Bridging the language gap to deliver efficient new homes

Bridging the language gap to deliver efficient new homes
Mar 21, 2024

Energy experts provide Spanish-language onsite technical training and document translation to help trade professionals meet local building codes

As the energy sector navigates the transition toward a clean energy future, workforce challenges are an increasing concern. Loss of expertise due to an aging workforce, technological advancements, and the shift to distributed energy renewables are creating a shortage of key skills for successful program delivery.

An additional challenge for utility clients implementing energy efficiency programs for new homes are communication gaps caused by language differences on the jobsite, which if not addressed can jeopardize the success of an entire construction project. To put this into perspective, think of the average home, where it can take 10-15 different trades or more performing several different jobs to complete a build—all of which need to meet specific codes and requirements for the home to pass local building inspections.

For many of the trade professionals who deliver work on these projects, English is not their preferred language. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, 30% of construction workers were Hispanic, and for many of these workers, Spanish is their preferred language. So, if training, technical manuals, and guidance aren’t available in Spanish, they may not fully understand the building codes and standards and how their work will directly impact the construction quality of the home.

Breaking the language barrier

Carlos Rivas headshot

This was an issue our building and trade partners in Maryland and North Carolina encountered when implementing new homes projects for our utility clients. And Carlos Rivas, one of our residential new construction experts, helped find a solution.

Carlos manages our Maryland ENERGY STAR® New Construction program across six utilities, as well as quality assurance/quality control efforts for residential and commercial programs across the state. Carlos grew up in Maryland to El Salvadorian parents, where Spanish was the primary language spoken at home. And he’s been in the construction trade since high school where he worked on job sites with his uncles during summer breaks.

After graduation, Carlos attended a building trade school and learned about building science and energy efficiency, eventually achieving certifications as a Home Energy Rating System Rater and a Building Analyst and Envelope Professional through the Building Performance Institute. He says, “I’ve always enjoyed residential construction and as I grew older, my interest in energy efficiency within residential construction grew as well.”

Through his training and interactions with trade professionals, Carlos recognized a major gap in our approach to providing technical assistance to clients. Though we’d been providing technical training and bulletins to help participating builders construct more efficient homes for years, our methods weren’t connecting with several of our Spanish-speaking trade professionals. So, Carlos, who is fluent in Spanish, began translating these materials to provide clear guidance to those working in the field. And it’s made a big difference in the quality of work delivered!

For example, Carlos and his team conducted in-person air sealing trainings in Spanish and translated technical documents into Spanish to support project delivery in a community that had previous issues meeting air pressure code requirements. Carlos said, “These live trainings in Spanish helped ensure that all trade and construction personnel were on equal ground in understanding the codes, requirements, and best practices for proper air sealing to prevent leakage and other potential problems.”

“Our translation services have been invaluable to our building partners, offered greater value to our utility clients and their customers, and improved the overall performance of our energy efficiency programs for new homes.”

vice president for utility program implementation
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