Is ‘home performance’ more like a Toyota or a beet?

Musings about the essence of our work with Clean Energy Works Oregon.

As we gear up for a big year of anticipated growth in home performance assessments and retrofits as a leading Clean Energy Works Oregon contractor, I’ve been doing some thinking about how to communicate about home performance effectively.  I mean, it’s an esoteric term, definitely squarely situated in the geek realm (a realm I, admittedly, feel pretty comfortable in.)

According to the Building Performance Institute, the buzzwords for home performance are comfort, health and safety, durability and energy efficiency.  All perfectly accurate.  But taken alone these words don’t explain why home performance, done right, has so much potential and is so strategic for all of us right now.

It’s easy to dwell a lot on the cost savings side of things when we explain home performance, and for good reason.  Most of us are pretty cost conscious these days, and by reducing home energy use, home performance retrofits do reduce energy bills.  Plus, there are lots of generous, stimulus-funded cash and tax incentives being offered by Clean Energy Works Oregon right now that won’t be around forever.

It’s our job as home performance practitioners to let people know about all of this.  But ultimately, cost savings don’t get to the essence of what home performance is really about.  Instead, as the name rightly suggests, it’s really about performance.

Home energy performance services by Hammer & HandIt’s about taking an old, beautiful, drafty house that you adore and transforming it into a comfortable energy saver worthy of the 21st century.

It’s about uncovering that hidden threat of carbon monoxide poisoning from the funky water heater or old furnace and implementing the retrofit measures that will create a safe home for your kids and yourself.

And it’s about the science.

The fact is, even 10-15 years ago we didn’t understand enough about how buildings function – the building science – to accomplish the kinds of performance improvements that we’re capable of today.  Equipped with diagnostic tools worthy of an old-school Star Trek episode and trained in advanced building science, top-notch home performance contractors can take the worst performing houses and transform them into comfortable, efficient dwellings.

It ain’t science fiction, and that’s good news not only for each of us in our respective homes, but for the planet as a whole.  If we can begin to revolutionize the performance of our existing housing stock, we’ll begin to make a dent in the carbon dioxide we emit.  Today nearly half of US greenhouse gasses are emitted by the building sector.

So I’ve been searching for a metaphor (or simile) that gets at the essence of home performance…

Image courtesy of saeru via Creative Commons license“Home performance is like a Prius?”  Okay, energy efficiency, check.  But performance?  As in peak driving experience?  Not so much.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love my Prius, but it’s not exactly your “ultimate driving machine”… more like driving a PC.)

How about, “home performance is like locally grown Photo courtesy of "nosha" via Creative Commons licenseorganic veggies?”  Health, performance (organic heirlooms rock!), concern for the planet.  Yes!  But when you add science and technology to the mix it conjures GMOs and frankencorn.  Not right either.  Plus, beets and high performance houses?   Not so compelling.

Still searching.  Clearly.  (Suggestions are welcome!)

– Zack

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