What is Home Performance Contracting 1:53-6:50 + 17:05-18:55 + 28:06-36:05
Breaking in to Energy Auditor Jobs and Home Performance Contracting 6:50-8:32 + 38:08
Residential Energy by Krigger and Dorsi 8:32-9:23
BPI Certification for Home Performance Contracting 9:23-10:27 + 18:55-20:55
Energy Auditor Jobs 10:27-11:50
Weatherization Technician Jobs 11:50-12:52
Education for Energy Auditor Jobs and Weatherizing Homes 12:52-14:55 + 18:55-20:55
Entrepreneur Opportunities in Home Performance 15:39-17:05 + 22:22-23:32
Typical Day for Careers in Home Performance Contracting 20:55-22:22
Best Personality for Jobs in Weatherizing Homes 23:32-24:22
Income for Energy Auditor Jobs and Home Performance Contracting 24:22-28:06
Keys to Success for Careers in Weatherizing Homes 38:08
Careers Out There Host Marc Luber: Hey everybody. Welcome to Careers Out There. I’m Marc Luber and I’m really excited about today’s episode. Today we’re going to learn about a rapidly growing career path with huge, huge growth potential called the Home Performance Industry. This field includes everything from energy audits of homes to actually retrofitting homes and fixing them to make them more energy efficient. Today’s guest is doing just that. David Pollock is the Founder and President of Cornerstone Energy Solutions in Rolla, Missouri, in the heartland of America. It’s a town I’ve spent a little bit of time in – and it’s a nice little town there in the heartland. David’s an engineer turned entrepreneur, and he started his company at the beginning of 2009 – just a few months after finishing college! I thought it would be really exciting to have him here for a few reasons: One, he’s a young entrepreneur; another is that he’s at the cutting edge of Green Careers; he’s in the heartland of America; and he’s not a tree-hugging environmentalist, but he’s still going down this route of energy efficiency. He’s going to tell us why he’s doing this, what the home performance career path is like, what the opportunities are and how you can get them. David Pollock, welcome to Careers Out There.
Home Performance Contractor David Pollock: Thank you, Marc.
Host Marc Luber: So, you’re not a tree-hugging environmentalist. So I want to know, for the benefit of the audience, what inspired you to go down this path?
Home Performance Contractor David Pollock: Alright. I saw a lot of opportunity in the energy efficiency market. Energy is one of the biggest challenges that’s going to be facing our society for the next foreseeable future. And the most important part of energy in meeting our needs there is to cut the demand that we have for it, which would be energy efficiency.
Luber: OK. Explain then what home performance is so people can grasp the whole picture.
David: Alright. Home performance is a comprehensive look at how a house functions. There are a lot of people out there who will look at one part of a house. If they’re selling windows, they look at the windows. If they’re selling insulation, they look at the insulation. Someone who is looking at a house from a home performance standpoint is doing their best to look at how each of the different parts of the house interacts with the overall picture.
Luber: OK. And tell me then what it is that you’re doing when working on a home and what the impacts are on the actual use of energy and why it’s even important to do those things.
David: OK. When I’m working on a house, I’m attempting to identify the systems of the house that are causing the greatest inefficiency to energy. From there, I’m finding solutions to them, ways to make them more efficient, and then I’m going after them and actually implementing improvements for customers. A common thing that we do, one that’s almost always at the top of the list, is air sealing. We’ll go into a house and we’ll measure exactly how much air is leaking out of the house and we will then identify where it’s leaking and how we can stop it.
Luber: And what does that involve?
David: Measuring air leakage is a lot of fun. We use something called a blower door. You may have seen pictures of it on line or on TV. They’re getting a little bit more popular. Essentially, what they are is an industrial-size fan stuck into a door frame, a collapsible door frame that you’ll put into the front door of a house. From there, you depressurize the house and get an exact measurement of how much air is flowing out of your fan.
Luber: And so these are things where, if people are sitting in their home right now, and let’s say they have their air conditioning on and they just feel it’s still hot – they’re still hot and sweaty, it’s like the air conditioning is just not really filling the room. Or maybe it’s winter and they just know certain rooms in their house are freezing and they just kind of say “I’m not going to use that room in the winter cause it’s always cold in there – the heat doesn’t seem to get there”. Are these the kinds of things that you work on?
David: That’s a great question, Marc. We work on a lot of problems beside energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is our main focus. It’s what usually will get us in the door with customers. But everything that we do to make a house more energy efficient has several other side effects. One of the biggest ones is the problem that you mentioned: comfort. When you’re making a house tighter and reducing the amount of drafts that are coming into it, the house, especially the rooms that were formally drafty, will feel much more comfortable. The same thing happens when you’re adding insulation or doing some of the other retrofitting work that we do. It always results in the house feeling nicer. It’s one of the great side effects of being green and energy efficient: just being more comfortable. One of the other problems that we always work on is the indoor air quality of the house. A lot of the places that allergens come from are the exact same places that we’re attacking with our air sealing methods, and so we’re going to be able to keep out a lot of those things that cause asthma and allergies in homeowners.
Luber: That’s excellent. So people can actually see health benefits for their families by having this work done.
David: People almost always see health benefits for their families, yes.
Luber: Wow. So there’s the health benefits, there’s the comfort benefits, there’s the energy benefits – which both impact their bill, their wallets, and the planet, right?
Luber: It sounds like a win-win. Where is the bad part – is there a bad part?
David: That’s one of the reasons why I really love this field and why I’m comfortable with selling what we do to customers. There really isn’t a bad part to what we do. The methods that we’re using are tried and true methods that are 30-plus years old, so there aren’t any real new revelations or kinks to find out in them. We pay an exhaustive amount of attention to the safety of our customers and the amount of money that’s necessary to do what we’re doing is not extreme for the benefits that come from it. Exactly how much it will cost to upgrade your house will depend a lot on the area that you’re at and the age and size of your house. But it can almost always be done in a way that’s cost effective.
Luber: Since you’re like an expert in this field now, you’ve got your own company, you’re building this business in Rolla, you haven’t been out of school that long. Did you study this in school? Where did you learn this? How did you learn this? What brought you to this point?
David: I haven’t been out of school for all that long. I am now considered an expert in the field mainly through my teaching experience. The teaching experience is really what has pushed me to the point of being an expert much more than my learning experience. Energy efficiency is not something that I studied exhaustively in school, or really at all at school. In school, I studied to be a mechanical engineer. One of the biggest parts of being an engineer is being able to learn how to learn something new very quickly and thoroughly. Whatever kind of situation you get into as an engineer out in the field, is not going to be what you were trained in at school. So what you’re prepared to do is learn. So I took my ability to learn that I gained from my engineering background, and when I went through a week-long class to be an energy auditor, I excelled at that class and then I took all the references and other material that I could find when I was back home and I really started to dig deeper.
Luber: And so to dig deeper, where did you go? Are there certain programs that you had to go through, certain certifications? Tell us about that.
David: Digging deeper into the field involved a lot of hands-on experience. I spent a lot of time with my basic equipment in houses, whoever’s house I could find, and apartments. I spent time reading books. There’s at least a fair library of books out there. There are also some older magazines that have been published over the last 30 years.
Luber: While you’re mentioning books, I just want to hold up what we discussed is the bible, right? The bible of this field: Residential Energy by Krigger and Dorsi. This is a book that, wouldn’t you say everyone should get this book?
David: I would agree with that. That Residential Energy book is what I use in my classes to teach out of. And it’s an extremely good book to explain the basics all the way up through advanced concepts and application. So whatever point you’re at as a homeowner, or as somebody getting into the field, that book will serve you well.
Luber: There you go, everybody. So check out Residential Energy by Dorsi and Krigger. We’ll have a link here on the site and would of course love if you guys buy it through the site – we’ll have a little Amazon affiliate link set up. This is definitely a good book. I’ve actually read some of it – I find it very interesting and it’s something we should all know about. So, OK, carry on!
David: I’m certified through the Building Performance Institute. They’re commonly referred to as BPI. I took a one week certification course to receive their Building Analyst and Envelope Professional certifications. With those 2 certifications, I was considered qualified to enter the Home Performance with Energy Star program as a contractor. Right now, I’m teaching the Building Analyst certification to people around the state of Missouri to people who are interested in becoming energy auditors. It’s a very good, basic certification that teaches everything you need to be able to go out and look at a house and make solid recommendations for it. The Building Performance Institute – their certifications are also standards of how to look at a house. And so if I say that I’m certified by BPI with these certifications, that will also be telling homeowners who are having me come out to their house that I am being held to these standards. It’s a very good program.
Luber: So if someone’s watching and they’re thinking that this sounds like an interesting path to them but they’re overwhelmed by the thought of all the different things: the blower door, the insulation…but energy auditing is something you just mentioned. If someone wanted just to be an energy auditor, can they do that as a career path?
David: You absolutely can be an energy auditor as a career path without having to be an entrepreneur. There are starting to be more and more private companies around the country that are doing home performance work and always need more energy auditors. There is also a network of low-income weatherization programs around the country that have been around since the 70s. These low-income weatherization programs are usually run through local community action agencies. Here in Missouri, we have 18 of these community action agencies that cover the entire state with these programs. The low-income weatherization programs are sponsored by the federal government [http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/weatherization] and they will go into qualified individuals’ houses and do an energy audit plus several thousand dollars’ worth of work for that homeowner for free. They’re a very good program and a great way to get beginning experience in the field if your goal is to be an entrepreneur or as just a career path that you can attack if you want to be an energy auditor.
Luber: OK, tell us about some of the other roles. If there are some other roles other than the energy auditor, what are some of the other things someone can do if, let’s say, they found a company like yours or even your company where different people can have different roles, different jobs, different tasks to do in the home, what are some of those roles?
David: OK, one of the most important roles in this home performance field is that of the weatherization technician. The weatherization technician is the person who takes the recommendations that an energy auditor has written out and goes into a house and then executes them. A lot of the things that we’re recommending as energy auditors are very specialized and not things that most contractors would necessarily understand. And so what our company does is we train in-house and out-of-house people to be weatherization technicians from other places. If they’ve been a carpenter, or an HVAC technician, or just somewhere in that service field, it’s fairly easy to transfer them over and teach them how to really use a caulk gun.
Luber: OK, so it sounds then like there’s room for blue collar workers in this field.
David: I know a fair number of blue collar people who are in the field even as energy auditors. I’ve trained and worked with many people around the state and I would classify most of them as blue collar workers. You also see a lot of blue collar workers in the weatherization technician position.
Luber: So are most of these people with high school degrees, not college degrees?
David: The majority of the energy auditors who I’ve trained only have a high school degree and do not have a college degree. I have seen that the class is much easier for people who have a college degree, simply because the course itself is a very intensive program and knowing how to learn is very important for you to be able to succeed in it.
Luber: Got it. And now you were telling me over the phone how there’s a lot of math in the field. In what roles do you have to be good at math?
David: Math is fairly important for an energy auditor. In the field, you may not be doing a whole lot of math. You may have a computer program that does most of the calculations for you. But to be able to get through the class you’re going to need to understand what the math is telling you: calculate things such as the volume of the house, the amount of air leakage traveling in and out of the house compared to the volume, we also look at the heat transfer through walls and windows and need to be able to do work on that, and having a grasp of basic math will help getting into the field as an energy auditor be much easier. I’ve taught people who have struggled a lot with math and seen them be successful, but it takes a lot more work for them. And sometimes, they just aren’t successful at all.
Luber: So we have the weatherization technician, we have the energy auditor, what are some other positions? Who are the ones that just get all down and dirty, climb through mud, climb through cobwebs, climb through dust and dirt…who are those people?
David: I can promise plenty of dirt whether you’re an energy auditor or a weatherization technician. The weatherization technicians get the brunt of that. They’re the ones who spend the most quality time crawling in the mud underneath houses, but if you’re going to be a good energy auditor, you need to get up close and intimate with the houses you’re looking at. And that means going into the sections of them that aren’t necessarily the cleanest.
Luber: Got it. So there’s a lot of climbing under homes and into the top, into the attics.
David: Yes, absolutely.
Luber: OK, now let’s talk about roles for entrepreneurs – for people who want to go your route.
David: Alright, there are a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurship in this field of home performance. The home performance industry has been around for a while, which means our methods are tried and true but it’s been a very small scale, behind the scenes industry. Right now we are kind of making that burning push from in-existence-but-not- very-large to being a major industry in this nation. The birth pangs right now are tough to be an entrepreneur. I know a lot of people who struggle every month to make ends meet as an energy auditor. They’re just very much in the position where they’re just fighting to hold on. But I believe that it’s a great industry to get into now if you have got what it takes to fight to hold on – both in emotional resources and financial resources. Because sooner or later – hopefully sooner than later – this industry is going to open up in a way that is going to be incredible. At that point, being in it and being experienced in your position will count for a lot. It will get us in a place where we have an advantage over people trying to come in after the field has gone from small to large-scale.
Luber: And the fact is that we don’t know what home energy bills are going to be in the future, right? They’re going to continue to grow and grow and grow. To control that, we need to limit the amount of waste in the homes, because so much of the energy used in the home is wasted. Is that right?
David: That is absolutely true, Marc. Empire District is a very large utility provider west of us, and they just approved a 20% rate increase for their customers. It covers about a million and a half people. Situations like that and others around the country are only going to continue. Our energy resources are limited. And getting more energy out of our planet is going to cost us more and more money relative to how much money or how much energy we are getting out. Which means that when our houses waste 2-3 times as much energy as they need to – and they do – we can save a whole bunch of money by cutting that off rather than by trying to produce more energy.
Luber: So this isn’t telling people you have to wear sweaters in your house, you can’t turn on the lights ever, you can’t turn on your heat or your air conditioning. This is simply saying there’s so much wasted when we use our heat and air conditioning and turn on our lights and all these things that there’s ways where we can keep our lifestyle the same but limit what we’re actually wasting so that we’re more efficient. Is that right?
David: That is absolutely true, Marc. I replaced the lightbulbs in my office from incandescent spotlights to CFLs and I saved about $8 a month, and the lighting is actually better in here than it was before. The exact same thing works with comfort and all the rest of it. You can actually feel better in your house while saving money.
Luber: So let’s say someone is watching now and they’re in Arkansas, they’re in New York, they’re in Chicago, they’re anywhere in the country – they’re in Seattle, and they’re interested in BPI and getting this education under their belt so they can jump onto this path, whether it’s as an auditor or as an entrepreneur….Where do they go? Is there just a website they would go for BPI and there would be classes offered all over America?
David: The best place to find a central registry of classes is BPI.org. http://www.bpi.org/schedules_training.aspx
They have a list of every class that is being put on in the United States right now, the location, who is putting it on, the contact information for that class, and if you’re looking for a class that’s one of the best ways to do it. Search the internet for simply a Building Analyst class. There are a number of people who are putting these classes on who haven’t necessarily spent a whole lot of time with their website and you won’t necessarily be able to find them.
Luber: And you told me that a lot of these classes are offered in community colleges?
David: Absolutely. We teach our classes through community colleges and there are many other community colleges around our state and others who are jumping on these classes and doing their best to offer them as short term training classes for people.
David: These classes often times count for WIA funding (Workforce Investment Act, http://www.doleta.gov/programs/general_info.cfm , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Workforce_Investment_Act_of_1998). WIA is a program from the federal government to put the out of work back to work. And so if you go to your local career center if you’re unemployed, you can often times get grants to cover the cost of these classes.
Luber: So there are grants – THAT we call Red Magic Marker Territory! There are grants available to pay to help people get through this education process, whether they’re blue or white collar workers who want to get into this, there is help out there if you need it. Red magic marker territory everybody! [ED NOTE: Here are some interesting sites related to this topic: http://recovery.ny.gov/assets/webcast/WAP%20DHCR-DOL%20Webcast%2008-13-09.pdf and
http://wwwb.recovery.illinois.gov/documents/Applications/DCEO%20Final%20Illinois%20SESP%20Program%20Proposal.pdf OK so let’s get to a typical day. What is a typical day for someone like yourself in this field?
David: A typical day starts out with a frantic rush in the office to get the paperwork that you need for the day plus your equipment all loaded into the car. And then it usually involves some amount of driving between a few minutes and an hour or so to get to the job site. Sometimes it involves directions to houses that include school busses that may or may not be parked at the location where they are told to you in the directions and burned-out buildings that have Arby’s stuck in the basements. Then it involves meeting the homeowner and getting to know them a little bit and then getting to play with their house a lot. The homeowners are one of the most dynamic pieces of what we do. They vary so much from person to person and your interactions with them are really what make your energy audit good or bad. After you’ve gotten to know them a little bit, you’re gonna be just really ripping their house apart –getting into every different piece of it that you can and just trying to do the best investigation that you can. After you’ve investigated everything in the house, figured out how it’s working, you’re going to be creating a set of recommendations for the homeowner. Those recommendations are going to be the path that they follow to make their house more energy efficient and comfortable and safe. So they are really important. After that, you’ve probably got time for another energy audit or two and so you’ll end up rinsing and repeating until you run out of time in the day.
Luber: Got it. And who would you say is the typical customer?
David: I haven’t met a typical customer yet. Each of them is very different. I’ve had college students who are just buying their house who want to be customers, I’ve had people who are retired and just need to squeeze every extra dime out of their energy budget that they can, I’ve had wealthy people, I’ve had poor people…..it varies a lot.
Luber: In a business like this, how do you find customers?
David: Getting your name out there any way that you can. My first customer actually found me. We were in a skating rink at a get-together for a local non-profit that I’d worked at before, and she approached me, saying that she’d heard about this new business that I was starting. I was just starting it at that point – and she really wanted an energy audit and would I come out to her house? And of course I told her absolutely, I’ll come.
Luber: That’s great. And then one just led to the next? That kind of thing?
David: Absolutely. Yep. The biggest thing you want is for customers to find you. And so we’ve spent a lot of time making ourselves as easy to find as possible.
Luber: What would you say is the right mindset for this path? If someone’s going down this road, are there certain personality types that you feel are right for this or wrong for this path?
David: I think the kind of personality-mindset that you need to have to be able to succeed at this is one that likes challenges and new situations. Every house that you approach is going to require something different. You’re not going to have a cut and dried solution that you can apply. To do a good job, you need to figure out what’s going on with that house and what you can do about it. So you need to be an innovator – you need to be somebody who can help to make new solutions to old problems and be someone who is flexible.
Luber: What about the money in this path? What would you say, and I’m sure it depends from city to city, town to town, state to state, but what kind of money for the different roles would you say someone can expect to make in a year? Let’s start with the energy auditor.
David: The energy auditor varies a lot. I’ve seen people who are making a lot more money than I am at it in more established areas. In the area where I’m at right now, the kind of average wage for an energy auditor across the state is about $12.50. I’m taking that average wage from the community action agencies and not necessarily from the more private industry because the community action agencies have public wages. That $12.50 is reasonable for rural Missouri. A lot of the jobs that we see around our area don’t have even that high of wages, and so it’s a reasonable wage. It’s one that can support a family, if only barely, in this area.
Luber: And that’s $12.50 an hour?
Luber: OK. And what would you say when you talk to people who maybe do what you do in other cities or who do auditing in other cities, what’s the highest you’ve heard for someone who is just kicking butt in the field and things are going great on the private side?
David: The highest I’ve ever heard was a gentleman from up in Wisconsin, or was it Michigan? I’m not sure which. He was making $300,000 a year.
Luber: Just as an auditor? Not doing the whole package?
David: Just as an auditor. Not doing anything else. Just as an auditor he was making $300,000 a year.
Luber: Wow, OK, that’s probably exciting to some people watching right now. They’re salivating. What about some of the other roles? [ED NOTE: Via BPI’s website, I saw a job opening in Wilkes-Barre, PA for a full time home energy auditor for a salary of $50-$55k plus benefits] What about the technicians?
David: The technicians make less than an auditor does. In our area, you see between $9.50-$11 for them, which is not a wage that I personally would get very excited about but it is also a steady job in a market and a place where there aren’t a whole lot of steady jobs.
Luber: And I assume there would be more opportunity for growth in that area in that specific role as business grows, as the economy grows and people start doing more work on their homes again.
David: I believe that there will be a lot more opportunity for people like that and I also believe that the wages will increase. Right now you see people on the private side who aren’t running at full capacity. At least most of the people that I know in most states. And so right now their wages are much lower than they could be, simply because they need to restrict those to get by. What I’m hoping for myself and a lot of other people I know is to see the wages in our field increase by a fair amount when the private side really picks up.
Luber: Right. And so for someone in a role like yours, in the entrepreneurial piece of this puzzle, the sky is the limit once things really take off and get going in this field. Is that right?
David: The sky is the limit. The thing to remember about it, though, is this isn’t a manufacturing industry. This is a service industry. So the cap on salaries is going to be much lower than if you were inventing the cure for cancer. So most likely you’re not going to get rich in this field. Period. But there is going to be a very good potential to make a reasonable wage, which is important.
Luber: And is the main thing that we’re waiting on as a country focused for home performance, is it the economy to change or is it incentives to be brought down policy-wise so that it is more feasible, more likely that someone is going to be able to afford to put more money into their home?
David: I believe there’s a couple different things that we’re waiting for, and just about any of them could drastically change what we see happening in the field right now. If our government released a nation-wide policy of incentivizing these services, that could drastically increase and change the amount of business we have. If the public became much more aware of what we were doing – and I’ve seen this over the past year – the amount of business that we’re doing would increase. The economy getting better would also lead to an increase in business. The people, even as the economy is getting better, aren’t going to be looking at new housing anywhere near as much as they have in the past. A bad shock like this makes people hold on to their money more, and even if they have money for houses, I doubt that we’re going to see a huge resurgence in the new housing market. Which means that people will be looking to upgrade their older houses, which is where they would turn to us.
Luber: That makes sense. And what would you say, is there a typical fee that it costs someone to have this work done on their home and what would you say they typically see in exchange for having that work done as far as reduction in bills and energy waste?
David: The amount of money that a homeowner can expect to pay for a home energy audit is going to vary a lot by location. Up north in kind of the more established areas, a common amount for an energy audit would be $800 for an initial and $300-$400 for the follow-up audit after the work is done. That’s a fair amount of money. That’s how the guy who is making $300,000 a year is managing to do it. In the more southern cities, $500-$700 is a common amount that you can expect for an audit with around $200 for a follow-up. In more rural areas, you see a lower cost for an audit. Labor costs are cheaper, people have less money. So in our area, we’re only getting a few hundred dollars for an energy audit.
Luber: OK, then someone has the audit and you say wow, you’re house just sucks – you’re leaking hot and cold all over the place, and there’s dust everywhere – I sneezed 80 times just walking into this place. Here’s a list of what I recommend you have done. And then the people have the choice – they can say ah, we don’t want to spend any of that, we’re not going to do anything, we’re just going to sneeze and freeze. Or they say yeah, please, get our house to be normal. Is that how it works?
David: That is basically how it works, indeed! We present homeowners with a list of options. We present them with what we see is the best path for taking those options, what they need to take care of first, second and so on. Then it’s up to the homeowner as to what they want to do with their house. There’s nobody who is going to try and strong-arm them. There’s no one who’s going to attempt to sell them something they don’t want. And so it’s up to them whether they take any action on their energy audit. What I’ve discovered the hard way about energy audits is that they don’t actually save people any money unless they take action. So it’s important for an energy audit to cost a fair bit. There are utilities in our area that do energy audits for homeowners for free. It’s one of the reasons why, again, energy audits are a little bit cheaper here. Those energy audits very rarely result in any actual action being taken by the homeowners because it doesn’t cost them any money to get the advice. So it becomes more feel-good advice. Those homeowners who you see investing a significant amount in the energy audit are much more likely to actually do work.
Luber: That definitely makes sense. They’re taking the process more seriously.
Luber: And then the work itself – that can range from what to what? And the benefit can be from what to what?
David: The work done on a house after an energy audit can range just as wide as your budget is. I believe Al Gore had his whole house upgraded to the tune of several million dollars in an energy efficient manner. The way that improvements work on a house and the amount of money that’s returned from them is kind of related to what you put in. Like you spend the first $1,000-$1,500 on your house and see maybe a 10% decrease in energy costs and then you can spend the next $2,000 and see another 10% and you then can spend maybe $5,000 more and see another 10% cut off. And so the more money that you’re willing to spend or are able to spend, the more savings that you’re going to see. The amount that you can cut off from a house is large. There are times when we’ve seen savings of greater than 50% on houses that we’ve done work to. That’s a house that has probably had nearly $10,000 worth of work put into it and was a terrible house to begin with, but we can see substantial savings for a house. We also see savings on brand new houses. Even a house that’s 2 years old and was built to the cheapest, and least energy efficient standards that the home builder could get away with. And so there’s always something that could be done, even in the newest house.
Luber: What about a return on investment? What do you see as a typical turnaround for that?
David: The return on investment is going to depend on how much you spent. If you went after the lowest hanging fruit, or the things that have the quickest turnaround, you can see a return on investment in the year to months range. Very quickly. If you spent $10,000 on your house and cut your energy bills by 40-50%, you may have a return on investment between 10-15 years. If you look at it as an investment between $10,000-$15,000, that is still a much higher rate of return than you’re going to get off your stocks and bonds right now.
Luber: Definitely. What would you say is the biggest challenge of working in this field? The thing that, if you told someone, if you can’t handle this, then this path is not for you. What would that be?
David: The biggest challenge of working in this field is the homeowner education. So few people know what it is that you’re doing that you’re going to have to start out by educating your parents and friends and family about what you’re doing. And they’re probably going to look at you a little bit crazy when you tell them. And then you’re going to have to start telling everybody else that you know. And just trying to keep expanding how m any people know about what you’re doing. If you can’t be real patient with people who just don’t understand what you do, then this is not a good field for you.
Luber: Yeah, I could see someone hearing I do home performance and thinking what, you do puppet shows at birthday parties? Like you go to homes and perform? I could see someone saying what the hell is that? You decided to go the entrepreneurial route right out of school. What gave you the guts to do that?
David: I decided to go the entrepreneurial route right out of school because I saw an opportunity and felt like what I was risking was worth it. I came out of school without any student loans. I don’t have a wife and children. And so even though I was taking and still am taking a large risk by going out there alone, unsupported by a large amount of capital, the possibility of being able to run my own company and to do something much more worthwhile, and something that fit me much better than sitting in a cubicle, was worth what I saw the risk being.
Luber: That’s great. And you’re happy that you’ve done it, right?
David: I am happy that I’ve done it. I actually have a great story about the job that I turned down to become an entrepreneur. Did I tell you this one over the phone?
Luber: Yes, but tell everybody.
David: I actually turned down a data entry job to become an entrepreneur. I was offered a job by a wire manufacturer that makes specialty wires to transfer their computer database of wire recipes from one computer program to the other. They were going to have me doing 60 hours of work a week at $15 an hour for the next 6 months of only transferring wire recipes. Just about anything sounded better than that!
Luber: It sounds like you went the right route. And it sounds like it’s been a good fit for you, so that’s great, cause you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Tell me this – if I’m ready to dive in, or it just sounds exciting to me. What can I be doing right now – if I’m in high school and I still don’t know if I’m going to college or not and this sounds exciting. Or I’m in college and I know this is what I want to be doing. Give me some ideas of what I should do – beyond looking at the BPI website, beyond the Residential Energy book that we held up earlier. What should somebody do? Are there any other things that they should try to pursue right now?
David: The skill set needed to be an energy auditor is absolutely one that can be pursued. You’re going to need to be a good problem solver with some basic math skills and you’re also going to need to be intimately familiar with how a house works and how it’s built. So spending time doing well in your math classes, spending time doing problem solving activities with your local industrial technology group in their competitions, or in other areas is going to benefit you a lot. Also spending time working on a house whether it’s your own or whether you’re volunteering with Habitat For Humanity or somebody else who’s working on houses, that will benefit you a lot. There are a lot of times in the energy auditor field when having an extra set of hands around is handy. It’s nice to have somebody else to hold the other end of a tape measure. And so often times, if you’re volunteering your time, you should be able to find somebody in your area who would be willing to let you hang out with them as an energy auditor and really see what it is that you’re thinking about getting into.
Luber: And if I’m looking for work right now? I’m ready now. What should I do?
David: If you’re looking for work right now in this field, the low income weatherization program, your local utilities or other home performance companies are going to be where you want to go. A lot of those you can find on the internet or find in your local directory.
Luber: Great. And share some of the major things you’ve learned as an entrepreneur – over the phone you said you had some things you want to share with everybody that you’ve learned by being an entrepreneur. And share some keys to
success for everyone.
David: Alright. I’ve learned a few things as an entrepreneur. I’ve learned how to manage my money much, much better. I didn’t know how to keep track of it very well when I started. So that’s something I’ve had to learn and I think I’ve done fairly well. I also learned just really what was needed to succeed as a basic entrepreneur. You’re going to need all of the money that you have to have for your basic equipment and for advertising and insurance and other start-up expenses on-hand and ready to go before you start. You’re also going to need the ability to survive without the business providing you anything for 6 months or a year or two. That’s, I believe, the most important part of being able to start a successful business, is being able to hang on during the lean times. Even if you’ve got a great idea and the right place at the right time, it takes a while for people to get to know you and trust you and really come to you. And so being able to hold on emotionally and financially is just one of those most important traits to being successful as an entrepreneur. And that’s something that I’ve been learning well –is how to hold on even when times are difficult.
Luber: And in addition to your business, we kind of touched on it but didn’t really get into the fact that you’re also teaching on behalf of BPI. Tell us about that.
David: OK, I do not teach on behalf of BPI. BPI is a certification board and so they stay completely disconnected from the actual giving of training. They will approve your training as to whether or not it meets their standards but they don’t put on instructional classes themselves. So the way that I act as a trainer, is I provide a contracted service to community colleges around the state where my company comes and brings its curriculum to their location and teaches these courses. We can also do this for other private companies or whomever we need to.
Luber: Have you ever wound up hiring one of your students?
David: I actually have hired one of my students, several of my students, and am looking at hiring a significant amount more in an expansion plan that I’m working on.
Luber: Excellent. That’s exciting. Very good. Do you have any final keys to success that anyone should think about if they’re diving into this field?
David: I would tell someone if they’re looking for those absolute keys to success to just make sure this is something that you’re going to enjoy. Whether you’re being an energy auditor for someone else’s company or running your own company, being able to enjoy what you’re doing and do it consistently is what’s going to lead you to success. If you enjoy being in charge of your own finances, in charge of your own situation and are willing to take those risks at a timewhen you don’t have a paycheck, then being an entrepreneur can be a lot of fun and something that you’re going to succeed at. If you’re doing it because you feel like you have to and you’re desperate, then it’s probably not a place that you’re going to succeed at even if you’re good at the work, simply because you’re not going to enjoy it. So I’d say to make sure you’re going to enjoy what you’re getting into.
Luber: Very good advice: always enjoy what you do. Definitely. Everyone – as always at Careers Out There, you get real advice from real professionals like David Pollock here. David, thanks so much for joining us at Careers Out There.
David: You’re welcome. Thank you very much.
Luber: Everybody, please – we always want to hear your feedback – so put feedback on the site. What did we cover well? What did we not cover enough? What would you still like to learn more about? Let us know, and we look forward to seeing you again soon here at Careers Out There. Thanks.
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