Admitting possible mistakes, proactively seeking out problems, and working for below-cost seems like a contrarian business strategy, but Mark Scott is a contrarian kind of remodeler. His business is reblooming this spring while others wither, after a revelatory experience in which the famously skeptical (among those who know him) builder and remodeler dug deep into “the green thing” -- he hates the G word -- and became, in his own words, “an air-sealing zealot.”

Scott owns Mark IV Builders, a highly regarded design/build firm in Bethesda, Md. In his 25 years of building and remodeling homes, he’s been “a much stronger proponent of good building practices than ‘green’ building practices.” He said as much in a letter mailed to about 100 past clients in late January. The letter went on to explain Scott’s experience doing an energy audit on his own home, which he had built 21 years before, undertaking some of the suggested remediation, and scoffing at re-testing results that showed “that for the $2,500 I spent in testing and remediation, I would now save $59 a year in energy costs.” Big whoop, right? (He said that in the letter, too.)

Then Scott learned more. Based on some research by his wife, Nancy, and a comparison of 2007 and 2008 utility bills, he learned that his gas and electricity bills had gone down more than 10% -- adding up to a lot more than $59 a year. The house was warmer at the same thermostat setting, too, meaning “that Nancy could watch television without being wrapped up in a blanket.”

New Comfort Zones

Thus ensued Scott’s serious plunge into all things green. “Over this past year,” he concluded that letter, “I have studied green building practices,” getting his National Association of the Remodeling Industry green certification as well as a certification from the Building Performance Institute. What he learned has made him a fervent believer in “how much you can affect the comfort of the house by paying reasonable attention to air sealing.” And how much the clients of Mark IV Builders would want to make their own homes more comfortable, too.

Scott bought an infrared camera and blower-door-test equipment, and proposed to go back through the projects his company had built in the last five years and perform energy audits “to learn what we did well and how we can improve our building practices,” he wrote in the letter. For $250, past clients could get a full energy audit on their house, “including thermographic imaging and recommendations to improve your home’s energy efficiency.”

The results? Scott has since performed the audits on a dozen or so homes. He has discovered that his homes were well-built, as expected, but could be better insulated and sealed. In one such home, in fact, an uninsulated area had gone undetected -- and Mark IV Builders fixed it for free.

“It’s called marketing,” he says. Homeowners love to see the infrared images -- a statement we’ve heard from other remodelers as well -- and when they’re ready for their next remodeling, we know who they’ll trust to be honest with them and who they’ll call to do the work right.

Scott will be ready for those calls, too. “I’m actually changing my business plan,” he says, as a result of his new education. In a rebranding campaign under way now, and timed perfectly to coincide with the energy tax credits in the economic stimulus package, Mark IV Builders will have four divisions: design/build, small projects/handyman, home maintenance, and energy services.

He still hates the G word. But he may also be on the verge of being busier than he’s been in quite a while.