On-site communication to implement energy efficiency

View of a woman and architect on construction site pointing at a house.Effective job site communication among designers, builders, trade contractors and verifiers is a key ingredient in the construction of a new home that is receiving an EPSTM. This is especially true of cutting-edge homes that are testing the limits of energy-efficient technologies and striving for the highest incentives or program certifications. Whether responding to pushback when an assembly fails to meet a standard or translating a misused term, the way we speak and respond onsite has as much impact on our effectiveness as the depth of our knowledge.

Three common scenarios account for most communication issues on the job.

  1. Unintentional: Most errors occur when team members “don’t know what they don’t know.” They work hard, thinking they’re doing their job correctly when, in reality they are overlooking critical details. There may not likely be a code inspector, tradesperson or verifier onsite who could identify the issues and help them. This is a very common occurrence when codes or program requirements change.
  2. Misuse/misunderstanding: Technical terminology, jargon and lingo are common in the building industry. Definitions of some terms vary by region, and one abbreviation can easily refer to a variety of terms. A typical example is the term “boiler” which is commonly used in the Northwest to either refer to a system that accomplishes both space and water heating, or a large tankless water heater.
  3. Misinterpretation: Code and EPS requirement language can appear complicated. This makes it easy to misinterpret the intent of requirements. Even when an installation, process or product appears to achieve what is described, it may not meet the intent of the requirement. For example, when a separate duct system is added to a home to distribute air from a ductless heat pump it should follow the same requirements as a fully ducted system, but often does not.

Having worked with hundreds of builders, Energy Trust sees two communication trends among successful project teams:

  1. Focus on quality. These teams (builder, verifier, designer and trades) meet or exceed agreed-upon standards. When everyone has a common understanding of the standards and how to achieve them, the project team reduces the likelihood of “misuse/misunderstanding” and “misinterpretation” issues. The benefits here are twofold: it reduces additional costs associated with call-backs and improves the experience for the future homeowner.
  2. Take communication seriously. Successful teams apply adult learning principles such as increasing motivation, utilizing new or available resources (such as the EPS Field Guide), creating processes that work and a commitment to on-the-job training to instill a common language and openness to seeking clarification. The benefits of taking communication seriously result in fewer instances of “accidental” and “misuse/misunderstanding” issues.

Energy Trust is committed to improving job-site communication and reducing common failures by maintaining a strong verifier network and providing trade contractor trainings. For more information, please email eps@energytrust.org or contact the trade ally hotline at 1.877.238.0698.