BPI at the Crossroads: (Exams, New Certifications, Standards)

Lately BPI (aka Building Performance Institute, Inc.) has been growing exponentially and making plenty of waves in the certification field. Just this last July they had 25,000 “active” certifications and closed out 2011 with 31,662. Originally there growth while slow was also pretty steady as shown on this chart of BPI accredited contractors. Enter in the HPwES program, Home Star, etc… and an organization that only processed 350 certifications in 2005 processed over 13,000 last year. Needless to say, this has brought them some growing pains, raised some concerns, and dare I say brought them to an interesting set of crossroads.

Is it a bubble or just the start?

As an organization that has taken a few pages from the USGBC playbook, this growth might just appear to be the start of a great pattern. On the other hand, paying attention to how many individuals have fallen off the train (HomeStar, Recovery WAP, etc…), and by listening to &/or talking to those certified, the picture starts looking a little different. In many respects the growth & statements by many are eerily similar to the commercial, tech, oil, housing & banking bubble collapses that many of us have lived through.

In my opinion BPI is pretty close to hitting a plateau as any growth will be equal to or outweighed by those that are no longer in the field or those of us choosing not to renew our certifications. Whether they continue to learn, grow, and adapt like USGBC did or implode is completely dependent on BPI looking at some issues, seeing how quickly they can adapt, and dare I say listen to those of us in the field.

Exams:

In many ways, this path has already been decided when they instituted some new testing protocols like videotaping, requiring someone beside the teacher to do the field testing and raising their fees. While I am generally not one to tell someone they are charging too much, $250 for a 50 or 100 question test taken via the computer is high. For example:

  • ACCA tests are $65 a piece
  • Microsoft is $150 a piece (and some of those are 4 hours long)
  • Cisco varies from $125 to $315 depending on level of the test being taken
  • IBM is a flat $200
  • To become a licensed Alabama Residential builders costs $96 which comprises of two written tests (4 hours)
  • The Alabama HVAC test runs $150
  • Alabama Commercial Trades is $192 (6 hours for some)while the GC runs $10 more

I don’t think $500 for a field test is unreasonable (or is this just the fee charged to the testers?), nor is having a different instructor do it. What is pushing it though is the cameras and the differences that the instructors bring. If you are worried about the testers, have someone be “tested” by a “tester” and grade or QC them once a year anonymously. Along those lines I hope the training instructors are more up to snuff than I have seen – if my second one would have judged me on what the first one taught, I probably would have failed as he left out a few important steps. Along those lines, for an organization dedicated to health & safety… letting a student walk away from a field test without knowing what they need to improve on or they failed on is quite simply irresponsible, and could even be deemed criminally negligent.

New Certifications:

I guess congrats are in order for being chosen to do the pilot program for four new certifications tied into the Recovery thru Retrofit & National Workforce Retrofit Guidelines. I do have to give you some props for having an experience requirement now being there, especially compared to your other certs.

With that said, I do plan on digging into the full specs later but the initial impressions are not good. Seriously you are going to grade one on “penmanship,” “dedication to the cause”, and sales abilities – sorry but you really need to rethink what some of these positions really do & how they are done.

Along the lines of adding in more certifications you might take this opportunity to start thinking about streamlining & improving your existing certifications. For example this was recently posted on the Home Energy Pro’s site; “The Energy Auditor certification is not replacing the Building Analyst certification. Rather, it will be the next step in the career ladder from Building Analyst. The BA certification verifies that the worker has a foundation in diagnostic and analytical building science needed for a variety of career paths in the home performance industry.” While this might be technically correct, the way it has been marketed isn’t and there is a huge inconsistency in the training & standards in this regards.

Speaking of “next steps”, you might take a page from Cisco’s playbook which has a progressive level of testing. Once a person passes the first level they have three years to recertify (hmmm that sounds familiar), however if during that three years they take a higher level test, that lower level cert is automatically updated for the next three years. Assuming they decide not to pursue the next higher level (thus automatically extending everything for another three years), all that is required is for them to complete one recertification test which covers all the certs. If they let everything lapse, well then they get to start the process all over again but at no time do they actually lose the fact that they held the certification.

Standards:

I really would love to know this – who is responsible for you still using & listing the 1989 standard for ventilation? Is it the same person that says that someone with just a “foundation” in diagnostic knowledge should be drilling holes into exhaust pipes? For the first item, let me just give you a hint – drop the 89 moniker and list the newest ASHRAE standard. If you still feel strongly about .35 simply state – the house must meet the higher of ASHRAE standard, the local AHJ code or our .35 standard. No one cares if you take a harder or better stance on a standard (just look at the spillage one, you guys say one minute max while the industry was still stuck at 5 minutes) simply adopt it as your own while still paying head to all the changes & developments in the industry. Right now you remind me of, and give the appearance of some building departments that don’t want to change or adopt to the newer codes.

Moving onto the second question, for a standard that you built your entire reputation on; why is there still so much confusion on which vents can or can’t be drilled? Why is there no standard method for plugging them if this is required? Shoot, why are you pushing for an untrained & unqualified individuals (as defined by at least 32 states *or was that 40* and numerous local jurisdictions) to work on, test, or diagnose equipment that is beyond their abilities &/or in some cases illegal to do? Why do require testing that is contrary to not only the vent manufacturer’s directions but even the few appliance manufacturers testing procedures I have seen? Shoot while we are at it (as I just saw this one on the Linked In board from yesterday), why is there so much confusion on if the CAZ door should be opened or closed?

Just to be clear, in my opinion CAZ testing is important, but so is having someone qualified & trained to do the work. Should an analyst or auditor check for spillage on a naturally drafted appliance – Yes. Should they check what the Worst Case CAZ result is if applicable – Yes. Should they look for signs of flame roll-out & possibly incorrect burn – Yes. Should they be climbing on roofs, drilling pipes, or popping covers off of appliances – NO. This type of work really needs to become something handled routinely by any licensed technician coming in to work on or test the equipment if it isn’t already.

B-Vents

Just as an FYI, in order to clear up the ongoing B-Vent question, let me point you this post on True Tech Tool’s site. In this post they attached a PDF file which contains every B-Vent manufacturer’s thoughts & recommendations on this practice (which are all quite similar if not the same);

  • You shouldn’t drill into said pipe but if done it needs to be done carefully & sealed properly
  • The hole in the inner sleeve should be no bigger than necessary to insert the probe
  • The inner hole needs to be sealed with high temperature non-hardening sealant
  • The outer hole can be slightly larger than the inner one and should be sealed with the same type of sealant used above and then taped over with UL listed aluminum tape

In closing, I really am curious which path BPI will take or if they even realize some of the issues boiling under the surface. I know they have some great people on staff as I have met some of them, so to some extent I remain optimistic. Being a realist though I have a feeling that like many others, I will simply be letting my certs expire & sticking with RESNET and becoming a LEED AP &/or PassivHaus consultant.

  • johndpoole

    Well, this assessment doesn’t sound so good for BPI. Even if their rate of annual certifications continues to grow, it sounds to me like they’ll be losing many people off the backend unless they tighten up and clarify certain parts of their standards & methodologies. I can understand a momentum building up in favor of RESNET over BPI, given all you point out. Hope they get the message and begin to tighten things up.

    • SLS Construction

      G’Mornin John & thanks for chiming in.

      Yes & no – BPI does have about 120 government programs that are vested in them & they are continually looking for more, so that is one asset in their favor but can also be a weakness.
       
      RESNET is also at a crossroads & they have realized it for a while. They have made some great strides in a few areas which doesn’t include government agencies only. Unfortunately in other areas, instead of looking at the should we’s they just jumped forward & snagged the CAZ portion also and from everything I saw made it worse. I haven’t seen the final language or procedure but I heard Allison say all new raters will have to pass the CAZ stuff in 2013 to become one? 

      I will go back to my original assesment I made a few years ago – the two groups should form a partnership with RESNET handling the Rating, Auditing, Modeling & QC work while BPI handles the standards & certs for the work & workers

  • EnergyVanguard

    Sean, you raise some good questions about the growth and the changes. I believe what you’re calling testers (not those taking the test, but administering it) are actually proctors. The $500 field test fee may vary from one BPI Test Center to another. The BPI charge to the Test Center is $200.

    The changes you’ve discussed here are driven by BPI’s getting involved with two organizations you didn’t mention: The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). Alignment with the former is the reason for the separation between trainers and can field proctors. The four new certifications come from their work with IREC. It’s all about creating standards and practices that lead to skilled and qualified people getting their credentials.

    • SLS Construction

      Thanks for popping in Allison & yes you are correct they are technically called proctors. Thanks also for the info on the exam prices and background on IREC – I didn’t know they played such a big role. Just as an FYI, the prices I used for the testing came directly from their new Energy Auditor cert.

      As for the creating standards & practices, I got to say amen – lets just make sure they are done by the proper people. BPI’s jack of all trades approach that they have used before isn’t a good practice or advisable as all it does is push out numerous “certified” individuals that are neither skilled or qualified.