Starting a Home Weatherization Business. Considering it...

I am considering starting a home weatherization business. (I live in Southeast Alabama)  Currently I own a construction company and I do mostly remodeling, closing in porches, decks and some new construction.  I'm 26 years old and I have been working construction since I was 13.  Started swinging a hammer in a truss manufacturing company then when I turned 16 I began working for a family member's construction company where I stayed for about 5-6 years before branching out on my own.

I have always been intrigued by energy efficiency and I have studied and researched it since I can remember, just learning.  I'm passionate about making homes more energy efficient and saving my customer's money.  

I feel that my area doesn't have a company that does this sort of thing, or tries very hard to.  I have lived here all my life and I have never heard of a company doing such a thing around here until the other day when I started researching online and finally found someone who has this type of work in their services but they appear to be geared more toward solar energy systems.  I'd like to focus on home weatherization.

I have been really researching and learning a lot in the past 5-6 weeks on the subject and I have been thinking hard about jumping into it and starting another company. I'm thinking of starting out air sealing existing homes and try to approach builders in my area to see if I can work in new homes as well.  I have gotten advice from others to start this way and then grow my services as I get a feel for the market.  I might start be getting a blower door and thermal camera and begin air sealing.

I have yet to be able to speak/chat with anyone who is in this particular field.  I have read quite a few threads here and learned a lot.  I wonder if you all could share some experiences on starting this type of business.  What are some of the things I'm not thinking of?  What do I need to watch out for?  Is my approach a good one to this type of work? 

Thank You Gentlemen.

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I would talk to Daniel Tait at http://www.nexusenergycenter.org/ . They do a lot of work with contractors in Alabama and could probably help you.  

My 2 cents would be to do the numbers, and make sure that you stay ahead of rebate programs that can be very generous. Check out the DSIRE database for offerings in your area.

Energy Efficiency work, well done, often saves far more than solar on a faster payback, but you need to be able to justify it and demonstrate that somehow. The Home Energy Score from DOE, or a variety of scores from other proprietary vendors will help you make that case. Remember, it is a sales tool. More important is showing savings later on.

Also keep an eye out for really understanding and being aware of new technology, and improvements on existing technology. Simple fixes like a thorough A/C tune up can help lots of clients, and improved technology like a heat pump water heater will save hundreds every year for your clients. In my experience, there are many who are willing to air seal, but far less that are willing and able to support a newer technology. That leaves a great market niche for the few that are willing to put in the time. Don't be fooled by tech that aims to violate laws of thermodynamics. Power conditioners and a variety of other tech are sold with a bait and switch, where demonstrable savings at commercial levels are used to implicate similar savings on a residential project. It doesn't work; some things work at commercial scale and some work at residential scale. 

As with most construction, keep your relationships. Energy efficiency work tends to be most powerful over time, so consider a program like WeGoWise, which will help show savings. The most important savings are the demonstrated ones, not the model. The model is always a sales tool.

Keeping your relationship as a trusted advisor is even more important in this field than others like carpentry. When you're hired to do a deck, its relatively easy to see if its done right, even if you aren't a carpenter. If you're hired to seal ducts and small holes, few clients will really know if it was done correctly. Everyone wants someone who can explain it clearly to them.

Finally, do what you need to do to retain happy, effective workers. Air sealing and energy assessment are part art, part science. They don't require as much licensing or skill as other trades, so often workers are compensated poorly and you'll be stuck with the punch list. Fair compensation and support will pay incredible dividends in saved service calls and happy customers.

Good luck! We always need new high performers!

Daniel,

Thank you for the great reply.  I appreciate your advice and I have looked at the different things you mentioned and they are interesting and I'm sure the will be valuable to me in the future.

I have created my new company, Efficient Home Solutions, I'm excited about the new beginning but also a bit nervous about getting work.  I am currently working on the website, I have business cards and a few yard signs ordered, have my first deposit in my new company checking account and have made a few small purchases in tools to get started.

I may start another thread regarding the best way to jump out into the market in my situation.  

 

Hi Trip,

I didn't see where you have gone for any certifications.  In Maine doing any work involving government subsidies (stimulus money) requires having a certification.  The government has to know the work is being done to some high standard.  For starters, pick up the Residential Energy book by Krigger and Dorsi.  I think they are up to 6th edition, but 5th would do.  I actually found a copy on the internet you can download, but ebay may have them cheap.  I prefer having a book to make notes in.

The more successful businesses in this field are the ones that perform the actual work, as opposed to just doing energy audits.  Your background seems to fit that.  But you must eventually learn the sciences as air sealing a home can bring on many problems if you don't know what other factors are involved.

Energy is a great field to learn about, but building and remodeling homes will go on forever. 

Bud

Bud,

I plan on getting a BPI Energy Auditor certifcation (I think this is the first one to go for correct?) sometime soon at least within the next 6 months.

I just checked out the Residential Energy book and I will be sure to get it.  In the past few weeks I have been downloading many many PDF's (I've printed over 100 pages for direct reference) regarding home performance and I have learned quite a lot.  With a little digging there is a lot of great information to be had for free online.

I do plan on doing the actual work.  That's what I hope to start with since I do not have a blower door to perform the audit with and verify my improvements.  I have actually air sealed my attic (including 12 can lights) and my wife and I can absolutely tell a positive difference!  Now I am air sealing friends and familie's attics to confirm that what I am doing actually benefits my customer and to hopefully get some word of mouth flowing. 

I'm a little worried that trying to do this type of business without having a certification to justify myself with or a blower door to perform proper audits with is potentially going to hinder my success.  Do you guys think there is potential to be temporarily successful without the certification and special equipment?  

Thank you for your input, it's greatly appreciated.

Every contractor out there should be following the energy efficient guidelines, but they do need to know what is good and what is bad.  Moisture issues are a difficult topic to deal with without training.  When and where to use a vapor diffusion retarder, no longer just a vapor barrier?  When does a house become too tight and need extra ventilation.  How large will heating and cooling systems need to be AFTER improvements? 

Many of the key points are not covered by the information you will study for BPI, but you should have the BPI (or HERS) knowledge as a foundation to better appreciate what will come.

As for which certification, if any, is needed may be specific to your state and local code requirements.  As a contractor you will want to become familiar with the current level of the IECC, say the 2009 version.  IECC = International Energy Conservation Code, 2009 or 2012.

Bud

Trip, 

Feel free to call me at 336-587-8345 at your earliest convenience. I am home performance contractor up in North Carolina, and I can definitely give you some great pointers on how to start the business, research the market, and show you how to avoid the pitfalls. I hold numerous certifications and belong to multiple organizations in the home performance field. You have a lot of questions here and it would a lot more effective to speak on the phone. 

John Redmond

Chief Executive Officer

Home Energy Solutions of the Triad

336-587-8345

info@callhomenc.com

www.callhomenc.com

Hi Tri,p

Your 'Yard sign' comment caught my eye.  I work with a Radiant Control Coating and we would place a yard sign on the front yard of almost every residential job we did.

I am going to give you a sales tool our foremen would use.  The day before the job started, he would go to every house within two blocks and knock on the doors.  He would tell the people who he was, what company and tyell them his crew would be working at whatever the address was for the next 3 days.  It shouldnt be loud at all but if it disturbs anyone to please call him and let him know.  He wants to be a good company with good friends and neighbors. 

He would give them a business card and invite them to stop by the job site and see what they were doing.  He would tell them he was painting the house with an energy saving paint, that ALWAYS raised their eyebrows.  Many of them would come by and see the work.  This always led to  more requests for an estimate on the neighbors homes.

For a new business, I would strongly recommend doing that.  Keep fliers and business cards handy.  They WILL appreciate the effort and a number to call if any problems with the crew / noise.

 This approach always made us friends and new customers.  Made our foremen nice commission checks too.

 

Here's a contractor perspective on incentives. Not that I agree with all of it, but its a good one to look at - http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/nergy-and-Home-Performa...

Hi Trip,

Check out our website: www.drenergysaverdealerships.com

You have a great idea.  There are a lot of things that need to be done to weatherize a home.  We purchased an old home and have dealt with a lot of problems from leaky windows, lack of attic insulation, new siding with insulation wrap and still had a lot of heat loss.  Finally, I covered our fireplace.  You would not believe the difference  that we felt in our room immediately, gone were the cold drafts and that chilly feeling by the fireplace. Since covering the fireplace 4 years ago, we have saved 13% on our energy bills!  

When you start your business, don't forget about the fireplaces.  They are notorious for causing drafts throughout the home since the air the fireplace sends up the chimney and the cold drafts coming down the chimney will also cause more outside air to be drawn into the home through other entry points.  The  Fireplace Fashion covers are one of the most affordable answers to this problem.  Chimney balloons are messy and fragile, most other coverings are expensive and too large to handle when removed.  

Another way to contact those in your field in LinkedIn.  Its a social network for businesses.

Good Luck!

Hi Beverly,

I'm going to continue the drift for a minute as your description sounds like someone who would be interested in "the rest of the story".

When you closed off that chimney you felt a significant improvement in comfort but as you stated, the other leaks that fed air to the chimney still remain.  And when the wind blows they can leak even more than the natural draft you sealed.  But air leakage is only part of the heat loss calculation and that is where a good energy audit (or enthusiastic DIYer) comes in.  If you continue your pursuit of reducing your energy costs, there is more to be gained and there are many people such as myself willing to offer assistance through forums like this.

Good job,

Bud

Does your local utility have any energy programs? Working with them may be your best bet.

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