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Lesson Learned: Perspective is Key

A different perspective can shed light on new ideas and ways to improve in any industry.

By: Mike Ryan

A pair of glasses clear the view of the city skyline in the distance.

The greatest thing I gained while working for nonprofits providing the Home Weatherization Assistance Program (HWAP) is perspective. When I first started in the home performance industry, I was insufferably eager to tell everyone I knew or met about air leakage, insulation, the idea of the house as a system—all of it. I was performing energy audits on half-million-dollar homes within weeks of becoming BPI certified. I gathered utility bills, ran blower doors, noted overall duct leakage and the leakage to outside, and assessed HVAC systems. I was writing job proposals with complete HVAC system changeouts, fuel switching, solar. I was telling homeowners, “This is what’s wrong with your house and this is how I can fix it.” In short, I was very green and not in the good way.

When I switched to working with the low-income weatherization programs, I quickly realized nobody wanted to hear me talk about any of that. They just knew something was wrong and they wanted it fixed. My toolbox shrunk from whatever the customer could afford to a tight, prescriptive list of allowable measures approved by the program or energy modeling software.

In many ways, these were just the right kinds of restrictions I needed to provide results that were most impactful for the client. I was forced to really listen to the client’s concerns and to ask them questions about how the home was performing: Was the bedroom colder than the living room? Did the bathroom mirror stay fogged up long after a shower? How often do you use the sunporch or the den? Should we hang a door at this unconditioned area that was added onto the home at some point that’s just used as storage? Should we define this wall heater as the home’s primary heat source rather than the other one because this is where the family gathers the most?

The more questions I asked, the more the client described the issues that were most immediate for them. I began to see the home from the client’s perspective, and I could start to understand what areas were of greatest importance to the people who were actually living there. Together, with the client, we would create an actionable plan that would focus our limited resources on areas that would have the biggest impact on how they used their home.

By listening to the client voice their concerns, I was able to shift my perspective from creating a scope of work that was strictly data-driven to creating a true home improvement plan that addressed the things the client worried about the most.

Mike Ryan

By listening to the client voice their concerns, I was able to shift my perspective from creating a scope of work that was strictly data-driven to creating a true home improvement plan that was tailored to the client and that addressed the things the client worried about the most. That’s not to say we were able to provide whatever the client asked for, but we were able to explain how what we could offer would affect their comfort.

Today, as a building inspector, when I’m on a large job like a new hotel, I try to shift my perspective to what the jobsite superintendent is experiencing as we are walking the job together. They have a hundred different demands they must meet from the client, to the city, to the subcontractors and suppliers. Every minute of their time is allotted for until the job is complete. The amount of stress they are under must be enormous. I try to imagine what I would want from a building inspector if I was the super. Unfortunately, I can’t, so I ask: “What can I do to best help you complete this job?” And then I listen.

Mike Ryan
Building Inspector

Mike Ryan is a building inspector in Athens, GA. He previously owned a home improvement business in Philadelphia and worked in weatherization in San Diego, Houston, and Cleveland. You can find him on Instagram @looking_at_buildings.

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