When it comes to energy retrofits, the subject of this issue’s cover feature, building science is critically important. The work has to be done right, and you just can’t do that without the proper training and an understanding of how a house works as a system. But the business side is equally important. A lot of remodelers complain that they can’t make any money on energy work, so it was refreshing to talk with remodelers whose companies have become more successful since they’ve begun to focus on energy efficiency.

At Times a Hard Sell

Energy efficiency is not always an easy sell. Even with rebates and incentives, the short-term ROI isn’t that attractive. The many benefits, particularly to health and comfort, are sometimes difficult to perceive unless you’ve experienced them firsthand. And given the poor energy performance of most existing housing stock, a whole-house gut remodel is the ideal solution, but the cost is prohibitive for most homeowners. So the needed retrofits are often performed in stages as a part of the prep work for other projects, making it even more difficult to perceive the benefits.

All of this conspires to create a cynical “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude toward the business of energy retrofits. But after listening to remodelers who are successful at it, my answer is, “You won’t see it until you believe it.”

Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Byggmeister Design Build, in Newton, Mass., puts it this way: “We’re trying to be good stewards of existing homes. We get [our clients] thinking long-term about doing the right thing for the house, whether or not they benefit fully or directly.” For Eldrenkamp and others we spoke with (the contributors are listed below), that means approaching every project of any kind with the same three-step process: establish the baseline for energy performance; set the goal for energy improvements; and lay out the master plan for what gets done when.

As is true of all selling, when selling energy efficiency, attitude trumps price. Budget is still important, but successful energy efficiency remodelers agree that talking about ROI misses the point. “It depends on how you define quality,” Eldrenkamp says. “Over the course of a project, clients come to value attention to detail. Testing with a blower door after the insulation crew finishes their work inspires confidence in clients. It tells them, ‘Yes, we’re doing this right.’”

And the ROI on that is priceless. —Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING. salfano@hanleywood.com

Thanks to the following remodelers for their help compiling the project information in our Energy Retrofit feature: Michael Anschel, Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build, Minneapolis; Rob Baugher, Baugher Design & Construction, Birmingham, Ala.; Devon Hartman, Hartman Energy Strategies, Claremont, Calif.; Paul Eldrenkamp, Byggmeister Design Build, Newton, Mass.; Tom Kelly and Chad Ruhoff, Neil Kelly Home Performance, Portland, Ore.; Doug Selby, Meadowlark Builders, Ann Arbor, Mich.