Knowing and understanding contractor credentials can help you find the right fit for you, your project and your budget. Understanding your contractor’s qualifications and expertise will help you understand their background, why they may be suggesting certain technologies or approaches, and whether they are the right fit for a particular project. For example, if you are working with a carpenter, you may want to consider whether that person is up to date on the latest information on air sealing and insulation. Or does your heating contractor know quite a bit about furnaces or boilers, but lack expertise with heat pumps? Is your contractor familiar with Vermont’s Commercial and Residential Building Energy Standards, which apply to both new construction and existing buildings?
Below is a list of some qualifications that you may want to look for.
*Please note: Name(s), abbreviations, overseeing entities, requirements and internet links may change. The list below is not exhaustive, nor should it be considered an endorsement or approval of any entity, service or product.
The Building Performance Institute is a national standards development organization for energy efficiency and weatherization retrofit work. For over 25 years, BPI has been a certification and standard-setting organization for home performance professionals.
- Entity that oversees/issues certification: Building Performance Institute
- Requirements: BPI professionals undergo building science and energy training, pass tests and complete continuing education. There are many different BPI certifications and requirements.
All EEN contractors are partners with Efficiency Vermont in offering their programs; they specialize in lighting, heating and cooling, and Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®.
- Entity that oversees/issues designation: Efficiency Vermont
- Requirements: EEN contractors are required to participate in ongoing training in energy efficiency to find cost-effective opportunities to save energy. Designations vary by specific trade. You can learn more about the Efficiency Excellence Network at their website.
Home Energy Score (HES or HEScore)
A Home Energy Score provides information about a home's energy use (similar to the MPG rating for a vehicle), and may be provided with an energy audit or as part of a standalone product. Home Energy Score Qualified Assessors are contractors who are qualified to provide an HEScore.
- Entity that oversees/issues designation: U.S. Department of Energy, locally through Vermont Energy Investment Corporation
- Requirements: Contractors must hold one of the eligible credentials that establish that they understand the basics of buildings, and heating and cooling systems. Contractors must also complete training, pass a test and conduct mentored ratings. The full list of credentials is available at the Better Buildings Initiative website.
Home Energy Rating System (HERS)
A Home Energy Rating is a score that indicates how energy efficient a home is—the lower the score, the better. A HERS Rater is a contractor who is qualified to complete blower door and other tests to assess the home's efficiency and generate a Home Energy Rating score.
- Entity that oversees/issues designation: Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET)
- Requirements: Contractors complete at least a week of building science training, pass a test, complete mentored ratings, follow quality assurance standards, and maintain continuing education. More information about their training is available at the RESNET website.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building, community and home project types, LEED provides a framework to create healthy, efficient and cost-saving green buildings. A LEED credential denotes a building professional with proficiency in today’s sustainable design, construction and operations standards.
- Entity that oversees/issues accreditation: U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
- Requirements: LEED accredited professionals (APs) undergo training, pass a test and complete continuing education. There are many different LEED AP programs and requirements. See the USGBC website for more information, including a full list of credentials.
The Vermont State Electrical Safety program is achieved through the adoption of nationally recognized safety codes, licensing, education and training of people doing electrical installation work and code enforcement, which reduces the risk of fire and electrocutions.
- Entity that oversees/issues license: Department of Public Safety–Division of Fire Safety
- Requirements: The level of experience required to be a Master Electrician is dictated by each state. In Vermont, the rules are adopted by the Commissioner of Public Safety and the Electricians’ Licensing Board pursuant to 26 V.S.A. Chapter 15 in order to enforce nationally recognized safety codes and to license people doing electrical work. See the VT Division of Fire Safety's website for more information.
NORA provides training and certifications for heating oil system technicians. Various levels of certifications are available (Bronze, Silver, Gold), each with different requirements for training and experience.
- Entity that oversees/issues certification: National Oilheat Research Alliance
- Requirements: Contractors undergo training, pass a test, and complete continuing education. See the NORA website for more information.
NABCEP offers credentials for skilled professionals, specialists and those new to working in the areas of photovoltaics, solar heating and small wind technologies.
- Entity that oversees/issues certification: North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners
- Requirements: NABCEP Practitioners have to meet standards and qualifications and pass an exam. There are many different NABCEP programs and requirements. See the NABCEP website for more information.
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR®
While not a certification, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® (HPwES) is a program that offers whole-house solutions to high energy bills and homes with comfort problems. The program is managed by a local sponsor that recruits home improvement contractors (HPwES contractors) who are qualified to perform comprehensive home assessments. In Vermont, HPwES contractors are all BPI contractors (see above) who work with Efficiency Vermont. HPwES assessments include heating and cooling systems, windows, insulation, flow of air into and out of the house, and a safety check of gas appliances. Based on this assessment, participating contractors offer solutions to fix comfort problems and address high energy bills. Homeowners who want to learn more can visit the About Home Performance with ENERGY STAR webpage, as well as Efficiency Vermont's Home Performance with ENERGY STAR page.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s top tips when planning to hire a contactor include:
- Study up — Before you call a contractor make note of any issues you want to address. This will help potential contractors better understand your needs.
- Ask for referrals — Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for contractor referrals.
- Call references — Ask contractors for customer references and call them. Ask about the contractor's installation or service performance, and if the job was completed on time and within budget.
- Get written, itemized estimates — When comparing contractors' proposals (bids), be sure to compare cost, energy efficiency and warranties. A lowest price may not be the best deal if it's not the most efficient and your energy costs will be higher.
- Get it in ink — Sign a written proposal with a contractor before work gets started. It'll protect you by specifying project costs, model numbers, job schedule and warranty information.
You can find the EPA's 10 Tips for Hiring a Heating and Cooling Contractor at the ENERGY STAR® webpage.
For more information about hiring a contractor, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR® Program web page.
The VT Department of Public Service publishes “A Vermonter’s Guide to Residential Solar,” which contains chapters on “Choosing a Contractor” and “Questions to ask a Solar Contractor.” That guide can be found, along with other renewable energy resources, by visiting the Department of Public Service Resources webpage.
The Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire Safety details their requirements for licensing plumbers at the Fire Safety webpage.
he Vermont Secretary of State's Office of Professional Regulation has a full list of regulations for various professions, including architects and engineers, at the Secretary of State's webpage.
The Energy Code Assistance Center provides free technical assistance on how to meet the requirements of the current Vermont Residential Building Energy Standards. You or your contractor can contact them at: (855) 887-0673. More information on the Vermont Building Energy Standards for Residential and Commercial buildings is available on the VT Department of Public Service Building Energy Standards webpage.