Boosting home energy efficiency and real estate value with the FileMaker Platform
Home energy rating company slashes time to gauge home energy efficiency by 20 percent
As energy efficiency becomes an ever more important factor in a home’s value, developers and homeowners alike need assurance that their investments made in insulation and air sealing actually produce the returns they expect. And that’s exactly what Builders Energy Rater does – it’s a custom FileMaker solution running on iPad, using the FileMaker Platform. Using the FileMaker Platform to create a custom business solution for iPad, Builders Energy Rater has streamlined the process of collecting and analyzing home performance data.
Building inspectors find it easy to capture and disseminate energy efficiency information on the spot thanks to FileMaker Go for the iPad and the FileMaker Platform.
“With FileMaker on iPad, we capture data in the field and import it directly to our modeling software – no paper required,” explains Charles Ballard, rating administrator at Builders Energy Rater. “This saves us a tremendous amount of time and enables us to tell customers right off if there are deficient situations that must be corrected before construction can continue.”
Builders Energy Rater is a home energy rating company nationally certified in the EPA’s ENERGY STAR® program, the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET)’s Home Energy Rating Systems (HERS), and USGBC’s LEED system. Formed as an offshoot of San Antonio, Texas-based Key Insulation, Builders Energy Rater has rated over 6,500 new homes in the San Antonio and Austin markets since 2006. The Builders Energy Rater system has become an attractive factor in driving sales for Key Insulation, because people want to know up-front how energy-efficient their homes will be and purchase the requisite insulation or sealing. Key Insulation’s new home insulation market share in San Antonio and Austin has risen from approximately 4 percent in 2005 to about 12 percent in 2012.
Eliminating paper processes
Prior to creating its solution based on the FileMaker Platform, Builders Energy Rater and Key Insulation used paper forms to record home performance data in the field, scanning the forms into a database back at the main office. However, because the system didn’t have intelligent data capture, the forms were also printed out again so the data could be keyed manually into the modeling software.
“Our old system was not very efficient, to say the least,” Ballard remarks. It took a long time to create paper forms that were succinct enough to work well in the field. And not only did re-keying data into the modeling software duplicate effort, it also led to a higher error rate. Also, project status was based on information that was less than current and dependent on an employee determining if certain tasks were completed. “We really needed project status with data reflecting the real-time conditions,” says Ballard.
“FileMaker allows us to rapidly update our solution to create or change the products and services we offer based on the dynamics of our industry. So we can satisfy most any type of inspection protocol without requiring a programmer. The FileMaker Platform lets us use the best equipment for the task, whether it’s a desktop PC or Mac, iPad or iPhone. All that translates to greater efficiency and higher quality service to our customers.”
— Charles Ballard, Rating Administrator
— Builders Energy Rater
Driving higher efficiency from the field to the office
Home energy rating requirements are regulated by RESNET, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and all these requirements are subject to frequent changes reflecting new policies and improved knowledge of building science. To adapt in such a dynamic business environment, Ballard and his team launched a search for a technology solution to streamline their energy rating program.
“We needed an inspection management system that enabled the latest information coming from our industry councils to be reflected in the forms used by our field staff,” says Ballard. “We also had to record field data more efficiently to improve accuracy and responsiveness.”
Ballard tapped the resources of FileMaker Platinum Developer, AlaMark Technologies in San Antonio, to create a customized energy inspection management solution running on FileMaker Server hosted in AlaMark’s data center. Builders Energy Rater also equipped its field staff with iPads running FileMaker Go for iPad, a free FileMaker client available from the App Store that allows them to view their FileMaker information. Builders Energy Rater has plans to expand the reach to iPhones in the near future, and will use the free FileMaker Go for iPhone.
Leveraging the capabilities of the FileMaker Platform, Builders Energy Rater’s inspection management system enables the company to create new types of energy-rating services based on updated regulations and link them with program-specific tasks that must be completed to comply with the latest industry regulations. Each task and its requirements are also associated with a set of skills required to successfully complete the task and assigned to an employee with the appropriate certifications. The setup work is done on both Mac and Windows desktops using FileMaker Pro clients, with the information being stored centrally on FileMaker Server.
When field inspectors sign onto their iPads, they are immediately presented with their tasks for the day. As each task is completed, the data is uploaded to FileMaker Server and exported directly into the company’s modeling software, which estimates the amount of energy a house will consume. Office employees access the energy inspection management solution from their desktops via the Internet using FileMaker Pro 12.
“Construction happens in specific stages beginning with insulation first and then dry wall. So, if the tasks aren’t completed when due, then it might not be possible to obtain the data later,” Ballard points out. “With FileMaker, we can make sure that all tasks are scheduled and completed on time so we don’t miss a step.”
Adapting to a dynamic environment
Delays of even a day in house construction can be costly. According to Ballard, the average time to rate a house is traditionally 5.3 hours, but with the FileMaker Platform and FileMaker Go for iPad, he expects to reduce that time by up to 20 percent. “The largest area of improvement is in administration,” he says. “We have eliminated scanning paper forms and re-keying data into the modeling system. And, we’re improving accuracy, too, by the use of intelligent forms that provide the inspector with default data that can be altered as needed, and that review changes to ensure the information is accurate.”
Because all the field inspectors have iPads, unusual conditions can be photographed to provide a better understanding of the situation, resulting in fewer return trips. Photos taken are automatically stored with the right form and linked to the appropriate project.
The FileMaker solution allows building inspectors to capture minute details on the spot, such as which direction a building faces
Raters in the office also benefit by having much of the field data imported directly into the modeling software, without manual data entry, providing more complete information in less time.
Ballard finds adaptability to be one of the most important capabilities that the FileMaker Platform has introduced to Builders Energy Rater’s inspection process. “FileMaker allows us to rapidly update our solution to create or change the products and services we offer based on the dynamics of our industry. So we can satisfy most any type of inspection protocol without requiring a programmer. The FileMaker Platform lets us use the best equipment for the task, whether it’s a desktop or iPad or, in the future, with iPhone. All that translates to greater efficiency and higher quality service to our customers.”