DETROIT — Organizers were pleased with their first trip to the Motor City for the 2014 Affordable Comfort Inc. Home Performance Conference and trade show. The April 29-May 1 event at Detroit’s Cobo convention center  brought in more than 1,000 home performance and weatherization professionals from across North America. The 70-exhibitor trade show and educational program with 17 subjects gave attendees plenty to see and learn.

ACI extends sincere thanks to our host sponsors, Consumers Energy and Dow, and to all of the sponsors, exhibitors, program committee members, presenters, conference ambassadors, volunteers and attendees who made this event a success,” said Nate Natale, vice president of operations. “We’re so pleased to continue ACI’s proud tradition of presenting excellent educational and networking opportunities for home performance and weatherization professionals.”

Among the most popular sessions, organizers said, were “10 Rules for Effectively Communicating the Power of Home Performance,” “The Great Ventilation Standard Debate” and “Air-Sealing Priorities and Techniques.”

Also attracting a crowd was April 30 keynote speaker Van Jones, co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire” and author of The Green Collar Economy. Jones’s presentation focused on the need for organizations to work together to build comfortable, affordable, energy-efficient homes.

 “Energy efficiency is the most efficient and effective strategy to help America, period,” he said.

Announced April 30 was the creation of the Home Performance Coalition, an organization to be formed through the merger of ACI and the National Home Performance Council. Steve Cowell, chairman and CEO of Conservation Services Group, is currently acting as the coalition’s chairman. It aims to have the home performance industry speak with a united voice, officials said.

Here is a look at some of the event’s educational sessions.


Time to grow

Many HVAC contractors have considered expanding their businesses — whether it’s a new territory, product line or service. But growing your company is not without its pitfalls, as the speakers at the April 29 ACI session, “The Contractor Experience: Adding a Business Line,” pointed out.

It’s a tempting prospect, said Michelle Knaszak of energy auditor GreenHomes America.

“A lot of times when you go into a house, it is not just one thing wrong,” Knaszak said. “Why sub that work out? When you offer multiple business lines, you can get in there three, four, five times a year.”

A contractor in a complementary industry may be willing to send business your way — if you do the same for the other company.

“Because of your customer service database, you have thousands (of leads) for home-performance contracting,” Knaszak said. “You have to find the right contractor to partner with.”

That’s what Amanda Godward of Michigan-based Ecotelligent Homes said she has been trying to do. The former automotive engineer turned energy auditor said she hasn’t had as much success finding contractors in industries such as HVAC to partner with, so she is trying to bring such services in house.

Sometimes, she has trouble getting commercial clients to see the scope of an issue, she said.

“There is a huge HVAC focus but not a (building) envelope focus,” Godward said.


The airflow ‘animal’

Odds are the airflow in most homes or commercial buildings isn’t as efficient as it should be. But how do HVAC contractors tackle the problem? It’s not easy, according to Brad Bartholomew and Don Hull, two experts who spoke at ACI’s April 29 seminar, “Airflow and Ductwork: The 800-pound Gorilla in the Room.”

“There is no argument that airflow … is a problem,” said Hull, a program manager with ICF International who has performed 300-plus energy audits and has 28 years of HVAC experience.

Hull said he spent several years in Denver, where most ductwork is not sized properly.

“People do not pay attention to the ductwork” even if they ensure other HVAC construction components are correctly installed, he said.

It doesn’t matter how efficient the rest of the HVAC system is if the ductwork cannot deliver air efficiently, Hull said, adding that many contractors don’t know how to fix the problem.

Simply sealing the duct is oftentimes not the solution. Anytime you seal duct, you increase the static pressure, which can make the HVAC operate less efficiently.

“Let’s make sure the ductwork is working properly before sealing it up,” he said.

Hull made these suggestions:

• Work closest to the air handler — where any leakage is often greatest.

“Don’t get hung up on ‘I can’t fix it.’ Do as much as you can,” he said. “Give them something to work with.

• A solution need not be complex. It could be as simple as leaving a room door open.

• Whatever you do, be sure to talk to homeowners in language they can understand.

Tell them “This will get more air to the room,” Hull suggested. “It might make things a little noisier.”

Most HVAC contractors should be able to relate to these problems, said Brad Bartholomew, the president of Michigan-based Energy Saving Services.

“Almost all of us have these issues in our own houses,” he said. Changing the air’s path through ductwork may help.

“Noise travels in a straight line, guys,” he added.

For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email