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An Interview with Jacob Robichaud of Analyzing Energy
Vermont's Act 62 allocated more than $2 million to serve 1,500 moderate-income Vermont households with weatherization assistance in the form of much higher incentives. In order to meet the resulting demand, Efficiency Vermont has partnered with Vermont Technical College (VTC) and the Building Performance Institute (BPI) to increase the number of EEN contractors offering weatherization services in the state. Jacob Robichaud, co-owner of Analyzing Energy in Mount Holly, is part of this growing group of weatherization experts. Robichaud holds certifications as a Building Analyst, Envelope Professional, and Healthy Home Evaluator from the BPI.
Tell me about your background.
I'm from Mount Holly, Vermont, originally. I moved away and lived in Iowa and Long Island. I was a building supervisor. Sometimes you have to be away from Vermont to appreciate it—you get a better respect for the state. I moved back to Vermont, to Ludlow, and was building houses. The company I worked for asked if anyone wanted to learn about energy efficiency and I said yes. That's how I first got into it.
How long have you been in business for yourself, and how has your business changed since you started it?
I've been in business over two years now. I was an in-house energy auditor for an insulating company before that. I started out doing audits for two companies, and now I do them for 12 different companies. I connect people with incentives or with low-cost loans. My wife and I own the company. We are busy; we are looking to hire another auditor within six months.
How do you like working with your spouse?
Works great! I'm out in the field and she handles the day-to-day business.
Where in Vermont do you provide services?
We cover the whole state. We do a lot of energy audits, 15-20 a week. I drive close to 5,000 miles a month.
Who are your clients? How do they find you?
I do repeat work for the companies I mentioned. New clients, especially individual homeowners, come from word of mouth and Efficiency Vermont's Find a Contractor listing on the website.
How has the State's focus on weatherization affected your business?
The State’s education of residents has been helpful. Homeowners call me already knowing what they want.
What support has Efficiency Vermont provided as you grow your business?
The homeowner rebates are key; insulation can get expensive. The rebates help offset the out-of-pocket cost for the homeowner. Steve Spatz and Sarah Sherrill at Efficiency Vermont are on my speed dial for any energy-related questions I've got. Also if I need equipment—multiple blower doors, for example—they are there for whatever I need.
What stage of building construction do you get involved in?
New construction, mid-construction. And not just residential buildings. I have audited churches, schools, and office buildings.
What's the oldest building in Vermont you have audited?
I got a call just this morning about a real old church in Halifax—built in the 1850s. But the oldest was a mansion in Manchester Center that was built in 1788.
How have the increased incentives available, especially for moderate-income Vermonters, impacted your work?
The incentives have doubled recently, to $2,000 or $4,000 [based on income]. I've been doing energy auditing for a total of six years now. It used to be mainly for second home owners from out of state. Now I’m seeing more local Vermonters. When they can get half the cost of insulating back in a rebate, more Vermonters participate.
Also, a lot of people are taking advantage of the low-interest Home Energy Loan. If people [meet the "moderate income" requirements], they can apply for an interest-free, five-year loan to make energy efficiency improvements.
What's your business approach?
I come in and verify the work scope of the contractor. Say the contractor has big plans to thoroughly insulate the attic, but I come in and find the basement is the biggest problem [in terms of energy loss]. We change the work order to focus on the basement.
I’m for the customer. I work for the customer, not the contractor or the insulators.
On every job, I do a pre-test and a post-test. It is required by Efficiency Vermont for customers to get the rebate. So 95% of all jobs I do, I go there twice. If the post-test results are not great, I can call the contractor directly and they will go back and fix it. The working relationship that I have with the contractors I network with gives me the ability to assess their work from an outside perspective. This gives me the opportunity to catch any mistakes that they might not have seen. And if anything is not up to code or not done right, they will come back and fix it.
Do you have an example?
I did one project recently where there were deep pockets on the rim joists—the company installing the insulation couldn't see them. I found the leak, the company came back, applied more closed-cell foam, and got a 28% reduction in leakage when I did a follow-up test.
What can you offer the homeowner that others can't?
I specialize in paying attention to details. I can offer the customer a unique energy audit experience. I evaluate every inefficiency within the home using equipment such as the blower door and infrared [IR] imaging. I also cater the audit to the homeowner’s needs and budget. I don’t have to sell anything to make money. So, I can spend as much time as is needed in the home with the customer. I also work in terms of what the homeowner's goal is. Is it comfort? Is it savings? Is it resale value?
How has membership in the EEN helped you?
It's been amazing, the support they give me. Flyers, mailers are going out to customers. EEN’s connection to BPI is a big help. Through BPI, I just got certified in Healthy Home. My wife just got certified to be an auditor as well. I’ve taken multiple trainings through the EEN.
Tell me more about the Healthy Home Evaluator program.
The issues covered include mold, moisture, lead paint, health and safety, and energy efficiency. I imagine that Healthy Home fits right in with many EEN contractors’ business models. A business could advertise "Got asthma, allergies?" and cater their whole approach to those issues—focusing on drainage and vapor barriers, for example.
Do you think that unhealthy homes are a new problem or that there's just a new awareness of the problem?
I think there's a growing awareness of the issue.
What is your secret to success?
Working really hard, figuring out exactly what the homeowner needs, and being willing to think outside the box.
Can you give me an example of when you’ve done that?
I did a job the other day. I felt sure the homeowner needed closed-cell foam. He objected to it—he was worried about off-gassing and wanted something “greener.” I gave him a detailed response. I removed the fiberglass that was there and ran blower fans with artificial smoke to see where the leaks were in his attic. Then I recommended using fibrous rockwool and really air-sealing before installing cellulose on the attic flat.
Also, when I say it's important to think outside the box, I mean that every house is different and has to be approached differently. There are just so many variables. They were built during different times, using different techniques, with different people working on them over the years. You can't just use one approach over and over and expect it to work in every house. You have to do the audit with the blower door, the IR image, the detailed analysis, and come up with your solution. I can't stress enough that you really have to explore it as an individual house.
Interested in becoming a part of Efficiency Vermont's Efficiency Excellence Network? Making Vermont more energy efficient is a collaborative effort and would not be possible without a strong network of independent contractors. In 2014, Efficiency Vermont created the Efficiency Excellence Network in order to better support and encourage Vermont contractors to provide energy-efficient solutions in the field. There are currently over 600 members in the Efficiency Excellence Network, including Analyzing Energy of Mount Holly, Vermont.