Editorial: Reflections on ACI
April 20, 2012
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2012 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
An industry's health is sometimes measured by the enthusiasm of its trade shows. Arguably, ACI is not a trade show, but it certainly is a bellwether for the home performance industry. And it rocked. By all measures, ACI was larger, broader, and more exciting than past conferences.
ACI continues to be a magnet for audiences ranging from contractors just starting out and receiving blower door training to engineers and building scientists. In this way, it serves as the premier opportunity to learn and exchange new ideas in the home performance field. More than before, one could sense the expansion of the home performance field beyond just saving energy to comfort, health, and safety—things people are willing to spend much more money to achieve.
There was an increasing recognition of health and safety issues, but along with it uncertainty about exactly what actions a specialist should take, especially with respect to applying new standards like ASHRAE 62.2 on mechanical ventilation. That's not to say energy efficiency was neglected; we are proud that Home Energy's own Iain Walker and his research team contributed to that information bazaar with their explanations of Deep Energy Retrofits. The "Women in Home Performance" section was notable, because of its explicit effort to highlight women's contributions to—let's face it—a still male-dominated industry.
At the same time, the exhibition floor was filled with providers of new technologies aimed at serving the building performance contractor, including contractor training/education sources, auditing tools like tablet-based auditing software, and equipment. The appearances of more "big name" manufacturers, such as Carrier and Dow, and Carrier's decision to announce its new home performance services at ACI, are further evidence that home performance is much more than just weatherization. And who would have expected that energy software would be such a controversial topic?
This year's conference was notable in other ways. First, the frenetic activity occurred in spite of a still-lousy economy. The new-home business may be in the dumps but retrofitting existing homes to make them more comfortable, healthy, and energy-efficient is a steadily growing business. Perhaps the health of the industry is due to the way that home performance has taken hold at the grassroots, from Americorps neighborhood energy advocates knocking on doors and speaking at churches, to your local heating and cooling contractor talking to community groups.
Then there was the multi-billion dollar question: will the home performance successfully absorb, and then move beyond, the Recovery Act (ARRA) funding? The federal government poured hundreds of millions of dollars into weatherization over the past few years, transforming hundreds of agencies from financially strapped to flush almost overnight. But now the tsunami has largely passed, leaving hundreds of better-trained weatherization crews scrambling for work and looking for new business models to continue applying their skills. We don't know how this story will end but Home Energy will be closely following these new entrepreneurs.
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