Why Building Scientists Can’t Talk to Bankers

A trend among some of the world's leading building scientists

by Andrew Padian

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I spent the better part of a week in August hobnobbing with some of the world’s leading building scientists, and I found a recurring theme: they complain bitterly about the condition, comfort, and cost of energy and water in their home.  It starts out as minor grumbling, then it gets more pronounced as they talk about the level of the problem in their home, and why the only person that really knows how to fix the problem is them.  But they’re swamped at work, when they get home late, it’s dinner and the kids and the spouse, and they’ve got to plan a vacation for the significant other and everyone else.  And finish a research project and complete five building reports.

Sounds like all of us.


Almost unanimously, they don’t want to use a government or utility program, as it won’t allow them to do the job “the right way” (i.e. their way), and the paperwork is endless.  They have to use preselected contractors, and all of them are incompetent (their analysis, not mine), and besides, the program won’t let them do something “cutting edge” because it’s not yet an approved item.  And it doesn’t have a TRC or an SIR (I pity you if you know what that means).

How about refinance the debt on your home, build the scope of work into the loan, and not even feel the cost with the lower available rates.  Design the system ahead of time and have a summary of it for the mortgage officer with three bids to do the work, using contractors you want. Oh, yeah, and take the local, state, or federal tax credits and deductions (see www.dsireusa.org to find them all), and see if any of the utility or State programs you pay for will give you an “incentive” (can’t call them rebates any more).

Now here’s the hard part: obfuscating that you’re doing a “green” or “deep energy” retrofit to your banker.  If you use any strange terms they don’t know, they’ll have to  bring a supervisor, code official, or god forbid, an appraiser or rater that they’ve used in the past for one of them “Birkenstock tree hugger houses”.  Just say no.


Here’s how you have to frame it:

  • You’re replacing the insulation that has exceeded its useful life
  • Your replacing the furnace/boiler/heat pump/A-C with a “more powerful” one that will heat/cool the house faster
  • You’re replacing the broken fans in the bath and kitchen
  • You’re increasing the firestopping in the house to exceed code and reduce fire risk
  • You’re using the tax credits to put up solar to give you power during blackouts


And for those of you that don't speak banker, here's what you really want to do:

You’re dense packing or exterior insulating your home; airsealing and insulating the attic; putting in a condensing furnace/boiler or high COP heat pump; changing from exhaust only fans to HRV/ERV system; doing blower door assisted airsealing pre/post; and using the tax credits to put up solar.  The solar will give you electricity if the power is out, reducing the risk of frozen pipes in winter.

Worse than the cat/dog relationship between architects/engineers and building scientists/clients, our relationship with the banking community is in the pits.  They are recovering from a crisis and want, good, smart, cash flowing owners to refinance their debt.  Got a job?  Got a house that isn’t under water? Got a plan for the project, specs, contractors, and bids?  You’re the warm body they want!  Most of your clients (also owners) probably fit into that mold as well, if they are considering a “deep energy retrofit” or similar upgrade, they have a job and a few brain cells to rub together, they fit the mold as well.

So go to your local bank, ask the senior mortgage officer what they are looking for in customers, and make a deal.  You might make a friend.  And you soon might get them understanding our BS.

But don’t bet on it.

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Andrew Padian's picture
BE Boston 21 RegistrantsBuildingEnergy 16 Full ConferenceMember
Company: N/A
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-padian-99056831

Andy Padian has vast experience in building science, sustainability, resilience, and energy/financial analysis of buildings. He has performed detailed energy and financial analysis in thousands...

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