Energy standards help construction industry

October 2, 2011
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Kim Phillipi knows what it takes to bust a recession.

It takes jobs. Jobs for her own company. Jobs for other companies. Jobs that create even more jobs.

That’s why Phillipi, a partner in Building Science Energy Services and Building Science Academy, is excited about the next phase of her career.

“Essentially, what we do is train contractors on how to do energy audits. We’ve trained over 200 contractors in Michigan, plus another 250 individuals who were unemployed or underemployed,” Phillipi said.

“As a firm, we’ve added 15 positions, and about half of those were unemployed. And the contractors we’ve trained have probably added another 20 positions. So we are creating some jobs. It’s also allowed them to expand their business or, in some cases, stay in business.

“Our single biggest focus has been assisting the contractor base. It’s going to help them with their businesses, help the residents and help us. If the contractors are successful at building energy efficiency into the business, that will drive even more jobs in Michigan.”

BSES and BSA are separate entities, but both are heavily involved in the fledgling industry that Phillipi simply describes as “the energy business.”

In October 2008, Congress passed PA 295, which requires utilities to implement energy optimization programs in residential, commercial and industrial real estate. Michigan is now one of 20 states nationally that have energy standards.

“In the construction industry, besides building codes there are not a lot of standards that have to be met,” she explained. “All of a sudden, there were all these EO (energy optimization) standards that had to be followed.”

Kim Phillipi

Company: Building Science Academy LLC and Building Science Energy Services LLC
Title: Partner
Age: 51
Birthplace: Watervliet
Residence: Sparta
Family: Daughters Alfatirra, 17, and April, 16
Business/Community Organizations: Adoptive Family Support Network
Biggest Career Break: Going to work for Engineering and Testing Laboratories (Entela) as a young engineer and eventually becoming president and CEO. The people were dedicated and committed, and the company became employee-owned with national and international operations.

As is often the case in government, however, the rules were set without much thought given to how they would be followed.

At the time, Phillipi had retired as president and CEO of Engineering and Testing Laboratories (Entela) after transitioning the firm to new international owners. She was pursuing a number of volunteer opportunities when another opportunity came knocking.

“I met Sam Flanery and he had a vision for this business, but he needed some help getting things off the ground. Thirty days later, we were set up in a pole barn. Brad Mann (another partner) grew up in his father’s HVAC business. Brad owned an energy-consulting business before it was even popular. But by early 2009, we were figuring it all out. So this is a new, young industry, but now with all the push on saving energy, we feel we’re in a pretty good spot.”

The partners decided that a two-pronged approach — education and field auditing services — would be the best use of their knowledge and skills.

Building Science Academy is a school that specializes in training energy auditors, raters and contractors for energy and weatherization performance standards. The curriculum includes programs for building analysts, envelope professionals, advanced equipment, home performance sales and marketing, contractor/installation, air sealing and insulation, and HVAC.

Phillipi said classes take place in areas around the state, including Grand Rapids, Lansing and Detroit, depending on the location of clients and their prospective students.

Building Science Energy Services provides services to state agencies implementing home performance with Energy Star programs, implementation contractors, utilities, contractors and homeowners to improve energy efficiency and energy consumption programs.

“We have about 350 hours of building science curriculum for HVAC, general contractors and electricians,” she said.

“If you’re doing a comprehensive retrofit of a building, it takes all of the different trades and there are different types of certification.”

Depending on what types of certification students require, the courses can be completed in one to four weeks, she said.

“It’s been a major business shift,” Phillipi said. “Yes, we’ve been very busy. So many people have to obtain some certification to meet the building performance standards. It’s a national standard. We’ve seen a major transition in the (construction) industry in the little over two years we’ve been doing this.”

Phillipi said that in some ways, launching a business venture such as this during recessionary times has been beneficial.

“There were a lot of good people out there who were unemployed,” she said. “They knew a lot about the industry, but they didn’t know about EO. We feel very fortunate to have helped some of them get back out there and work in the industry.”

Because the energy optimization national standards apply to residential, commercial and industrial sites, there are plenty of opportunities for homeowners, landlords and business owners to save money. Phillipi said that’s part of the education process, too.

For example, if BSES is called in to do an energy audit, the property owner can expect to receive a report detailing what the EO improvements would cost, what the savings would be on utility bills and how long it would take for the improvements to be paid for by reducing those bills.

“It’s kind of like doing a physical on your house,” she said. “It’s a report they can use over time. You don’t have to do everything at once, but you get a pretty good idea of what the savings will be if you do each (improvement). This is just a huge, astounding market, and it’s only going to get better.”

Energy audits are relatively inexpensive, depending on grant money and similar incentives, and can cost as little as $25 for a household or up to $500 for a commercial building, she said.

“And I think that this will turn into a sustainable market for contractors, something that they can apply even without grants or rebates, and it really helps distressed properties.”

Various cost-reduction programs and incentives for property owners participating in energy optimization are available from the state and the utility companies.

While the energy field may be new for Phillipi, successfully directing a business or organization is not. After graduating with a metallurgical engineering degree from Michigan Tech, she came to Grand Rapids for her first “real job” with Entela, where, during her 23-year stint, she eventually became CEO.

“It was sold to an international business in 2004, and I stuck around for a couple of years during the transition, but then I wanted to do some volunteer work, some school board stuff, things like that.”

One of her volunteer projects included work with Adoptive Family Support Network in Grand Rapids. Phillipi’s daughters are adopted.

“There are half a million kids in the foster care system and some of them have issues,” she said. “But there aren’t any post-adoptive services in Michigan, or other states, and that’s something that has to be fixed. AFSN is providing services to those families. I’ve done camps with adoptive families and other (activities), and it was very fulfilling. They didn’t even have a director when I was there, but now they do. It’s getting better.”

Her professional life is getting better, too.

“We’ve been blessed with a lot of good people who want to make a difference in the industry,” she said. “It’s been a lot easier for me to get up in the morning to come to a place like this.”

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