Remodeling your business to include energy audits

Including energy audits in your business can be a path to new revenues

September 26, 2011

What if I told you your business could significantly increase its revenue simply by taking advantage of a trend?

At Murtha Construction we did just that, increasing our business by 50 percent in less than three years. Along the way, we also created a platform for stability capable of weathering economic turns that is positioning us for continued growth this year and beyond.

Customers typically come to the table with a specific project in mind. You can easily move that remodeling conversation into exploring whole-house energy efficiency to leverage a fast-growing trend: installing upgrades that lead to improved home comfort, reduced energy consumption and lower utility bills. We’ve been doing this so successfully that today nearly half of our business comes from energy efficiency upgrades, and we’ve grown from 15 to 25 full-time employees.

Our field technicians are conducting 60 to 80 home energy assessments per month, with 65 percent of these visits turning into work for the company. In fact, fully a quarter of our customers sign contracts on the spot for basic sealing, insulation and weatherization projects.

Energy audits are the first step

To reach customers with messages on the importance of energy audits Murtha uses a combination of direct mail and advertising through our website. Because we participate in the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) Home Performance with Energy Star program, the audit is usually offered free or at low cost to customers.

The audit process itself elevates the conversation we have with homeowners. Instead of focusing on a single project, we provide a roadmap for upgrades the homeowner can do immediately or in the future. This helps create a partnership type of relationship, because we’re viewed as a consultant and authority.

Gearing up for audits and efficiency

What would you need to perform energy audits effectively?

To begin, your staff will need training in the “whole house” approach so you can demonstrate how it functions as a unified system. In making these types of connections for the homeowner, you can engage in a more common-sense conversation about what should be done.

Technician training is available through many sources, such as the Building Performance Institute (BPI). The good news is that incentives are often available to offset the training costs. In Murtha’s case, NYSERDA paid about half of our investment.

Once your staff is certified, you will need to acquire some specialized tools and equipment to carry out the audits. You’ll need a blower door for benchmark and post-upgrade testing; combustion safety metering equipment to check for unsafe gas levels; an infrared camera to locate areas of missing insulation, and heat and cooling losses; and a borescope to visually inspect inaccessible areas Federal, state and local programs will often help offset these expenses as well.

People in the field also need to be mentored, so it’s a good idea to have new technicians ride with an established crew to get a feel for the cadence of the day and the dynamics of working with customers.

Getting off to a good start

When we embarked on energy efficiency services under the Home Performance with Energy Star program back in 2008, we quickly realized that we had to back up our new focus with an equal commitment in human resources. Incentive and cashback programs typically have pretty rigid reporting regulations, making the need for administrative personnel critical.

In order to run the energy-efficiency side of the business and get it off the ground quickly, we dedicated a full-time employee to the program. This lead individual explored the incentives and programs available to residents in our area, and came up with a “go-to-market” plan to maximize opportunities.

As remodelers, we all know that home performance and energy efficiency are not glamorous, and this creates a disconnect when you consider that many of our customers are more focused on aesthetic or immediate benefits.

But we’re in the position to upsell important services now, especially with state and local programs helping to drive energy conservation and new legislation such as on-bill financing paving the way for new ways to finance upgrades.

Stephen McKenna, director of building efficiency at Murtha Construction, Long Island, N.Y., is a board member of the Long Island chapter of BPCA, and co-chair of the Efficiency First New York chapter. He is triple-certified by the Building Performance Institute.

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