You can tell how long someone’s been in a particular industry by their mastery of the acronyms. I joined EnergyCircle on October 23 as a technical project manager, and I already knew all the web development acronyms: UX, HTML, FTP, CSS, UAT, XML, SQL. But when my new job began a month ago, I knew no more than the average person about home performance. I started hearing CFM, ACH, XPS, VOC, SHGC, SEER, and HSPF… WTF?
EnergyCircle’s CEO and founder Peter Troast believes that everyone on our team needs deep expertise in our field of marketing, but insists that we also be strongly conversant in the world of our clients: home performance, building science, low energy homes and retrofits. I had a lot to learn before I could actively engage with our clients about their businesses. So he assigned me the Building Performance Institute (BPI) Building Science Principles Certificate. Full disclosure: we work closely with BPI, but they didn’t know I was going for the certificate or writing this article.
Getting the certificate was a great way to orient myself to the home performance industry. Here’s what it entails:
You can choose to purchase the 258-page Reference Guide for $119. They offer printed and online versions. Then you purchase an exam code for $99 and take the exam (100 multiple choice questions, 70% is passing). The time limit for the exam is two hours, but it only took me about 90 minutes.
I found the reference guide helpful and comprehensive. The information is organized intuitively, and few would find it too technical. The conversational tone makes it easy to read, if not slightly simplistic at times. A visual learner, I was grateful that the text is broken up by excellent, informative visuals.
The guide begins by introducing building science and the idea of home performance. The subsequent chapters are Heat and Insulation, Air and Air Sealing, Moisture and Moisture Control, Mechanical Systems, and Conservation Strategies.
I don’t recommend taking the exam without reading the entire Reference Guide unless you already know a lot about the material. Once you’ve read the Guide the exam has no surprises, although you might want to review the glossary pre-test because there is so much vocabulary to learn. I like that you can easily access the text after you finish. I’ll use it as a reference going forward.
Spoiler alert: I passed! I finished the process with a working understanding of the key concepts, vocabulary, basic formulae, and practices of the building performance industry. Plus: professional confidence and a shiny printed-out certificate. I’m certainly not ready to perform a home energy audit, but I can talk about them with reasonable fluency.
I’ve also had what must be a classic epiphany for those who are new to home performance. I used to think that efficient buildings had green roofs, solar panels, and zero carbon footprint. Turns out it doesn’t have to be so glamorous—measures like air sealing and moisture control are a much more prudent first step. The BPI Building Science Principles Reference Guide asks,
“Do you want to spend a lot of money to fill up every square inch of your roof with solar panels? [Or] would you rather take some smart steps to reduce the heating and cooling loads and baseload first, and then pursue a more affordable and attractive renewable energy solution that does not have to produce as much energy?”
I really hadn’t thought about it before, but pass the can foam!
I recommend this certificate to those who work in the building performance or energy efficiency industries in non-fieldwork roles. This might include administrators and salespeople. BPI also recommends it for students, architects, and realtors. You’ll learn some nifty jargon and build some cred. By the way: that’s an abbreviation for “credentials.” Go for it!
 Building Performance Institute. Building Science Principles Reference Guide. (2012) 231. http://bpi.vgihost.com/portal/en/bsp/guide