A few years ago, Ann Marzano's home needed a new roof. Environmentally conscious, she wanted to avoid asphalt or cedar, but her local homeowner's association wouldn't allow metal. After researching alternatives, she came up with synthetic slate, a durable rubber composite made mostly from recycled tires that provided the traditional look her NIMBY neighbors demanded. But she couldn't find a local contractor to do the job, so she and an engineer friend, Daniel Merrill, installed the roof themselves.
Now they're in business, selling and installing eco-friendly and energy-efficient roofs under the name EcoWise. The company runs subcontracted crews, supervised on site by Merrill, throughout the greater Chicago area and specializes in synthetic slate and cedar, copper (when it's affordable), and steel. Marzano and Merrill only use products that are both recyclable and made from recycled material, vetting manufacturer lines to ensure that they meet those and other quality-related standards. (Products from Decra, Carlisle, Gem, and DaVinci are among those EcoWise installs.) The partners also recycle tear-off waste from their own jobs through a specialty waste-removal contractor.
STRONG START The company, now two years old, is off to a quick start. Marzano gained her expertise culling information from disparate green roofing resources and, thanks to her efforts, she can offer homeowners a one-stop source for facts about environmentally friendly roofs. In addition to materials, she had to learn about installation practices. “There was no single source for this information,” she says. Manufacturers provide product-specific installation instructions, but unusual or complex roofs require custom fabrication that contractors often have to figure out for themselves.
Selling the work to contractors (offering herself as a subcontractor on someone else's job) isn't easy, Marzano says, because the materials are more expensive and the custom sealing means a longer installation time. Instead, EcoWise focuses on homeowners who want to go green and have nowhere else to turn — many homeowners come to Marzano after finding the firm's Web site.
The company's early success reflects the growing demand for green building. Since starting EcoWise, Marzano has noticed an increase in consumer interest, but no accompanying increase in competition. “Established roofing companies are focused on doing what they've been doing,” she says. “They're making money. They don't want the headache.”
That just means more business for EcoWise. —David Zuckerman is a freelance writer based in New York.