My friends Peter Troast and Will Mallett of Energy Circle have been investigating and writing about branding issues, optimal website design, and search engine optimization (SEO) for the home energy industry for quite some time now. Peter has often pointed out that a major marketing issue for home energy professionals, as well as the customers seeking their services, is the industry’s sprawling nomenclature. And in particular, the lack of a single, strong, defining term for the work its practitioners actually perform.
Recently, in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine, Peter published an article entitled “Branding Our Industry: The Need for CONSENSUS“, in which he made a compelling case for the industry adopting home performance as its defining term. What’s nice about home performance is that it doesn’t overtly emphasize energy, so readily encompasses other concepts, like weatherization, indoor air quality, safety and comfort, etc. I’m personally convinced of this, and will use home performance in my own writings, wherever appropriate, from this point forward.
Memes Beget New Memes
However, for quite some time now, I’ve similarly been vexed by the elusiveness of a single term or phrase that adequately expresses the unification of historic preservation and home performance. Often, I’ve coupled the terms “historic preservation” and “energy efficiency” together in the same sentence, despite being bothered by the awkwardness and inefficiency of it all. But while reading Peter’s proposal, it struck me that simply attaching the modifier “historic” to “home performance” would give me the term I’d been looking for, and in a clean and logical way. So, I’ve now settled on historic home performance as my own defining term for the particular flavor of home performance that I’m most interested in.
Peter and I both advocate the importance of building mind-share for such concepts via websites, blogs, and social media. So it seemed worth while to determine how both phrases measured up, in terms of online public awareness and search engine optimization. My own keyword analysis of home performance revealed that this term has about a medium level of search popularity within a collection of over a dozen industry terms of the same general meaning. I also found organic search competition for home performance to be fairly high, with about 115,000 webpages attempting to optimize themselves for this term. Paid search competition, on the other hand, was estimated as “low” by Google AdWords. (I’ll publish the details of my keyword investigation in a forthcoming post.)
Historic home performance, on the other hand, appears to have no significant search popularity, nor any one competing for its use. In fact, a Google allintitle search returned about 289 webpages containing the terms “historic”, “home”, and “performance” in their page titles, but none embedding the exact phrase “historic home performance”. So, does this mean my new favorite meme is sunk? No, I don’t think so. What it means to me, as its apparent original author, is that the responsibility for its proper care and feeding, going forward, rests squarely on my shoulders. It’s mine to actively promote, until the time comes when others are willing to embrace it as their own.
Of course, any truly successful meme requires a strong and clear semantic meaning behind it. So, in a forthcoming series of articles on this blog, I’ll attempt to paint a compelling vision of what I mean by historic home performance. But for now, here’s a summary of key points:
A Pocket Manifesto for Historic Home Performance
1. The overarching goal of historic home performance is not simply making older homes more energy efficient, but deeply integrating home performance concepts — energy efficiency, weatherization, durability, comfort, occupant safety, indoor air quality — with established principles of historic preservation.
2. Home performance retrofits requiring large-scale removal or replacement of original or historic material (windows, in particular), or significant alteration to scale or architecture, are not consistent with the tenets of historic preservation. A key objective of historic home performance is devising safe, low-cost, non-destructive, alternative strategies, that deliver comparable performance results.
3. Home performance retrofits must not introduce new risks to occupant safety, comfort, indoor air quality, or building durability.
4. The embodied energy of existing structures and materials needs to be preserved, as much as possible.
5. The use of non-sustainable or toxic materials, or materials requiring considerable amounts of energy to manufacture, package, or distribute, or that contribute significantly to green house gas production, must be avoided, as much as possible.
6. Renovations and retrofits for historic homes should be implemented in a reversible/re-treatable manner, to the extent possible.
7. The whole house, or house as a system, approach to home performance needs to be expanded into a house as an element of a broader ecosystem approach. It makes little sense to reduce the energy use of a house by requiring increased energy footprints elsewhere.
8. Life style changes, minimal-investment solutions for conserving water and electricity, reliance on natural and passive strategies for heating and cooling, leveraging existing energy conserving features of structures or landscape, and small-scale sustainable food production, should all be promoted as part of historic home performance.
9. Any viable methodology for historic home performance ought to take into account principles of modern building science. However, it must co-opt these principles via implementation strategies that are appropriate for historic structures.
10. Finally, precise and repeatable measurement, testing, and modeling, and the open publishing of results and best practices, should be central aspects of an historic home performance methodology. This includes a post-retrofit program of ongoing home performance monitoring and reporting.
As always, please feel free to post any thoughts, opinions, criticisms, alternative suggestions, etc., you might have regarding this proposed manifesto, or the more general problem of combining historic preservation with energy efficiency and conservation. I look forward to your comments.
Since originally penning this article, I’ve published a follow-on article that describes my keyword analysis of these various terms in considerable detail. See Rating Home Performance as an Industry Defining Term. I’ve also created a dedicated page that attempts to paint a vision of Historic Home Performance, re-published the manifesto separately as the Historic Home Manifesto, and have assembled a comprehensive listing of Historic Home Resources.