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Reuben Saltzman

The Future of Energy Efficiency (with Peter Troast)

The show starts off with Peter Troast, the founder and CEO of Energy Circle, sharing a little bit about himself and his company. He joins the show to talk about the concept of healthy homes and indoor air quality and some of the changes that people are starting to think about in terms of their homes and the actual health of the indoor air they’re breathing in on a day-to-day basis. He  then answers the following questions:

  • What’s the rank order of remodeling priorities in homes?

  • What is your definition of a High-Performance House?

  • Why would you want an all-electric home?

  • From a retrofit perspective, are you always doing air-to-air exchanges in these retrofitted houses that are now becoming tighter, or is there some interim or band-aid to exchanging air that you can put in these older retrofit houses?

  • What can you say about eliminating exhaust systems in houses, getting rid of bath, kitchen, and hood fans, and switching from vented clothes dryers to the type that are condensing?

TRANSCRIPTION

The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.

Peter Troast: In my day job, I am the founder and CEO of Energy Circle, and Energy Circle is primarily a marketing firm that we created about 10 years ago with the sole purpose of supporting what we describe as the Better Buildings Industry.

Bill Oelrich: Welcome everybody. You’re listening to Structure Talk a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland way up in Minnesota. On today’s episode, we’re gonna dig into the concept of healthy homes and indoor air quality and some of the changes that people are starting to think about in terms of their homes and the actual health of the indoor air they’re breathing in on a day-to-day basis. Essentially, we’ve all been locked up in our houses for the last 12 months, if not longer, and this is a topic of conversation that’s gaining some momentum, and we are very excited today to have on the episode, Peter Troast from the Energy Circle, and Peter has been gracious enough to give us an hour of his time, and he joins us from way out on the East Coast, somewhere up in Maine, and I’m very jealous right now ’cause I want a lobster roll in the worst way, but… Thank you, Peter, very much for joining us here today. I’d like to ask you to just introduce yourself real quickly. And then I’m gonna turn it over to Tessa because you guys are gonna geek out on Building Science for… In the next 35 minutes, I’m super excited about it.

PT: Great. Well, thanks, Bill, and thank you very much for having me. I’m super excited to be here, so yeah. So in my day job, I am the founder and CEO of Energy Circle, and Energy Circle is primarily a marketing firm that we created about 10 years ago with the sole purpose of supporting what we describe as the Better Buildings industry. And so when we say that, we mean really the industry in its entirety, from contractors to inspectors, to auditors, to companies that are manufacturing high performance materials for new homes, to high performance new construction, so we’ve taken a big 10 approach to the industry and all of which was really based on a realization that I had digging into Building Science about 10, 12, 15 years ago, that the challenge of climate change could not really be addressed without doing something about the built environment, and this was both imperative from a climate change standpoint, but also just an extraordinary business opportunity with the number of buildings that are out there needing fixing, and then the way I looked at it, because my background is in starting companies and strategic marketing, is that [A] primary impediment to getting more buildings fixed is this, that the demand for the concept of improving your home, a whole house approach to your home is not very direct, right?

PT: People don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Give me some home performance.’ They wake up in the morning and they say, ‘My furnace is not up to the task of how cold it is right now, I’m worried about the health of this place or my air conditioner is broken.’ So it’s all very indirect, and that makes for a really juicy un-challenging marketing problem, which is I think one of the things that I got put on the planet to deal with.

BO: That’s awesome. How often do you think they actually say, ‘I want a new kitchen or a better bathroom’ versus that upgraded air conditioner?

PT: Much more often than I can talk for hours about Google search data. But I can tell you just from a pure Google standpoint, exactly what the rank order of remodeling priorities is. It’s always kitchen, bathroom, basement, attic. That’s the order.

Tessa Murry: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, people don’t wanna spend money on re-insulating or air-sealing their attic because you don’t see it every day and you don’t care, and you don’t think about it, and so they wanna put the money where… I guess where there’s probably even more equity to, you put your house on the market and the next buyer is gonna be attracted to the shiny new kitchen, they’re not gonna be attracted to the air-sealed attic.

PT: Yeah, well, at least that’s what the realtors tell us, and I think that’s one of the… One of the challenges is that so much of what we believe to be the things that our value drivers in homes are the things that are these old wives tales, in some cases. Now, I’m not dismissing the value of a remodeled kitchen, we all know that that does have… That has a very, very real value, but as the world sort of unfolds, we see more and more things that aren’t really related… They’re related to community and walkability and what’s going on around the house, as much as the things that are in the house that are driving value, but you guys know much more intimately than I do dealing with new home buyers, what’s on their minds, and it is a minority, sadly to say that are interested in how much energy does house this use? Is this place healthy? Are there moisture challenges that I’m gonna have to deal with down the road, etcetera. And it’s for the longest time, we’ve recognized that the number of people who are interested in this kind of more high performance type home is a minority, but it’s a growing one, and it’s a big enough one in and of itself that can make for quite a very good, big, big business for people doing the retrofit, people doing the inspections and so forth, and we cling to that tiny little minority.

BO: So do you think the pioneers of the building science world are putting their hands in the air and saying, finally, finally we’re having a conversation that’s important versus the conversations that we have about aesthetics and things of that nature.

PT: I think so, but I also think that we… Building Science types are such an impatient bunch, we’ve been waiting for this for forever. It’s the building tidal wave that just won’t ever crest and…

[laughter]

PT: But I do think things are becoming much more standardized. I think the understanding of how to build type buildings, the techniques that are happening, the understanding that advanced framing is really not any more expensive than normal framing. These things are becoming more and more mainstream. And the costs are coming down. I think Bill Gates has this new book out in which he talks about the green premium, the difference between what it costs to do something in the normal way and what it costs to do something in a kind of more significant way, and I’m not a big lover of the term green for any of this, but that gap, I think that green premium gap is an important concept to understand, and I think particularly in multi-family, that green premium has almost come to zero, we’re…

PT: Because of the trade-off between and the investment in the building envelope versus the mechanical systems, we are building buildings at an equivalency in price that are truly high performance, even to the level of very stringent standards like Passive House.

BO: I’d love to see that green premium be something that could be incorporated into a mortgage, so that you could actually lean on that a little bit, right. At least in real estate, the appraisal seems to be the main driver of what people can do in terms of financing, but just to upgrade some things and make that house more durable to stand the test of time, I think would serve everybody well.

PT: Yeah, I agree, and yet, this is something that’s been kicking around forever, I’m blanking on the name of the loan program, that’s been around for quite a long time. And it is exactly what you’re saying, Bill, it’s that taking into account the operational cost reductions in the mortgage, and it was always a very, very difficult thing to sell. I don’t know quite why. A lot of people put a lot of effort into it. It’s not dead, but it’s a challenge.

TM: You know, it’s interesting you said that I was just kind of just doing my own personal research on that recently, I have a dream of building my own energy-efficient house some day, and…

BO: It will never happen.

[laughter]

TM: It probably won’t.

BO: No house will satisfy you.

TM: I know, right? Well, I’ll be planning it and thinking about it for years and years and years, but… No, but I was just diving into that, and I think one of the challenges is, even if you find a program or a loan program, mortgage program, whatever, it’s finding a builder, like a local builder who knows how to build a house that is high performance, like the term high performance, I feel like isn’t very well understood really by people in general and by contractors and builders.

PT: I couldn’t agree more. When you go back to the issue of why hasn’t more demand emerged, one of the issues is that there are so many definitions of what we might amongst ourselves agree is a high performance home. But if you ask the person on the street, what would a high performance home mean to you? They probably would say LEED. And so we haven’t necessarily helped ourselves as an industry with so many different certifications, from LEED to where you guys have Minnesota Green Path, Zero Energy Ready, Passive House up here in Maine. A bunch of my close friends, just sort of a classic main independent people just… They came up with the term Pretty Good House, so we don’t care about your certifications.

TM: That’s funny.

PT: We just… We know what to do and we’re gonna call it a Pretty Good House. And so consequently, I think that dispersion of definitions has caused a lot of people to not really know what they’re asking right?

TM: Right. And for our audience, maybe we should even clarify what we mean by a High Performance House, ’cause… Like you said, I think a lot of people are familiar with the turn like “Green House.” What does that even mean? And so do you wanna speak on what a high performance house means to you, Peter, since you are just very deep in this industry.

PT: Well, and I’m probably the wrong person to give an answer because my view is it’s a building that… First of all, it starts tight, so that is extremely tight as a minimum amount of mechanical systems in order to drive it, but clearly has full house ventilation for indoor air quality purposes, and so I really am a big fan of the Passive House, the concepts behind the Passive House Standard. I think it’s obviously very, very stringent, and there has been a pretty serious green premium around that level of stringency, but even as I said, in the multi-family category, those green premiums have really shrunk, and I think we’re getting there right? Back in the early days of Passive House, you had to import everything from Germany, you couldn’t get doors, couldn’t get windows. So that’s all changing, and I think the materials are there. I do like this concept of Pretty Good House, which is, we’re not trying to achieve any particular air tightness standard, we’re just gonna make it tight, gonna be mechanically ventilated, we’re gonna have probably these days, I would certainly want an all-electric home, so we’re gonna do all those things, not necessarily to some arbitrarily set number, but just done right, within a budget, right?

Reuben Saltzman: Could you tell me more about why you would want an all electric home?

PT: Number one, I would love to just cut my ties to fossil fuel, so I live in a state with a pretty clean grid, thanks to a lot of hydro, so our grid is pretty clean, so that would be kind of my primary driver, but I also was clean in the gas stove last night and just realizing how filthy the darn thing is, so I’d love to have an induction stove. I do think that the houses that I’ve been in that are well-designed from a key pump standpoint are incredibly comfortable. So that’s the driver. This whole electrification movement is a really interesting area, I think, because we’re active in marketing and we’re very engaged with some of the campaigns and efforts around the country. I’m mainly talking about California where there’s really aggressive moves towards electrification and contractors have emerged as just specialists in it, it’s really interesting in some of these markets, granted that they’re very isolated, they tend to be kind of academic areas of the country, college towns where people just want the gas removed, they want no fossil fuels, that makes for a fantastic retrofit job, right, so that’s the exciting part about it.

BO: And they’re willing to pay that premium.

PT: People are willing to pay the premium. I gotta be a little careful with this rarefied markets of the East Bay, Bay Area, California, where people apparently have $35,000 to retrofit their home…

TM: Wow.

PT: Pretty easily. And that’s not the case everywhere. But chipping away, I have long been a fan of the staged retrofit idea, that if an inspector or an auditor goes into a home and defines a pathway towards a long-term improvement and gives a homeowner the rank order, these are the things to do in this order, in order to chip away at your energy or whatever your particular goals are, and recognize that very few people can do it all at once, and I still haven’t done the rim joist in my basement ’cause it was like low on the priority list, and one of these days I gotta get to it, but it’s still out there and we can get it done.

RS: Now, you talk about how in your area, you have some pretty good electricity and now you got me worried to say the word green, you said you like using that word. You’re the first person I’ve ever heard say that. What do you have against this word that everybody loves? Is it a cliche.

PT: Yeah. It’s a little bit cliche and it’s a little bit lacking in clear meaning, right. But at the same time, I think it’s important, and your point’s well taken but you’ve gotta recognize it that the routine person out on the street probably uses this, I want a green home, and so part of my resistance to it is just wanting to get the definition to be a little bit more precise, when you say green home, what do you mean? Does that mean non-toxic materials? Does that mean just what the surfaces are and so forth, which is probably a lot of people’s definition, and I like the idea that your home is performing, but you guys again, day in and day out in homes doing inspections, I imagine the number of people asking you whether this home they’re about to buy performs well, is probably a pretty low number.

TM: Well, you know what’s interesting about that is people don’t understand the term high performance, and it applies to health. It means different things to different people like you said, but people don’t use the term high performance or a healthy home, but I think they actually… They care about those things, and they want a home that’s high performance, they just don’t know how to articulate it and what things to look at, so people don’t wanna have to deal with rooms that have large temperature variances from upstairs to downstairs and cold basements or hot rooms upstairs and you’re sorry, Bill, story and a half house or whatever it may be, they don’t wanna deal with ice dams and water intrusion from that. They don’t wanna deal with drafts, they don’t wanna deal with unsafe levels of carbon monoxide from back drafting combustion appliances, but they don’t know how to articulate that and how to ask for that. So that’s my definition of a high performance house, something that’s durable, something that is energy efficient, something that’s comfortable to live in, and it’s all those pieces kind of put together. It’s looking at the house as a system. Whereas when someone says green, it doesn’t really imply the whole system and how those parts are interconnected and dynamic and moving based on occupant behavior and materials and environment and all those different things.

PT: Yeah, very, very well said Tessa. I couldn’t agree more with you. I think one of the things that when you’re just saying that I’m thinking about and something that I’ve been paying attention to focusing on and researching over the years, is the question of who’s buying to the extent that high performance is happening, either in new construction or people doing retrofits, the question is, who is buying? And I think we as an industry as a whole, have been a little bit blind to the fact that in the real world, most people who are buying high performance homes or retrofits are baby boomers and they are aging rapidly, and there isn’t great data on this, but my estimation is that as we are skewed to the Baby Boomer audience, much more so than we would care to admit.

PT: Not to say that that’s not a great market. It is, I think for all the reasons you just said, people who are… I call it the last house phenomenon, people who are sort of at that point in their career or life where they’re retired and this is the house they wanna live their days out in, and they sure as heck aren’t going to a nursing home ever, they have a much more holistic view of the house, is this gonna be operationally sort of cost-effective for a long time, is it healthy, et cetera, and so that’s when you tend to see a more holistic view, the other obviously major slug that’s gonna be as critical to us going forward to the millennials, which are not so young anymore and are starting to get into home buying times, and it’s very clear amongst that cohort that there is a much greater interest in climate change, and I think a little bit more sophisticated approach to these kinds of issues about the performance of the house and what goes into the house. We use this concept of personas, you try to define the audience that you’re kinda going after, and my favorite one of all is Techie Tom, the software engineer who’s read everything you could read on Building Science and knows more about Building Science than the builder does and is demanding all this stuff. And I think we’re seeing more and more people like that.

BO: I think the tension for the millennials and even the younger who are looking to buy in right now, what they can afford, oftentimes isn’t green, is priced at a premium for garbage and which leaves them no room in their budget to improve and to start chipping away at the things that are really important, it made sense to me that you said that baby boomers are the ones who are building these more well-built houses, more durable houses, more high performance houses, because frankly, they can afford it, they’ve got equity they can transfer out of a big building into a smaller tighter, more high performance build.

PT: Correct, yeah.

TM: You know, one thing you said though, Peter, it’s interesting, is these High Performance houses, maybe 20 years ago, it was a lot more money to build something like that, but we’re getting… Our technology is getting better. Our building materials are getting better. Builders awareness of these systems is improving…

BO: It’s the most important thing isn’t it, Tessa.

TM: Yeah, yeah, it is. And so today, correct me if I’m wrong, like someone could build a High Performance house, it may not be Passive House standards, but you could build something that’s like a zero Energy Ready house or something that is a high-performance air-tight, well-insulated for the same price or just a little bit more than a standard home. Is that correct?

PT: I think that’s absolutely correct. It’s all… We did a little… I was involved in a little community retrofit, this is quite a few years ago, but it was an old building, a rather historic building, and we got some support from Building Science Corporation, and we raised a bunch of money with big sales to do a deep energy retrofit, and we very carefully measured what that gap was, that Green Premium, and at the time, it ended up being about 13% for a gut rehab that ended up very, very close to Passive House standards in terms of air tightness, and we made mistakes, we actually completely… We had the wrong mechanical engineer on the job, and we completely overbuilt the… Again, we did great on the building envelope, we just didn’t… We got full electric and a gas furnace too, which was unnecessary. Your point’s well taken, I think we are, with every passing day, we are closer and closer to just being able to build really good quality homes that are very high performance at no extra cost.

TM: Well, in the long-term, cost of maintenance and utilities will save you money in these high performance houses, that’s one thing people forget about, okay, maybe it’s… Maybe it’s 10% more to build on the front end, but over the life of this house, you’re gonna save how much money on your utility bills. Right.

PT: Right. Exactly. The math pencils, it’s a pretty fast payback when we’re doing some work in Sacramento right now, and the people’s air condition bill in the summer in Sacramento goes to $500 pretty regularly.

TM: Wow.

RS: Wow.

PT: You swap that out for a heat pump and do some envelope work that’s going to $100, and so it can be a big difference depending on climate.

TM: Yeah.

BO: Can I kinda switch gears here a little bit? So when we create a High Performance house, we have to deal with the indoor air. We have to do something because it’s not exchanging itself anymore, so from a retrofit perspective, are you always doing air-to-air exchanges in these retrofitted houses that are now becoming more tighter or… ‘Cause every new home has that now because we have to have it, or is there some interim or band-aid to exchanging air that you can put in these older retrofit houses?

PT: We’re in a transformative time here for the last 10 years, we’re going in and doing weatherization work, we knew we needed to have some form of ventilation, and often that was just slapping in some bathroom fans, that was so exhaust only was the solution, and that hundreds and thousands and thousands of bathroom fans got installed during that time, in part because of what’s happened with COVID, and the awareness about ventilation that has happened as a result of COVID, mostly related to schools and buildings as opposed to homes necessarily. I think the discussion about ventilation is much elevated now.

PT: We’ve advised some of our clients and some of them have done it too, as part of their audit process to actually offer a ventilation audit, and because we’ve discovered that so many homeowners were asking the question, you’re hearing all this attention and press about ventilation in schools and saying, ‘What do I have in my house, what’s the ventilation in my house? How do I measure it? How do I even know what… ‘ And so this is another one of those waves that I’ve been waiting to break forever, but I’m particularly excited about it now. The other thing I think that has been the case, whole house ventilation in particular, is that it is a carpentry job, it is often a bit more complex for a typical contractor than just slapping those bathroom fans in, so you’ve got… You’re cutting through floors, you’re going down through closets and trying to figure out how you’re gonna make this whole system work, and many contractors just felt that that was at a level of complexity, it was just a little bit beyond them, and so it’s harder work or a different type of work than they normally would do, and it’s got a maybe a $10,000 price tag on it, so…

PT: So harder to sell more and more now because of COVID, people are going right for it. They’re selling it directly, and what I’m hearing is from our folks is that people are buying even when the price tag is pretty significant. They get it.

RS: I gotta ask you quick, this triggers an article I read, and you mentioned your tie to Building Science Corporation, and there’s an article, I swear, Joe Istiburek wrote this a few years ago, and it stuck in my mind where he was basically saying he wants to eliminate exhaust systems and houses, and if it wasn’t him, then correct me, but he’s talking about not liking vented clothes dryers. He wants to switch over to clothes dryers to the type that are condensing, because the energy penalty you pay for exhausting 200 CFM or whatever it is, is too high. He wants to get rid of bath fans, he wants to get rid of kitchen hood fans, get rid of all these things because of the energy penalty and design houses so you don’t need that at all. What do you think about that? This is something I have never repeated before, I kind of read all this and I went, ‘What… This is the opposite of what I’ve been telling everybody.’ What do you think about that?

PT: In new construction and again, you know what, we deal with this niche of new construction where people are doing it right, they’re building tight buildings, it’s just become standard. And I think what’s interesting is that many of the folks that we work with keep it silent, they don’t even tell their homeowners that they’re building the house for, that they’re doing it and they don’t give them a switch, by the way. That’s the funniest thing is. There’s no off. Right, so I’m not sure I’m answering your question, Reuben, but I think it is increasingly understood that if all you’re doing is sucking, right, that air is coming from somewhere, and usually it’s coming from some place, that’s not very, very desirable, it’s the last place you want the air filtering into your house to be happening. So typical homeowner doesn’t understand ventilation, doesn’t even know what they have. A friend of mine in a ski condo in Vermont, I was going to visit and I said, ‘Well, what do you got for a range hood?’ He goes, ‘I don’t know, there’s a microwave on top of the stove.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, I know what you have, you have greasy cupboards above the microwave.’

[laughter]

TM: You know, to your point, Peter, and I’m just thinking like older houses were just leaky on their own, and you would just… They would breathe on their own, especially if you had temperature differences between the inside and outside that change in pressure and a whole… You’re gonna have natural air changes and natural ventilation, then as we start buttoning up our houses and making them more air tight, then we create problems with moisture on the inside and air quality concerns and all of that, so then we figure out we need ventilation. So then we add in point source ventilation, exhaust-only ventilation, like bath fans and kitchen fans to get the pollutants out, and then we realize we create problems because we have exhaust-only ventilation because our combustion appliances, like our natural draft water heaters to back draft, it’s not very energy efficient, ’cause we’re pulling in all this hold outside air, at least in the northern climates and through the leaks in our building envelope, and we’re not preheating, we’re not filtering it, and so really the solution is if you’re building a house that is energy efficient, is to focus on the building envelope and making sure it’s air tight and well-insulated, and if you have an air tight building envelope, you can’t have a negative pressure in your house or exhaust-only system, you really need a balanced ventilation system.

TM: And so that’s the future of houses, it’s like get rid of these exhaust-only systems and have a balanced whole house ventilation system, reduce your carbon footprint by eliminating these fossil fuel appliances and get it ready for electric and vent-less dryers and all these things that won’t impact the air quality and won’t impact the pressures in houses.

PT: From a homeowner standpoint, ventilation is a complicated topic, this is where the healthy home movement, is what I call it, because I think it really is kind of a movement and the growing awareness amongst homeowners about concerns about healthy home, it’s sort of the gateway drug to be able to have the conversation about ventilation right.

TM: Yeah, yeah. Like a gateway drug. But this is ventilation.

PT: What we need is… We need as many gateway drugs we can get for our industry.

[laughter]

PT: But I think the data shows this, there’s… Even before COVID, there was a kind of growing awareness of concern about the health of the indoor environment and people having various kind of specific concerns about it, the Harvard Joint Center on Housing Studies has the most definitive bit of research on this. It’s a little old, it was from 2018, but it basically says that there is a substantial concern about these issues, so what we have learned from having marketed this for a long time is that when a trigger happens, when somebody… A kid is sick or someone is repeatedly getting colds or smelly in the house, they think they have mold, whatever that trigger is, the first thing that really comes to people’s minds is, how do I get it tested? How do I know? And so when we look at search volume, for example, Google, the dominant search terms in the category of healthy homes are all around a test, IEQ test, whatever it may be, and so people want that.

PT: Now, I wanna just put a little bit of an asterix on that since COVID, because COVID has changed that to a certain extent, now it’s a little bit less getting your house tested for the possibility of COVID and more about purification. For better or worse, the term, the search terms that have absolutely exploded since COVID are all around air purification, so different types of air purifiers, whether a certain purifier works for COVID, et cetera. And so there’s some danger inherent in that piece of information, which is that most people when they start to think about the health of their home immediately think that the solution is some kind of filtration device, that all I need to do is just get a shiny object, slap it in, and it will take care of my challenges, and that’s… In the healthy home movement, I think that’s one of our biggest challenges, that assumption that there’s a shiny object solution that we’ll fix it, and I call this The Great Divide. It’s the great divide between people’s concern and the recognition that this is really about the performance of the building, but I do think from the home inspector standpoint, like this is a real opportunity before COVID and during, and there will be after.

PT: I think there is growing demand for people to come into their homes and tell them using a good solid diagnostic process what the performance of their home is from a health standpoint, back to the gateway drug concept, this is the entry point for talking about the envelope and infiltration, and you’re in California during forest season, infiltration is a front and center on people’s minds, right. So you can talk about that, you can talk about ventilation, you can talk about point source materials, you can talk about rodents and pest infestations, it is such a great conversation to then begin discussing, okay, here are some of the solutions, all of which are gonna be solutions that are taking you in the direction of a more high performance energy efficient home anyway.

BO: Peter, is it too simple to say an older house is gonna have better indoor air quality than a newer house or… Tessa is shaking her head, so…

[laughter]

PT: Yeah, I agree with Tessa. I don’t think so. As she said earlier, typically an older home, especially historic homes, like where you guys live and where we live, tend to be very leaky, right, and they stayed dry for a lot of years ’cause they had a big old word furnace in the house that was cranking wood heat and it didn’t really matter that there was a ton of air flowing through and boy, that building stayed dry. Right, so that’s true, but we’re day in and day out, sadly building terrible buildings, right, so…

[chuckle]

TM: When you were talking about the gateway drug and people’s concern about air quality, and then going right to thinking about air filtration systems, and they’re maybe missing the big picture, which is maybe you’ve got some mold growing in your house that’s contributing to this bad indoor air quality, that’s a result of poor water management or lack of ventilation, and instead of adding an air filter, you really need to fix these other things first right, but the average person off the street doesn’t understand that, and really it takes a building scientist to look at the house, holistically put all these pieces together and diagnose it, but when you’re saying that this article came to mind by Joe Istiburek, again mentioning Joe, he has an article that says, first deal with the manure, then don’t suck, which is like, you know, get rid of all the pollutants inside first, and then don’t have an exhaust-only system. Yeah.

PT: And then I think one of the things it’s not very well defined and I’ve been squawking about this for a number of years, is what the diagnostic protocol should be for healthy home, many companies perform do exactly what they would do in a normal energy audit, a BPI style energy audit to do blower door test, check for infiltration, do all the combustion safety work, et cetera, and then add on that, some kind of a monitoring device that would look for a variety of things. Volatile organics, CO2, et cetera, and then leave that in the home for some period of time and then the combination of those things becomes what I would say is probably to this day, the standard healthy home assessment. Right? To your point, Tessa, we’ve gotta do more than that. It is a more holistic thing, and frankly, I think home inspectors are really ideal for this, there’s a lot of behavioral things related to healthy home. There’s… What’s it look like under the kitchen sink, and where’s all the paint stored in the basement, and what’s the garage interconnection like? And so forth. And so there are many things that are a step or two beyond what we would normally do that I think have to become part of the portable more holistic healthy home assessment.

BO: So Peter, you should plug your business for everybody, ’cause we’ve been going on and you’ve been providing all this great data, so I just wanna make sure you get all your contact information out, so folks listening can…

RS: Well, yeah that and I don’t think we even talked about really what it is that you do on a day-to-day basis. We just jumped right into the air quality discussion ’cause we were so anxious to, but we didn’t really set up what it is you do. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you’re helping other people build their businesses.

PT: Sure. Thank you. At the end of the day, we are trying to be part of a movement to fix a lot more buildings and build a lot better ones, and in looking at it from the creation of the Energy Circle business… I go back to what I said in the beginning, which is this, there’s a demand problem here, it’s just not, the phone’s not ringing off the hook enough for it, so we made a decision to primarily focus on the fact that the only way buildings gets fixed is if builders or contractors do the fixing or the building and better ones, and so we dove right into the challenge of trying to help those businesses be better, and we do so primarily as marketers. We are the people working day in and day out to drive more leads to work in this world of indirect demand, where people want their air conditioner that’s broken to be fixed and getting that person into a good contractor that can then have a more holistic discussion with them about the houses assistant.

PT: So day in a day out, we are 25 of us here in Portland, mostly in Portland, Maine area, where we are doing Google paid ads, we are writing content for people on their websites, we’re building websites, increasingly doing fun new stuff that’s becoming more accessible in marketing, like Spotify advertising and Hulu advertising, which is a pretty remarkable, traditional TV where you get to really hone in because of frightening-ly precise targeting on the exact people that you wanna be talking to, so that’s our kind of day-to-day business, and about 75% of who we serve are contractors all across the country. We have the great fortune of really having attracted some of the very best contractors in the country, part of what I know is ’cause I hang out with these people and I’ve learned a whole lot and I have a resource of advice whenever I wanna ask questions, and then the other 25% are various other institutions of the industry. So we’re very committed to trying to help the non-profit sector, we’ve done a lot of work for PHI on the Passive House side for Building Performance Institute for the Building Performance Association, which I’m on the board of directors of. But we also… We host the Building Science Corporation website, buildingscience.com, which is kind of the record of the building appliance…

BO: The Mecca.

PT: Yeah, the Mecca. All of us have been there. It’s an amazing thing. We work for The Energy Conservatory, of your home state, great company that leading in the blower door space and essentially many others that we’re looking to grow into, all of which pushes to the goal of improving this built environment from a business standpoint.

BO: That’s awesome. It takes a village, right, to create a great business, if you’re a contractor, you were focused on the contractor, and find somebody like you, Peter, who’s great at marketing, and you build an amazing company together, right?

PT: Exactly. That’s the hope. And so far so good, we’ve managed to weather the storm of last year with COVID, we got through it okay. Our industry in general, we would all agree it’s smaller than we would all like it to be for the most part, really thriving, a number of, depending on business model, a number of companies really got pretty well shut down during the early days of COVID, but eventually came back and anyone who was on the HVAC side pretty much stayed in essential services and did so. I am hearing nothing but positivity across the folks that we talk to, that they’re just flat out their booked months in advance, obviously a fair amount of optimism about the new Federal Government and what this may bring to us as an industry. So there’s a great deal of momentum right now, which is pretty exciting.

BO: What interesting times, I have so much hope about the future, mainly because I have a daughter who’s 16 and 17, and she’s making amazing decisions about life, she’s gonna want that house that you’re talking about, a Passive House or something, and she’s gonna pay a premium to get it and because it matters to her where… So I have a lot of hope for the future, and I’m excited that there’s people like you who are pulling the contractors in, who are building great buildings and connecting people who want them with great contractors and being a voice for that whole industry. Great work. Great work.

PT: Yeah. I agree with you, Bill. I think if I ever get a little discouraged, I think talking to young people is the best thing that you can do because they’re just so sharp and have so much information at their fingertips, and like you said, I think are motivated to do the right thing for the right reasons and make this leap. It’s one thing to just say, ‘Well, I’m concerned and worried and terrified about climate change,’ which most young people are. Two, I can do something about this in the form of where I live and the kind of building I live in.

BO: Well, Peter, why don’t you tell everybody where you can be found, but everybody should check out your website because you’re doing great work.

PT: Thank you. So probably the best place to find me is on the Energy Circle website, energycircle.com. I’m pretty reasonably active and have lots of friends on LinkedIn, so pretty easy to find it, Peter Troast on LinkedIn, and one other thing I’ll mention, we, as part of my commitment to education to the industry beyond just our customers, we do a webinar every Wednesday night at 5 o’clock Eastern time, it’s a half an hour… Usually it’s some very specific marketing tip. Last night, we looked at a bunch of videos of folks in the industry, and we did a little video critique that was a whole lot of fun. We had a ton of people on it, and it’s hard to keep it into a half an hour, but they’re good for and no cost, so that’s a good way to engage with us and see what we’re doing.

TM: Really cool.

BO: Well, my Wednesday afternoons now have a new commitment. Thank you very much. Well, everybody, I think we’re gonna put a wrap on today’s episode. Thanks for listening. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. We’ll catch you next time, thanks for listening.