Brindley Byrd spent many a day as a youth in Lansing, Mich., rehabbing old buildings and houses, and that experience is paying off in ways he probably never imagined.
Byrd, CGR, CAPS, founder and president of Qx2 Incorporated in Lansing, has turned a profitable remodeling business into a consulting and training firm that specializes in teaching dust control and safe work practices to other remodelers. In his "spare time," Byrd is also the project manager for kitchen and bath specialist The Kitchen Shop in Lansing.
For the first six years after he founded Qx2 in 1994, Byrd specialized in Community Development Block Grant funded whole-house rehabs, working with HUD and non-profit redevelopment corporations that buy houses and hire general contractors through a competitive bid process.
In 1999, one of Byrd's bids landed him a two-house rehab lead abatement project. It was an eye-opener.
"I was not very aware of the lead issue at that time, but on that project, I got the crash course and learned a lot," says Byrd. "As the general contractor, I had to coordinate the lead abatement work that was happening, and it was an interesting experience. The two projects are beautiful, they're historically correct and we got an award from the Historical Society."
Byrd realized after that project that the sum of his experiences were nudging him in a certain direction. So he took advantage of a state initiative offering willing contractors free lead worker training, free lead inspector training and free lead risk assessor training. He took those courses and had his employees take the lead worker's courses to prepare his company for the lead abatement issues that were starting to get serious attention.
"Because I had sent my guys to all the lead training that other contractors didn't, I was a member of the Home Builder's Association and they weren't, I was taking University of Housing courses and they weren't, my costs were higher and my bids were higher," says Byrd. "So I said, wait a minute, if I'm going to continue to face this, I will not be in business very much longer. And as I learned more about the lead abatement issue, I learned that it really was a path to nowhere because you just couldn't compete and make money."
So from 2001 through 2005, Byrd stopped bidding on the CDBG jobs and focused his business on residential remodeling for homeowners. But when the EPA announced it was going to revisit setting strict lead abatement guidelines last year, Byrd decided to turn his remodeling enterprise into a consulting business focused on helping remodelers remain profitable and safe.
"I started thinking what the lead issue would mean for professional remodelers who really want to get a leg up, that really want to do a better job," says Byrd. "I realized that there is a better way to do it. You can make money, and you can help reach the goal of the lead abatement rules by doing what you can as a professional remodeler to control your dust. I've broken it down into three fronts: protecting the workers, protecting the public, and protecting your profit."
The key to Byrd's message: professional remodelers need to promote the fact that they practice safe work habits and keep clean job sites for their customers because the best customers are willing to pay for their families' safety and a clean and healthy home environment during construction.
"You need to have a line item that says 'dust control' and a line item that says 'daily cleanup,'" says Byrd. "You estimate in your proposals the extra time that it takes to do what you should be doing anyway: protecting your workers, protecting your customers, protecting your profits. So when your client is comparing Joe Smith Contracting to ABC Contracting and ABC's got in their proposal all that stuff to keep the house clean and their workers safe, your dollar invested in their safety will yield you at least four. And that's been proven by the National Safety Council."
Byrd practices these same principles when he's managing projects with The Kitchen Shop. He envisions a future when remodelers can work cleanly, safely and profitably.
"We do lose jobs because sometimes we're higher," he says. "But for the jobs that we get, we know we have the right customers. If you're going to lose them because your bids are high, you're going to have them as an adversary in court when they think that you poisoned their kid. It really comes down to passion about this issue. After seeing what lead did to my business, I want to make sure other people don't make those same mistakes."