Interview with Arran Blattel, Innervation Energy Solutions

Bio – Arran Blattel, Co-founder and Chief Building Scientist, Innervation Energy Solutions. 408-365-4351

Arran spent his youth in the very environmentally friendly area surrounding Berkeley, constantly in the outdoors, going backpacking at least every other month since the age of 9. Prior to co-founding Innervation Energy Solutions, Arran worked for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, focusing on automating large scale commercial buildings to reduce their energy loads during times of strain on California’s electric grid.  Arran holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Earth Systems from Stanford University.

Max Greenberg: Tell me about your company – please describe the services that your company provides.

Arran Blattel: Our company, Innervation Energy Solutions, provides home energy analysis and efficiency remodeling services. The primary focus of our work is on saving our customers money on their bills, and we won’t take a penny if we don’t believe that we can achieve that goal. We want to show people, and homeowners, in specific, that making efficiency improvements in your home envelope, your appliances, and lighting systems is not just the “green” thing to do, but that it can actually save you money today.

We provide other services, as well, however. Some customers come to us because they are concerned about temperature disparities, or health-related concerns, such as mold, which are often related to household airflow and building performance. And yet others would just like to have a comprehensive energy profile and/or rating done on a home, sometimes for real estate, or selling purposes.

In many cases, our work involves an energy audit. As part of this process, we send a team of our certified professional auditors to do a full 360-degree assessment of the home, from building materials, to construction quality and air leakages, to HVAC systems and appliances to determine what measures can be taken to reduce cost and improve comfort and health aspects of using the home. We aim to provide a “one-stop shop” for our customers, from assessment, to inspection, to performing remodeling and following up with quality assurance verification, and we work hard to make the customer experience as easy and as transparent as possible.

Max: Is this a new kind of service or industry?

Arran Blattel: Actually this kind of service has existed in some form for over a decade, but a number of factors are aligning to make this especially affordable and financially advantageous for the first time. Part of that is due to the new rebates available this year for energy efficient projects, and PACE programs have emerged to provide affordable financing for clean energy projects, eliminating the upfront costs, which were problematic in the past.

And on our side, the energy efficiency technology has improved significantly over the past two years. The Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have done great work to improve the ability of energy auditors to very scientifically model homes to diagnose sources of energy loss, and then to provide very accurate estimates of the actual savings customers can expect.

Max: Surely there are competitors in this space, so how do you differentiate yourself from competitors?

Arran Blattel: Well, let me start with a little background. I personally became interested specifically in home performance while I was doing research in this field at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2006. It was there that I learned two important things: one, that there is a lot of money to be saved on energy for the average homeowner, and two, that there is a very poor understanding of the financial aspects of this business, even among those offering these services, who typically come from a contractor background.

My first questions as a consumer would be, “How much am I spending, and how much can I expect to save?” And to be honest, with most of the companies providing this service, there are not a lot of good, well-supported answers to these questions.

So, at Innervation Energy Solutions, we strive to use the best available performance modeling technology and apply that with our expert, professional certified staff to create detailed reports that help you understand exactly what you are getting, and exactly what you can expect to save if you decide to use our remodeling services. And last but not least, we stick with the customer through the very end, to ensure that every bit of our services is performed well, and that we meet our goals.

Max: What is your background and what brings you to the world of energy efficiency/auditing.

Arran Blattel: As I mentioned earlier, I began to focus on building science during my work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, on an Automated Demand Response project.  It was here that I really became interested in energy usage and in particular the role that buildings played.  Our project focused on developing strategies to incentivize companies to cut back energy usage on the hottest summer days, when the grid is most strained.  In order to make these systems effective, we had to focus on the building’s infrastructure while working within the confines of the occupants’ needs.  Would dimming the lights reduce productivity?  Could we increase the A/C set point by 2 degrees and not make the occupants uncomfortable?  My interest in being able to modify and improve a building’s energy systems led me to go on and get my Master’s degree at Stanford and focus on the intersection of sustainable building practices and business.

Max: Describe a typical customer for your business. What would their needs be and how would you fulfill them.

Arran Blattel: Well, our customers fall primarily into two buckets: real estate buyers or sellers, and homeowners.

The first group is comprised of customers who have just bought or are selling their homes. As a buyer, there are some question marks regarding a new home, and going through the investigation and audit helps the buyer get a sense of the general construction and efficiency of the home – and to this end, we provide different types of home efficiency and construction ratings.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, just after buying a house is one of the best times to do retrofits of the house, and many buyers do just this.  Further, many banks allow homebuyers to roll efficiency retrofits into their mortgages, so that is perhaps the most economical way to finance energy efficient remodels.

The other group of customers is comprised of those who believe their houses are energy inefficient and want to identify ways in which they can improve their home, such as by reducing airborne pollen or fixing temperature disparities. That includes those who would be applying to the PACE program for affordable financing.  We would help them more accurately identify and assess the impact of the problems they believe the house has, as well as look for any opportunities for improvement.  But it’s not just PACE, there are also a number of rebates out there – and let’s face it, these rebates and financing options are confusing and difficult to navigate, so that’s something we help out with, as well.

Max: What are the benefits for a homeowner in using your services?

Arran Blattel: The major benefits include improved home comfort, mitigated allergies and other health concerns, and of course reduced energy bills.  In regards to comfort, there are numerous problems that can be identified with an energy audit.  The most common is a building envelope that has many air leaks, which can result in cold air coming into the house and creating a draft, or temperature disparity.  Other examples include humidity issues, where the occupants are seeing recurring mold or feel the air is too dry or moist.  Safety is a big part of any audit, as we do extensive testing of all the combustion appliances in a household.  The one that most people think of is discovering leaks in the gas pipelines, but just as important is testing for carbon monoxide, which is odorless, colorless, tasteless, and deadly. But, the number one draw for most people is the realization that they can actually save money in the short term by doing an audit and performing some level of energy efficiency remodeling.  Making the correct decision requires an in-depth inspection of the home, an empirical understanding of the benefits of prospective improvements, and thorough knowledge of all of the available rebates and financing models – and so those are the services that we focus on.

Max: What sort of specialized services do you provide that home owners could not do themselves for free?

Arran Blattel: During our inspection, we perform a number of specialized tests.  The first is to check that all combustion appliances are performing normally and are not leaking either gas or releasing carbon-monoxide into the house.  Second, we perform a blower door test, which depressurizes the house and allows us to identify how much leakage there is in the building shell and just as importantly, how well sealed off any attic, crawl space, basement, and/or garage is from the house.  Third, we test all of the ducts for leakage, as this consistently is both one of the biggest energy wasters in a home and one of the most cost effective to fix. Next, we inspect all building construction, from the materials used, to the insulation, to the craftsmanship. And lastly, we can use an infrared scanner to detect where heat is flowing through the walls (generally in places where insulation either does not exist or is in need of repair).

We would then provide the homeowner with a comprehensive analytical report, providing information on where energy is being spent and what the overall state of the building is. We’d then leverage our experience, software, and analytical tools to provide accurate estimates on the short and long-term ROI (return on investment) of potential improvements.  We would then either be able to perform the work ourselves or recommend another contractor. Where it goes from there is entirely up to the customer.

Max: How do you see the future of your business and the market segment you are addressing? What factors will contribute to growth?

Arran Blattel: We believe that the market for home energy audits is growing and will continue to expand at a considerable rate for the foreseeable future.  To start with, people are becoming more aware of both their home’s environmental impact, and the savings they could receive.  Further, more and more government incentives are requiring home owners to get an energy audit before they can take advantage of rebates or special funding.  One factor that could greatly increase the growth of the market is emerging legislation that would require homeowners to conduct energy audits before selling their home.

Max: What should a customer look for when selecting a company that provides the services you do?

Arran Blattel: While this depends on exactly what the customer is looking for, here are some of the most important qualifications.  Make sure that they are reliable, either through word of mouth or if possible, checking what other customers have written online.  Look to see what form of qualifications they have, and in particular, check if the company is BPI (Building Performance Institute) certified. Remember, to be eligible for many of the emerging incentive programs, the company you use must have at least one person with two BPI certifications.  And finally, make sure that you look for a company that will help you after the audit, whether it is to do the retrofits themselves, help you find contractors, or help you work through the financial details to maximize your savings.

About Max Greenberg

Residential Realtor, Senior Retirement Community Expert.
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