There’s no doubt the HVAC industry is on high alert from all the turmoil and uncertainty hitting us regarding “home performance”—the newest buzzword that many claim to understand and practice, but few can make sense of or make work in their businesses.

Contractors are being barraged with new information, programs and certifications, coming at them from every angle including standards and certification organizations, associations, training entities, membership groups, franchise organizations, and, of course, utilities and government.

Unfortunately, many industry organizations have become polarized, each trying to gain favor with government and utilities to become the “chosen” standard or method of compliance for federal, state, and utility-driven incentive programs. Of course, this just adds to the confusion.

As an HVAC contractor, how do you sort through this mess? Who do you believe? What training and tools do you invest in? Do you just comply with programs to get rebates and possibly leads? Where do you draw the line between what you have to do to participate in a program, and maintaining a healthy, profitable contracting business that takes good care of its customers?

Everything Old Is New Again?
This is a new world for many HVAC contractors, yet in some ways it feels familiar for those who have participated in rebate programs within the past 30 years. Many of the new programs mirror some of the old heat pump, furnace, and air conditioning rebate programs. Even back then it was hard for good contractors to differentiate themselves from posers who just pencil-whipped the forms to get the incentives.

If you’ve had some real system performance training, you already see many flaws in today’s programs that are prescriptive in nature, even though they may have performance in their names. For example, if a program requires you to go through a checklist of items, and measure a few things to determine if they are in operating range, there is no guarantee the system is actually performing well. Is it really delivering most of the BTUs to the right places within the conditioned space?

In fairness to the program managers, they too are just getting their feet wet in this new world, and many feel that if you at least verify a few things about a system it’s going to perform better than if you don’t verify. In some cases that’s true. In others, systems may actually perform worse.

The Morning After
What happens after a couple of years when a program goes away, or is replaced with the next “new” thing? If you are a good contractor and believe in keeping a customer for life, you may be stuck with the aftermath of a promise of energy savings and great performance, but a system that doesn’t even come close.

At the end of the day, only two parties matter: you, and your customer. You can point to weaknesses in the program all you want, but that customer trusted you to do the right thing. He or she isn’t interested in the problems of our industry. If your customers believe they paid for a high performing system and/or home, and didn’t get one, they will blame you. Even worse, what happens if a competitor that actually measures performance tells them they got taken?

Don’t get fooled into believing that a program has all the answers, or that if it is sanctioned by an official entity or certification it is gospel, and every installation or renovation will automatically deliver performance because you complied with a standard or a code.

Remember, compliance is like a “D” grade on a test. It’s the bare minimum you need to do to get by. Don’t be lulled into thinking that compliance produces “A” work — it rarely does.

So What Should You Do?
Do you want to be a leader in your market? Then get all of the compliance training, certifications, and purchase of compliance instruments out of the way as quickly as possible. At the same time explore what real delivered performance is all about. Become a student of performance, both with regards to the concept of the house as a system, and the interactions between a home and the most critical component of delivered performance: the HVAC system. You can easily do what it takes to meet compliance if you’re already focused on providing your customers with true home performance.

Dominick Guarino is Chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute (NCI), (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com), a national training and membership organization focused on helping contractors grow and become more profitable. Email him at domg@ncihvac.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.