ERV’s in all our renovation projects.   (New construction California Title 24 homes still dont have ERV’s)

AGREE ON THE GOALS

Just like when I was a rookie teacher,  I started off with some guys who had never seen a blower door or an IR camera or a foam gun.  But after introducing them to all these things (on the job, not in a classroom) … they were off and running.   That introduction took less than two hours … then I stopped back by for some additional coaching.

We’ve agreed on the goals.   They are kind of like I had when I was a first year teacher.  They were simple and measurable.   I was to have as many as possible above grade level on standardized testing as possible and there had better be more at the end of the year than the beginning.  Simple.   In Home Tightness, we say, “Average contractors get the CFM50 number down to equal the square footage.   We will cut that number in half.”

It was my Ninjas who said, “No, boss, We will cut it in half again!”   And that is what they did and continue to do.

GIVE THEM EVERYTHING THEY NEED TO EXCEL

Just like when I was a rookie teacher, and I believed that Chess would teach thinking skills … so I got the Chess Sets … What a Ninja Home Performance team needs is a Blower Door and an InfraRed Camera, (plus the obvious basics)   They need it with them.   All Day,  Every Day.   And they need to use it.  All Day,  Every Day.   Not have a supervisor come at the end and let them know if they got the leaks “good enough”

People wondered (Including myself) if I just got lucky with my crew selection in Fresno.   And when I moved to Virginia … following grandbabies … and started duplicating the business in Virginia … could what I learned about management from that interview back in 1975 work again?   Would lightning strike twice?   Could I pull off the two hour training with brand new guys?   With all the right equipment, of course.

Actually, the Virginia Crew is exceeding the Fresno Crew’s results.    In Fresno, we were given some goals by our DOE partners who are doing research on that house.  They said, “We dont know if you can hit this, but we’d really like to see it get this tight. (425 CFM)   The team beat the goal and 422 is still written on the wall of that test house.

In Virginia they said,  We really dont think you can get it on this 92 year old balloon framed leaky farm house … but we would like the same numbers you got on the single story stucco house on a concrete slab in Fresno.    So, after being introduced to the tools for the first time, they began.   Here are the results on a slide from one of my classes.

 

Actually this is the recording of the trail along the way to the results.    The trail started at 7783 CFM’s of leakage and is currently at 420 CFMs … way below where ASHRAE 62.2 says we need power ventilation.   And we’re not done.   We’ll go lower when the new windows get in.

You’ll notice that it’s just a piece of paper, duct taped to the wall right by the blower door.     You can see it on the wall in the first photo.  Some of you have more sophisticated methods, laptops, iphones and such to record your results on.   But those aren’t the important things.   The important things are:

  1. Agree on the goals
  2. Right equipment in the hands of the crew
  3. Feedback loop and learning with every test.

So, Where Next?    I like Mike McFarland’s goal for duct leakage:   Zero.   At least zero measurable.    So our next goal is going to be to get to Passive House tightness on a renovation of a foreclosed home.  I dont know if anyone has ever done that before.  But There it is.   My goal.  Out there in front of God and everybody.    I have a few ideas to try … and I’ll report back on how we do,   but I’ll let you know for sure … we’ll agree on the goals and my Ninja’s will have the right tools and use them.

I hope yours do too.

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