Becoming an Energy AdvisorSeptember 20, 2022
How do I start my own energy design firm? Where can I learn best practices in sustainable construction? How do I simplify and make energy efficiency more accessible? Join us on September 20th to hear from Luke Dolan about his career path and his work as the Owner of Capital Home Energy Inc.
Luke spent most of his early career in the construction business. After years of seeing accumulated waste on construction sites and inefficiencies in the way houses were being built, Luke wanted a change. He decided to shift his career and his attention towards sustainable building.
He started his new path as an energy advisor for a consulting firm in Vancouver, B.C. A year later, he started his own energy design firm, called Capital Home Energy. Now, Capital Home Energy works primarily on residential housing – conducting energy evaluations and advising on building code compliance to help builders and homeowners alike build and live in more energy efficient homes.
Luke’s determination to advance energy efficiency into the broader conversation led him to start the Canadian Association of Consulting Energy Advisors (CACEA) in 2014. Luke also teaches a Building Science course for the Canadian Home Builders Association.
- Luke Dolan, Owner, Capital Home Energy Inc.
- Tseli Moshabesha, Project Manager, Efficiency Canada
Luke Dolan: So career journey, how did it start? How did I get here? So maybe I’ll just start a little bit brief, history on me. Currently, so for, your audience out there.
We’re a energy design firm located in British Columbia. My office is in Vancouver, beautiful Vancouver. I’m actually right now I’m on Vancouver Island.
I grew up originally in Kitchener Waterloo, so I’m an Ontario guy, so I grew up in Kitchener and I went to university at McMaster in Hamilton and big sports background. So I played football, big high school football guy and then played varsity football at McMaster. Also we grew up Ski racing as well too. My parents, my dad’s from Timmons, Ontario, which is North Ontario, he made a call to us, said, you as kids, you either wanna play hockey or do you wanna ski? And we said, oh, ski. So we end up becoming skiers. I grew up in a big hockey town. Of course, Kitchener is a big hockey town close to Toronto. Grew up skiing, sports were a big part of our lives.
I eventually migrated out west in my early twenties and lived in Whistler for quite a long time. So I’m sure everybody’s heard of Whistler. Of course they had the Olympics there in 2010 that kind of put Whistler on the map, but probably one of the best places to ski in North America.
So I spent a long time there probably about 25 years in Whistler, in construction. And construction and, being a ski bum, it was a great lifestyle. We would work from April to December and then a lot of us, while some of us would go and teach skiing, I taught skiing and part-time professional ski racer. Travel around a little bit for some ski events, actually tried out for the Olympics in 2010. My discipline was Ski cross. So I was a ski cross guy and that was the, Olympics in 2010 was the first time for ski cross in the world. And of course I didn’t make the team. I was close. But they only, I think they only took four people. I was like number nine on the list, but anyways, living in Whistler, in the construction industry. Even when I was growing up in high school, like I definitely had worked construction as summer jobs. I’ve been in construction practically all my life.
And there was a brief moment in time where I did move back to Ontario and I started up a small little construction company with my brothers. And then moved back out west again. And I was managing a painting company in Whistler and Tseli said in the intro, the thing that led me into the sustainability field was I was really sick and tired of the waste in the industry.
Like the actual physical waste, like seeing all the garbage on job sites and, the crap and the amount of waste that we produced when we were either building a house or even we were painting big hotels in Whistler. We would create all this waste. And so I did a career shift and I wasn’t really sure what to do.
It’s scary when you do a career shift it took about eight months off and just fell into this energy advisor role. I got hired by a consulting firm in Vancouver and they trained me. I got certified with Natural Resources Canada and went and started working for them and loved it.
And within a year, I’ve started up my own company. Just by myself, just started my own company. I had some previous experience running a business before a little bit. So knew that world a little bit, but you figured out as you go. So I started my own company and then started doing energy evaluations on houses.
It was primarily back then, this would’ve been in 2008, 2009, 2010 around that zone. It was primarily existing homes. So doing a lot of energy evaluations or energy audits on existing homes, the industry was primarily fueled by rebates. So Government rebates for making your house more energy efficient and that was fueling the market.
And that’s where I was getting most of my work for homeowners that were looking to make their houses more energy efficient and hopefully get some rebates back at the same time. So that’s what kind of got me into the industry. And it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride industry ever since, but I’ve managed to stick it out.
And now in BC we’re lucky because BC, I would say has got the strictest building code across the country when it comes to energy efficiency. Even though we have some of the warmest climate zones in the country, too. Like where I live. Even in Vancouver, is the warmest climate zone in Canada, per se.
Our winters are definitely different than your winters. We do get snow, but it’s not, doesn’t stick around for very long and when we do get snow, the entire city shuts down because they don’t have snow removal like they do back east and no one puts snow tires on and you don’t wanna be driving around Vancouver when it’s snowing unless you know how to drive. All of us Ontario or Eastern folks always make fun of the Vancouver drivers because they can’t drive in snow cause a lot of them don’t have snow tires but anyway that’s one great thing about BC, it’s definitely leading it’s cutting edge as far as energy efficiency in housing across the country. So it’s really cool to be a part of that right now. From a job perspective and from a business perspective, that has led businesses like myself, we were able to grow our businesses because we’ve become code. We’re codified. You have to hire a company like us, if you’re going in for a building permit.
When I first got into the business, like I said earlier, it was very related on rebate programs. So it was challenging. Rebate programs come and go and it’s really tough to run your business centered around government or utility rebate programs because they just they, just come and go and it’s hard to build your business.
Now that energy efficiency is in the building code , it’s been a good chance for me to actually grow and build the business. So now I’ve got a team around me. It’s great, we’re fluctuating between 12 to 15 people in the company and we’re doing energy evaluations for new and existing homes all over BC.
Tseli Moshabesha: That is very cool. That’s quite the journey. Like first of all, physical journey of moving from out east to out west, but also your path of starting businesses previously and getting to where you are now. It’s a very interesting path, indeed. And so with what you’re doing now and what the government support that is out there with codification, everything, what would you say is your favorite part about your job?
Luke Dolan: Yeah. Favorite part about my job? Couple things. The team I work with; my staff is phenomenal and I’m working with for the most part, I’m the old I’d no, there’s one other, I’ve got another gentleman who’s older than me, but for the most part younger than me. Amazing people that I work with, I’ve been lucky to bring together this team of professionals and that’s one of the things I really enjoy about the job.
Also the clients, the builders that we work with, the architects , like we’re just little consultants. The builders: I have the utmost respect for, because they’re the ones who are boots on the ground dealing with lot of things in the industry right now especially code changes that are happening so fast and there’s a lot of changes going on.
So it’s great to work with those professionals. It is, really rewarding, very rewarding so that working with professionals, my team is also fun to work with too.
Tseli Moshabesha: Awesome. Okay. Thank you. And then you’ve highlighted what the fun side of everything is with the great people you work with. What do you think are some of the challenges of the work that you do?
Luke Dolan: And that’s another good question too. The challenges? I think like from a I’ll talk from two sides that maybe, but from a staff’s side of it, like when, so when we’re hiring new recruits, we joke, we kid ourselves, like we say, oh, we’re saving the planet at one house at a time.
We’re joking around and I think a lot of people sometimes get into the business and they really are super keen on sustainability and improving the environment that we live in, et cetera. Then they realize it’s not all as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be sometimes. Like there is a day in, day out slog sometimes, and you’re make, but you are making small wins, which is great. So yeah, so I would say sometimes people come in with maybe unrealistic expectations thinking you’re gonna see these like massive changes and that doesn’t happen, that’s not real. But small changes, which is really good to see and that’s rewarding in itself. I don’t know. Does that make sense?
Tseli Moshabesha: It does make sense. You’re working with slow, progressive change and so obviously it’s definitely hard to see things day to day, but I think with time you get to see the results of your work.
Luke Dolan: Yeah, exactly. So big picture, you do see stuff going on, but there is the there’s the day to day grind, like other jobs, right? Yeah,
Tseli Moshabesha: Of course. And so I’m sure people are curious, what is your typical day to day, or do you like, do you even have a typical day to day?
Luke Dolan: Yes very typical day to day. I’m a father, so I’ve got two young kids. We have a, I’ve got a four years old and a five months old. So it’s dealing with the kids in the morning getting one of them off to daycare and then it’s yeah. It’s to work. So a day in the life of an energy advisor, so energy advisors, we primarily work on residential homes.
So it’s residential construction for existing homes and new construction. And we’re, part-time out in the field. We’re out in the field. We’re on job sites. Like new construction job sites. We’re in people’s houses, doing assessments, talking to people making their houses, trying to make their houses more energy efficient, helping them reduce their utility costs, making them more comfortable, that sort of stuff.
So we’re spending a lot of time on site, on job sites. We are also in front of the computer a lot too. So that could segue into what is the skillset of an energy advisor? It’s very well rounded. Technology is huge, We’re very up on technology.
You need to know computers inside and out, cause we spend a lot of time on our computers. And, but we’re also in the field. So you have to know construction, you have to know houses. You really have to know your stuff. There’s a lot to learn. There’s a lot to know.
You gotta know build building science. There’s so much going on, really cool things in the business right now or in the industry. We’re in the wild west. We like to joke around, we say the wild west of building right now. So there’s all sorts of different techniques, wall assemblies, air barrier systems and all sorts of things that we’re doing nowadays.
But you really have to understand how these systems work. We’re really cognizant of avoiding unintended consequences. When we’re giving recommendations to people, we are trying to also make sure that they’re not gonna make a mistake while they’re doing it.
I’ll give you an example.
A lot of what we do is, whether it’s a new construction house or in an older house, we’re telling people to make their houses more airtight. So we’re going into houses and saying okay “You wanna reduce your need for energy, keep the heat in and keep the heat out in the summer.”
One of the ways you do that is you make your house more airtight, so airtight construction. So that’s, it’s all good, but if you’re not ventilating properly, you’re gonna have problems. So that’s a major thing. So it’s one thing for us to come into a house and say, okay, you need to make this house more air tight.
But you, could make an older, existing home too airtight, so you have to make sure that if you’re gonna take that house and make it very airtight, that you’re also looking at your ventilation system, so that you’re now gonna be bringing in some fresh air to that home. So you really have to be careful sometimes of the upgrades that you’re giving to homeowners.
So day in the life of it’s part-time in the field and part-time in front of a computer.
Tseli Moshabesha: Perfect. And we have a follow up question from an audience member. Lucas Porter asks to follow up on your earlier answer. What is the split of office based versus onsite based work?
Luke Dolan: Good question Lucas. I would say it’s almost 50, 50. I didn’t mention, but yeah, we’re modeling we’re energy modelers too. So we’re spending a lot of time in front of the computer doing energy modeling. A well-rounded energy advisor is probably 50 to 60% in the field. And then the rest 40%, 50% in front of my computer .Now, I do have some on staff that are a hundred percent in front of my computer.
But when I first got started, it was up until a few years. I don’t get on job sites very much anymore. Unfortunately. I miss that part of it because when you’re running a business, you’re spending more time in front of the computer. It’s a pretty even split. So it’s nice too. That’s one thing that draws a lot of people to the job, because it keeps it interesting. You’re not just sitting in front of a computer all day long. Some people don’t mind that some people do mind that, so it’s a nice job cause it splits that up.
Tseli Moshabesha: Okay, perfect. Thank you.And so another question we have from Leo Herbert is Do you have difficulty finding contractors who are trained and certified to do the work as prescribed?”
Luke Dolan: We don’t actually do the work. If I’m interpreting this question correctly, we’re not actually the ones going into the house and doing the work. We are only coming into the house and doing an assessment on the house. We’re doing an evaluation. We’re letting the homeowners know that, Hey if you did this, and this and this, you can save X amount of energy, then it’s up to them to go hire contractors to come in and do the work.
We’re considered third party neutral. We’re giving like third party neutral advice. We’re not affiliate. We don’t take kickbacks from any companies, we’re not allowed to, as part of our certification through Natural Resource Canada. We’re completely neutral. We don’t pick sides, we help guide the homeowners.
Tseli Moshabesha: Another question we have from Tan Zion is “What kind of professional certifications are mandatory for an energy advisor and energy auditing companies?”
Luke Dolan: So it’s all run through Natural Resources Canada. We used to call ourselves certified energy advisor, but in 2016 the title certified got dropped from our name. And now we’re called Registered Energy Advisors. So we hold our licensing through the federal government, so through Natural Resources Canada. We’re private companies but we hold our license through the federal government, so through Natural Resources Canada. There’s a series of exams that you have to take and then series of test files and training that you have to get in order to become an energy advisor.
Tseli Moshabesha: Okay, perfect. Alrighty. And then Leo Herbert also asks, “Is there a marketing strategy targeting indigenous youth to get into this?”
Luke Dolan: I believe so. I think the I, know the federal government is pretty heavy on that right now. I know that there was a lot of money that recently that got put towards indigenous communities, especially as far as, from a career standpoint, because there’s not enough energy advisors.
So that’s the perception anyways? So the federal government has been giving out research but also money towards certain organizations and groups. And I believe that the indigenous folks, but it’s not part of my expertise. I know that we actually work with local indigenous groups doing assessments on houses throughout the Lower Mainland in British Columbia.
Tseli Moshabesha: Awesome. And actually looking back to that question about targeting different groups and different youth, what do you feel like it to get into different careers on your end, who do you feel like really helped impact your career journey? Whether it was mentors, believers, or haters, if you have any, everyone does. Who do you feel like really impacted your journey along the way?
Luke Dolan: Yeah, another good one. I would go back to my mom and dad and the way that I was brought up I think. They were both entrepreneurs, hardworking. My dad left home when he was literally nine years old, came from a small town, rural town, very poor and lived with one of his brothers and then eventually started up his own company. He had shoe stores across Southern Ontario.
And I came from a family of five. Four brothers and a sister. Hardworking parents, they would be my mentors, I’d say for sure, like just hardworking, honest dedicated people. I also think back to sports. I think back to some of my coaches especially in high school, I played rugby, played football, very physical sports.
It was interesting the discipline that it taught you: to work hard, the ethics, like the sports ethics, like we were taught, like hit the guy as hard as you can, but then help him up, and so that really always resonated with me.
It was very hard but at the same time, like it’s one of those things, when you’re a kid sometimes you’re thinking, oh, your parents are too hard on you, then when you grow up, you realize okay; I’m glad they were because it taught me to be a hard worker and it ingrained some things into you that were the reason that you’re successful later in life
Tseli Moshabesha: I agree. Looking back, there’s some things where I was like, should have been easier, but it makes life easier down the line, so it definitely resonates with me.
And I’m sure with a lot of other people and so chatting about when you were younger I know that you mentioned being involved in lots of sports and how you at one point in your life tried out after the Olympics. But I’m curious about when you were 10 years old, what did you wanna do, remember, and how is this similar or different?
Luke Dolan: That’s a really, tough question:10 years old
Tseli Moshabesha: Just at some point in your like early developmental stages. Do you remember what you wanted to do?
Luke Dolan: Yeah. I wanna play for the Denver Broncos. The last thing I ever thought was I’d be in this field. I think that this field didn’t even exist probably back then.
I probably didn’t even really know what I wanted to do until I was in my thirties. To be honest with you. I guess everybody’s path is different sometimes you spin your wheels so to speak. I was really happy the way that or lucky maybe that I wasn’t searching for that huge career out of university. I went as far as I could from home as possible in the country, got away from the parents. I was lucky I landed in Whistler and lived a really fun lifestyle. Met a lot of really cool people and that was great but didn’t really have that focus.
Till later then all of a sudden reality kind of hits you and then you’re like, okay, I better get focused now. So yeah. I don’t know. I was, yeah, I didn’t really ever have that thing where I’m like, oh, I want to be this it, just never did it never worked out that way for me.
Tseli Moshabesha: Okay, cool. That’s fair because you had, at the very, like at the most important thing is you had the discipline instilled in you. So once you figured it out, able to go all guns blazing. And now that you’re in this sustainability space, we do have a question from Claudia who says, what can you recommend for those professionals looking for a career in the energy efficiency and sustainability space? Any training or courses, volunteer opportunities? And what kind of companies can professionals look for in order to enter the sector?
Luke Dolan: Yeah, this was a good one. I was looking forward to this kind of question because I see this a lot in the business.
There’s well, there’s so many opportunities. There’s so much going on in energy efficiency and the sustainability sort of sector or world. There’s education, like free education everywhere. There’re webinars, companies do webinars. You can find things, join associations, build your associations, look on provincial websites, municipal websites, get on newsletters. Progressive cities like the City of Vancouver, they’re always putting out all sorts of stuff in their newsletters. You can join our newsletter as well, too. We’re always putting out their like industry events. There’s a lot of good free education out there.
And I’m sure it’s like that in Ontario or all the way across the country as well. So provincially, locally, looking for things. To get into the business is an interesting one, I find these days especially when we’re looking for people to hire, we get a lot of resumes, a lot of resumes come across my desk.
A lot of people with a lot of education and I’m sure everybody’s already, always heard this. You’ve got a lot of education, but you don’t have any experience. It’s the chicken before the egg thing. And, I don’t think that’s ever gonna change, that’s not gonna change unless you’re like really specializing in some kind of field that whatever your educational background is requiring, like becoming a nurse or a doctor or something like that.
But in our field, I would say get your hands dirty, get out there, work for a construction company, pick up a skill trade and learn. Then you have a lot of respect for the people in the construction industry, cause you know, the ones that are actually working, like using their hands. I have the utmost respect, for anybody who’s in construction. And then that kind of gives you some good options too. You learn what’s going on. Cause I find sometimes we get a lot of people with a lot of education, although they don’t even have the experience, like they never walked on a job site before, they don’t know what it’s like to get on a construction site before, and that’s a whole different ballgame. How do you go? We’re kinda like the new kids on the block when it comes to consultants and you walk on a job site, construction site it’s very macho, right?
You get on a construction job site, you have to know how to assert yourself, and that’s a bit of an art to itself . Being confident, but also knowing what’s going on in the job site, like we’ll come into job site sometimes and we have to do some air tightness testing, so we’ll have to shut the site down or we have to tell everybody, okay, we’re gonna be doing this air tightness test so you gotta stop what you’re doing, or you have to either be locked in this house for a couple hours. And that’s tough because you’re dealing with plumbers, electricians, and they’re all running around trying to get their jobs done and then all of a sudden we’re these guys coming in here with a hard hat and a safety vest on, and we’re telling them that they gotta shut things down. So you gotta be able to do that in a respectful manner. So there’s a lot of things to that whole world. So I would suggest anyone who’s gonna get involved specifically with energy advising: try and get some experience on job sites, work in a construction company, if you can. I find there is a lot of consultants out there , joking around, do we really need any more consultants or who do we need?
We definitely need more skilled people, skilled trades for sure. And it’s a great career, they make a good living for themselves. It’s very rewarding. It’s very satisfying, but it’s hard on the body too. Like I work construction and it is hard on the body. And once you do physical labor, anything is easy after that.
Tseli Moshabesha: And actually follow up question from Anthony Ganza who says how physically demanding or awkward can an energy audit be for an existing home example addicts, crawl spaces for a 50 year old?
Luke Dolan: Good question. Good question. Very good question. So I’ve got a gentleman who runs my Vancouver island outfit or Vancouver island division. And he’s older than me and he’s young fifties, 53, 54. It’s funny how the two of us met, but anyways, he’s a ex world cup rugby player. So he played for Canada in the world cup. I think back in the nineties, he used to play professional rugby in France and he is a big guy, like he’s 300 pounds. Yeah he’s a big big, strong guy and he has to go into addicts and he is gotta go into crawl spaces and he’s a big dude yeah, you gotta be active for sure because you are crawling around in crawl spaces that are like two feet in height. And then you’re getting up into attic spaces, so you need to be physically fit for sure. Which is a good thing, right? So it keeps you nimble, you gotta be able to climb into attics and climb around job sites and stuff too. Yeah. So
Tseli Moshabesha: It sounds challenging for sure. We have a question from Jason Cheang who says “Hi Luke, I read the CHBA builder’s manual cover to cover and passed the foundational exam back in May, been studying for the EA exam since and planned to write that within next week or two. For my next steps, do you have any advice on what to look for in terms of SO’s? Like good and bad business practices? Basically, what does a good service organization look like?”
Luke Dolan: That’s a good question, Jason. So for those of you don’t know, there are companies called service organizations. They go between Natural Resources Canada and an energy advisor.
As an energy advisor, you have to align yourself with service organization or multiple service organizations. We just call them SO ‘s for short. So you can work with multiple SO’s. For aligning yourself with reputable ones? that’s a really good question. First of all, I would go to the Association’s website, and look for service organizations that are also members of CACEA. You should join CACEA so you could message Cindy, our executive officer and Cindy will look after you as far as getting you signed up, even if you’re a EA in training. And then you wanna do due diligence, look on their websites, look on better business bureau. Talk to people, try and get referrals about that company, because there are good ones and maybe not so great ones out there.
You wanna be aligning yourself with, obviously a reputable company for sure. The way that you find that is start with with CACEA and look, for ones. When we started this association, I actually started it myself personally. I started it back in 2014 and one of the reasons was because we wanted to raise the professionalism in our industry because we didn’t really have a trade association. We are still pretty young as an association but that was the thing we definitely hold ourselves at a higher level than others in the industry. We’re trying to get more members, we don’t have everybody in the industry as a member yet and there might be some members that are really good, some associations that are good that aren’t members. But I would start with CACEA and also just start doing your homework.
Tseli Moshabesha: Thank you very much. And then we have a question from David Kaz who asks, “How can we use this waste to make electricity?”
Luke Dolan: Good question David. It’s out of my realm of expertise. I come from the side of it, of reducing waste on job sites to begin with, so using more responsible materials on job sites and creating less waste. I think there are technologies out there that you can convert waste into energy. That will be one of the nicest things. It might already exist. I don’t know.
Tseli Moshabesha: We have a question from Anthony Barganza who asks on average, how much could an EA make working a nine to five, five days a week?
Luke Dolan: It depends on how much you’re gonna put into it. It’s like a lot of other jobs, I guess it’s how much you wanna put into it. So if you’re looking for a cruisey career where you punch in at nine o’clock and you punch out at 4:30, then you’re gonna, you’re gonna get what you put into it.
One of my biggest advice to people out there, one of the things I find with, especially with younger people, nowadays is they want the big bucks right off the bat. And that’s just not reality, right? You’re not gonna get the big bucks right off the bat. You gotta put your time in and you gotta hustle and you gotta work hard.
There is no fast track. I find people get bored after six months. You gotta put your time in and work hard and put your head down. When I met my wife, I was working 14 to 16 hours a day. I was single guy, I was working my butt off and then you can start making some decent money. I’m not gonna throw any dollar values here, but it really depends on how much you wanna put into it. But, just to give you an idea, if you’re willing to put some time into it, then you’ll be rewarded. You can make a decent living for yourself, for sure. It’s very fulfilling not just in it for the money, but of course you gotta pay the bills. You wanna have a decent life but if you work, you essentially gotta work your butt off, work hard, you’re gonna be rewarded for it regardless of what you do.
Tseli Moshabesha: That’s very true. Thank you, Luke. Okay, so then one of our final question is how do you see yourself evolving within your journey?
Luke Dolan: It’s keeping up with technologies so technologies in our industry, new types of insulation, different building techniques. So keeping up to date with what’s coming, keeping up to date with building code changes is huge. Everything is moving so fast right now. The building industry, construction itself hasn’t really changed much for 40 years then all of a sudden, about five years ago, like if you’re looking at a curve, the curve went like this and now all of a sudden it went like this and now it’s going like this.
In the building world, we’re heading towards 2030 Net Zero Targets. They say all new homes in BC by 2030 will be net zero ready. Net zero house is a house that produces as much onsite renewable energy as it consumes and we’re almost there already. it’s keeping training up, like I myself I’m constantly doing webinars and courses. I also teach as well too but I’m also just constantly learning from other professionals, engineers, architects. You really gotta stay up on top of all the things that are happening right now in the business.
Tseli Moshabesha: Awesome. Thank you. And I think that’s great advice for everyone to just wherever you are on your journey. I guess the final question we have for you is where can people find and learn from you? What social media, do you have any upcoming projects or what kind of things you’d like to share with the audience?
Luke Dolan: Sure. We’ve got an Instagram account, so you can find us Capital Home Energy. We’re always posting some cool stuff on there: projects that we’re working on. We like to highlight the builders projects that we’re working on. That’s probably the biggest thing: Instagram, LinkedIn, little bit of Facebook, sign up for our newsletter, go to our website; it’s CapitalHomeEnergy.com and you should be able to go to our blog and you should be able to sign up for our newsletter. Check it out.