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BC Hydro trains energy advisors to help builders save time, money

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Certified Energy Advisors help builders before, during and after construction

Ten years ago, the role of Certified Energy Advisor was so new, most builders had never heard of a CEA. And there were only about five of them in the province.

Today, with building code energy requirements on the rise, CEAs — who now number about 35 in B.C. — are becoming a valuable member of a builder's advisory team.

To reinforce that role, BC Hydro and FortisBC are providing CEAs across the province with dedicated training. Working with a CEA is now mandatory to qualify for BC Hydro's New Home incentives — and BC Hydro helps pay for the CEA support.

Training covers New Home Program incentives and building science

CEAs are independent contractors, specialists in home energy efficiency certified by Natural Resources Canada. BC Hydro has now increased the knowledge of the province's CEAs through two training sessions.

The first covered the ins and outs of the New Home Program, and how to help builders access the incentives and marketing benefits it offers.

The second session covered relevant building science topics to ensure CEAs are effective at helping builders achieve the ENERGY STAR® for New Homes Standard, especially its air tightness requirement of maximum 2.5 air changes/hour for single-family homes. New homes must be ENERGY STAR qualified in order to be eligible for BC Hydro incentives.

"We really want to see CEAs step up and be brought on as an advisor, more of a consultant for the builder," says Cynthia Curll, manager of the New Home Program for BC Hydro. She says the training aimed to shift CEAs from a role as tester to someone who's able to add value for builders at several points during a build, as follows:

  1. Pre-construction: Before building starts, the CEA will consult with the builder to clarify which elements are needed to achieve ENERGY STAR qualification, and recommend improvements for construction details likely to miss the mark.
    "A CEA who is looking to be effective with a builder's time at this stage would be thinking ahead," says Curll. "For example, let's review your framing technique to ensure you can install effective insulation to meet program guidelines."
  2. Mid-construction: The New Home program supports a mid-construction blower door test, to identify air leakage issues before it's too late to fix them. After the test, the CEA provides a report with a checklist of items to pay attention to.
    "If there are areas that need to be remedied, they talk the builder and/or trades through that process, so it really turns into an education opportunity," says Curll. "And it's worth the builder's time. If their trades pay attention, hopefully they'll find it easier on all their future builds."
    Curll notes that the City of Vancouver accepts the New Home Program's mid-construction report in lieu of their own required thermal bypass checklist.
  3. Post-construction: The CEA's final visit includes a final air-leakage test to ensure the home achieves the air tightness requirement. And — good news for time-strapped builders — the CEA can assist with the paperwork required to receive the BC Hydro incentive. (Only CEAs who have completed New Home Program training will be able to support application for incentives of up to $2,000 per home.)

BC Hydro and FortisBC subsidize CEAs with a total of $200 for their support to builders through the three-step process. "We're trying to make everything simpler for the CEAs and the builders," says Curll.

Independent advice helps builders set themselves apart in the market

CEAs who attended the BC Hydro training say they're ready to help builders with the challenge of higher energy efficiency requirements.

"CEAs do not sell products; we sell options, ideas and proven concepts based on building science," says Cristi Sacht, a CEA based in Comox Valley. "Be prepared, because a CEA will always try to encourage best building practices, will look at your home as a system and how the components interact in your climate... and always want you to build better than the next guy."

Ray Smith, a CEA based in the Kootenays, says one of his builder clients has already embraced the CEA "advisor" role.

"I am always researching energy efficient building practice, and have built up quite a library of information that I can dip into for him," he says. "I get his drawings hot off the press and give him a raft of alternatives that he can present to his customer, all done pre-construction.

"He says my advice saves him time and money and also adds to his reputation as a builder, because my input is as an independent third party. He considers the CEA input as an important part of his build process, and considers me 'part of the team.'"

"Builders are always keen to save, whether it's time or money," says Curll. "Those who make an up-front investment in learning and change will set themselves apart in the market. Now they have CEA support and tools in place to help them do it. That's the value CEAs are going to bring."