There are three routes you can take if you want to work full time as an energy auditor, work in weatherization, gain experience first by working for someone else or jump out and see if you can swim. Each path can lead you to the end goal of owning your own business if that is what you want. Let’s say that Tim has his BPI Certificate in hand but owns no equipment and has no energy auditing experience. How should he get started?
Work in weatherization
Weatherization work has been around since the 70’s. It has traditionally been government funded or non-profit operated. Most organizations that do weatherization also are BPI Test Centers or give their own week class. How do you land a job with a weatherization group? Because they do a lot of government work a criminal free background is usually a must. If you take your BPI exam with a weatherization group/ BPI Test Center it helps to do well on your exam and show the instructor you are a quick learner during the class, and then ask if there are any openings for energy auditors or retrofitters.
Those organizations have an aplothera of equipment for energy auditors. Either apply for a job there and stay in touch with the auditors and supervisors in the future if something does come up. Relationship building is key here as I have seen several independent auditors borrow for free or rent blower door equipment from these organizations if you need a blower door and yours happen to “brake.” If you land a job there you have a powerful asset behind you with the organization being experts in energy auditing and retrofitting, cranking out high volumes of both each year. The down side is the pay isn’t very good and the homes are limited to low income housing so you will see a lot of smaller homes, bitchy tenants and manufactured housing. The fundamentals will be the same no matter what house you go to but your habits of looking for defects will need to be adjusted when going into larger homes. Working in weatherization you will learn to do everything by the book and not pick up the bad habits of lazy contractors and crews who are for-profit.
Gain experience working for another energy audit company
Playing it safe and getting experience on someone else’s dime has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are:
- You learn the mistakes of other people without cutting your teeth too bad.
- You can gain experience.
- You may miss a significant income increase by working for others.
- You may miss family time by working on someone else’s schedule.
The disadvantages of starting your own business rather than working for someone else are:
- You also can pick up bad habits from others. Have your heart in the right place and always do the best thing for the client and charge appropriately to cover for mishaps.
- You may get comfortable and never go out on your own.
- You become liable for others mistakes. Set up a training program right away and get rid of bad employees fast. It’s no fun getting a $60,000 insurance claim filed against you and battling it out. If you start out before you are prepared, you leave the door open for bigger problems if you grow too fast without controls in place.
What is the best way to find these kinds of jobs? Search your local utility company website for energy audit programs and rebates along with a Google and Yelp search. They will have a list of contractors who perform home performance and start contacting them. Some of the companies will be HVAC companies who do energy audits as an-add on. It will be hard to get in with them as a newbie unless you have HVAC experience. Usually these companies take one of their own and train him to do audits. You will have better luck going to a solar company and pitching them to do energy audits with you as a lead into solar. Create your own field sheets, report and contract to show as examples and ask them to do a trial with you where you will take their last 20 customers and offer them an energy audit as a thank you for their business. Sign a few of those people up and you’re off! It’s also worth calling other energy auditing companies to see if they are hiring but I suspect they will mostly want to hire auditors who have some experience. If you’ve made your calls and still don’t have a company to grow into, you can give up or start on your own.
Start your own energy audit company
By jumping into the fire right off the bat you will likely hit more road bumps but your learning by doing will go off the charts. Nothing compares to doing everything yourself, you learn really quickly what works and what doesn’t and it doesn’t take very long to get it right or you don’t eat. Click to read about how I thought I killed my first customer. By going it alone you are also maximizing your financial gain two to three fold. You get to keep almost all the money you bring in. If you charge $300 for an audit, that’s almost all yours rather than $100 per audit if you worked for someone else. I say that $300 is almost all yours because of course you have expenses but if you are smart, you aren’t wasting $3000 relying on a Val Pak direct mail piece but instead are boots to the ground door knocking, making cold calls and using your network to drum up your first customers. Once you have the first couple in the door, put real effort in building your referral base and warm-lead marketing. Do not go into debt trying a new marketing campaign, you already spent enough on your blower door equipment. I would even skip on the IR camera when you just start off or get the iPhone thermal camera attachment. Going out as an independent energy auditor is also good because you get to experience first-hand all the aspects of the business. Go lean and go hard should be your motto.
You get market to your prospects, do the energy audit, sell the upgrades and even install them all while learning what customers expect at every step along the way and then use your feedback to improve the process the second time around and so on. Does showing the zonals on recessed canned lights help you sell the job but you learn that there is no energy savings and is super time intensive on the install side?... stop showing and talking about your zonal readings on canned lights during your energy audits. Did you learn when selling your upgrades at the kitchen table that homeowners don’t care about going green or reducing their carbon footprint?... stop using that as a selling point on your website and at networking meetings.
No matter which method you choose to take your home performance career, one constant is the need to practice you butt off. Take zonal readings everywhere in the house, spend some extra time exploring in the attic and do an extra modeling scenario or two because that’s how you will become a master energy auditor in your region. Dedicate yourself to practicing and asking questions and you’ll soon be a high quality energy auditor with a great reputation.