The Building Performance Institute is the nation's premier organization for residential energy efficiency certification. I had the opportunity to interview the CEO, Larry Zarker, who shared his road to success along with useful advice for individuals interested in a BPI certification:
Q: You were the Vice President of Marketing for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) for 20 years. How did that experience prepare you for your role as CEO at BPI?
A: Well I grew up in a home building family, which gave me a lot of practical skills. When I came out of graduate school, I had an opportunity to work in the NAHB Research Center, where they put me on the research side. I saw the new technologies that were coming out in the industry, and it gave me the chance to test them to see if they actually worked. That experience gave me an understanding of how the house works as a system. What I am doing with BPI is really helping people understand the house-as-a-system, which makes sure [the house] works in an optimized way.
Q: How did you get started with BPI?
A: There was a federal program called the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, the PATH program, and I was the executive director for a year. During that time, we started a road map. The road map was called Energy Efficiency in Existing Homes, and I worked with contractors throughout this industry. We took them through a process [to show them] where the industry needed to go in order to deliver energy efficiency to the existing housing stock. That is where I identified BPI and its credentials, and it led me to start thinking about working more closely with the organization.
Q: Why should someone become BPI Certified?
A: I think there are a lot of green career paths available to young people today that don’t necessarily require that you follow the traditional path of going to college and graduate school while incurring a lot of debt. There are trade options and green careers on the solar side as well as in the existing home side. We have 130 million homes in existence now that need work, so we are going to be working on them for a very long time. So in terms of having an opportunity to do something through a career, I believe strongly that learning the right skills, such as learning to treat the house as a system or getting certified is something that is going to have a positive impact on people getting into this career.
Q: Would you suggest that a newly credited Building Analyst obtain a specialty certification?
A: I think that they should just follow their heart. Some people are really good with the mechanical side, so they may want to learn Heating or AC/Heat Pump. Others might be interested in the envelope of the house and want to get the Air Leakage Control certification or Envelope [certification]. Some people get all of them. They really feel that they need all of [the certifications] to understand the house completely, and that’s an option too.
Q: Recently BPI released news about the quality assurance program, which monitors third party testing centers for testing integrity and equality. How important is that process to the reputation of BPI?
A: That’s absolutely critical. When we say we are raising the bar in home performance contracting, it means that we want the people going through these exams to meet the same requirements. We don’t want individuals in one class or one part of the country to have a different experience than someone else, so we implemented this system to ensure that testing is on the same level in all locations, which we do by video taping all exams. We don’t review every single [exam], we do random sampling, and that has helped us find opportunities for improvement in the testing environment.
Q: You have worked for more than 30 years in the residential building industry. What advice do you have for people considering a BPI certification or for people trying to establish a strong professional presence in their local markets?
A: I have been in [the residential building industry] my entire career. I feel very strongly that there are serious job opportunities right where you live. There are ways you can get into the field. It might be through your church, where you start talking to people, or it might be through a community group. You have to realize that everyone lives in some kind of housing. In general, all of the houses need to be fixed, and if you build on your capabilities, you can start to earn trust as a specialist. If you have the ability to look at the whole house, then you are optimizing the entire performance of the house. You aren’t presuming what the problem is; you are diagnosing the problem then helping [the homeowner] find a solution. When you fix some of the problems, [the homeowners] basically feel like they are putting money in the bank because of the energy savings. It’s like an annuity. You just buy the annuity, and it’s going to keep paying you back.
Q: Everblue will be hosting its first international BPI training course in the very near future. In your opinion, what steps must be taken in order to have the BPI certification easily translate to other countries and become internationally accepted?
A: Well the real question, for me, is how you do the testing. The first thing that comes to mind has to do with languages. If you are using English, then it makes it a lot easier because you don’t have to translate the test questions and standards. If you need another language, then you end up with a language issue. You need to make sure that you safeguard the integrity of the tests and that the translation is accurate.
Q: How well do you think the BPI standard will translate to other countries? Do you think BPI can become an international energy-auditing standard?
A: I have traveled all over the world, and I have found that building science is building science. It doesn’t change from one country to the next. Now having said that, there are different types of construction. Some types of structures are not feasible for the kinds of tests we do, but I would say in general that it does translate pretty well.
Q: Mr. Zarker, I have one last question to wrap up our interview. If you could be a sustainability superhero, what super power would you like to have?
A: I really don’t know…I think you should be able to put on infrared glasses.
Larry Zarker thinks that having infrared vision would be the ideal superpower for a sustainability superhero, and I have to say I agree with him. The energy efficiency industry is a great place for individuals who are looking to learn more about the green industry. With a BPI certification, a professional can start a new career or advance a stagnant one by gaining new skills in energy auditing. I would take Larry’s advice if you still don’t know whether or not a BPI certification is right for you; “I think that they should just follow their heart…there are a lot of green career paths available.”