Larry Zarker joined BPI in 2005 and now holds the position of Chief Executive Officer. Larry previously had his own firm, MarketEdge Consulting. He focused his practice on helping building industry clients accelerate acceptance of innovative building products and systems. Larry worked for nearly twenty years with the NAHB Research Center and served as Vice President of Marketing for over a decade. We spoke with Larry about the importance of educating the growing energy audit industry and the importance of the Home Star Bill.
Ben Lack: So we’re here with Larry Zarker, CEO of the Building Performance Institute. Thanks so much for giving me some of your time.
Larry Zarker: I’m looking forward to it.
Ben Lack: I would like to know to start off with, give us a little information about what B.P.I, does.
Larry Zarker: Okay. We’re about a decade old and we’re a standard setting organization for upgrading the performance of homes, particularly around energy efficiency but also environmental performance, durability of housing. And then we have a credentialing side to our business which helps the contracting companies whether they’re remodelers, insulation companies, HVAC contractors understand the house and the system and follow our standards in upgrading performance of the homes.
Ben Lack: So this is to really help building codes and validate the building codes that are out in whatever market that people are…
Larry Zarker: Well, there’s a 130 million existing homes in this country. A third of them are over forty-five years old. Another third are over twenty-five years old. They predate modern energy codes. These are the houses that are consuming a lot of energy, and they are also contributing to global climate change. This is the real number one priority in this administration to go and figure out what to do with these houses. How to tighten them up, bring the load down, insulate them properly, air-seal them properly and then install comfort systems that are more efficient. So we’re really looking at the house as a system for 130 million homes.
Ben Lack: So how does B.P.I. work with the administration to push the different initiatives that you guys think are going to be the mot effective?
Larry Zarker: Well, on the first level we have an accreditation for contractors, and we follow up with quality assurance to make sure that they’re doing work in conformance with our standards. We also work with trainers across the country who administer our certification exams. So we have a national network that’s been growing very rapidly. And with the advent of the Home Star Program that’s in discussion and just passed the House of Representatives last week, B.P.I.’s accreditation is one of the options for the highest level of incentives, the Gold Star level of incentives.
Ben Lack: Tell us a little bit about the Home Star Program. Who’s putting it together and what are some of the benefits that would come out of it?
Larry Zarker: Well, this is led by the administration, but there’s a very strong coalition of over a thousand companies involved in the interest in existing homes. So you have manufacturers’ products. You have remodeling contractors, contractors who do house as a system home performance work. You have laborer organization, environmental groups, all working together to craft this legislation around incentives that are meaningful to homeowners, to get them to think about how they can upgrade their home and take advantage of the benefits of doing that. We think it could be a wash that you can actually have a more comfortable home, less drafty, fewer sinus problems, lot less dust, bugs, that sort of thing, but be more comfortable. energy efficient in your home and have lower bills. and lower bills can actually offset the investment that you may put into the house. So this is a big program that can have tremendous impact on creating jobs. Right now with this economy, the interest is in getting people back to work. You’ve probably heard in the construction industry, we’re not in a recession. We’re really in a depression. New home construction fell off the cliff two years ago. Many people in that industry are out of work. Over twenty-five percent of that workforce is out of work. These are people that we can put back to work locally, upgrading the performance of homes.
Ben Lack: So let’s talk about jobs for a second and the accreditation process that you guys have put together. Let’s say somebody is watching this, and they’re interested in becoming an auditor, I guess, a part of the process. What types of steps would they have to go through in order to be an accredited person from B.P.I. to go out and go get these jobs that are now becoming available?
Larry Zarker: Many people have part of the skills that they need. I’ve talk to remodelers. One friend of mine is a National Green Remodeler of the Year. And he went through training to become a building analyst so that he could diagnose what’s going on in the house and used diagnostic equipment, and became an envelope specialist to really understanding how to tighten the house and insulate effectively. He said after twenty-five years in business, he went into a tunnel, a gray tunnel, that he really didn’t understand what was going on, and he came out on the other side and said, “I have a new business model. I now can look my customer in the eye and tell him exactly what going on in their house. And they can see it. Because we have the equipment there that shows them what’s going on.” So you can really systematically set priorities on what needs to be done in the house. And that’s what this kind of training gives you. You probably have part of it but not all of it. The training is available. We have a network of over 180 training organizations across the country. There are two online providers for training. So access to training is not a problem. Our exams are available through them. It’s a hundred question written test as well as a two-hour field practical test. That gets you the skills that you need to do this. The accreditation process for the company just really is a commitment that you’re going to follow the standards in doing the work that you’re proposing for the customer.
Ben Lack: Are there certain statistics or numbers that you guys might have that say how many people are currently in this field and what the growth has been like over the last couple of years?
Larry Zarker: Well, we have over 8,000 certified individuals across the country now in fifty states. I will tell you that in 2005 we had 305 certifications issued. And last month we processed 2,200 exams. So the growth curve has been enormous on the certification front. We had six affiliates delivering training three years ago.
Ben Lack: So can you talk to us about some of the statistics about the growth from maybe what it looked like a couple years ago to how many auditors in the field now?
Larry Zarker: The growth actually started before the stimulus funding was put in place. We currently have over 8,000 individuals certified in the marketplace in fifty states. In 2005, we issued 305 certifications. And last month we processed 2,200 exams. So it gives you a sense of the growth. We had six training affiliates nationally just three years ago. Now we have a hundred and eighty. We’re working closely with the American Association of Community Colleges. Make this offering available through the community college network. There’s twelve hundred of those organizations across the country. They found that this is one of their high priority areas because it’s green collar. It works in the community. There are people who are in fields who would like to have that green-collar job of the future. So we’re experiencing enormous amount of growth. And even on the accreditation front, from last year to this year, we had one hundred percent growth in the number of accredited companies. Part of that is anticipation of the Home Star Program. There are two levels in that program. Silver Star which is single measure kinds of upgrades and that yields a certain kind of incentive. But if you get to the Gold Star level and your company is accredited, you can get access to much high level of incentives for your customers.
Ben Lack: Wow. Let’s say you’re in a time machine, and you’re going into the future one to two years from now. The Home Star passed Senate. Do you see the bill being widely adopted once it does get passed if that’s what you think happens?
Larry Zarker: You know, one of the things I like to say to people is which gives them pauses that when the administration came in and said, “Well, we’re going to need to retrofit all of these homes.” We looked at what that would mean. A hundred and thirty million homes. That’s 13 million homes a year. What are we presently doing? New York State has been at this for eight years. They’re really out in front of all of the other states in terms of really systematically upgrading homes. And they’re on a pace to do about six to seven thousand homes this year. They’ve done thirty-five to forty thousand over the life of the program. They’re on a thousand year build-out cycle. Most of the other states are on a ten thousand year build-out cycle. In order to get to that kind of rapid acceleration, we’re going to need to put some public policy investment into getting there. Home Star can get us well on the way there. There are other pieces of legislation. The Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance, the R.E.E.P. legislation, follows behind it. We need to make a systematic investment in our residential building infrastructure. It will help us in terms of national energy security. It helps us in terms of job creation. It helps us in terms of global climate change, greenhouse gas emissions. There are many reasons why we do this. And retrofit of existing homes is really at the top of the agenda.
Ben Lack: So final question and this is more of a personal question that anything. I’m curious to know why you do what you do.
Larry Zarker: Well, I grew up in a home-building and remodeling family. When I came out of school, I got a masters degree in technology assessment. My first job was in home-building research. I stayed in that with the home-builders for twenty years. My real love is conservation and energy conservation and renewable energy sources. And people are looking at Home Star as an overnight success that took thirty years to create. And that’s kind of what we’ve been at. We’ve really been at it for thirty years, trying to make this happen. And now all of a sudden, it could happen overnight.
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