Years ago, before green was “green,” Carl Seville, now a self-proclaimed “recovering remodeler” and industry consultant known as The Green Building Curmudgeon, was selling clients on the ideas of sustainability and home performance. Sometimes he discussed it during the design process. Sometimes, he says, “clients were skeptical or had tight budgets; some we convinced to upgrade in the middle of a job. In some cases people were ready to roll and willing to pay for it.”

It can be difficult to know when to bring up sustainability and home performance with clients — before, during the job, or as a change order?

Preventive Prescription

“It depends on what the customer is looking for,” says Sean Lintow, owner of SLS Construction, in Cullman, Ala.

When Lintow visits with a homeowner, he looks at the home’s general condition. Is there water damage or a siding issue? “If your roof needs to be replaced, you want to do that before you put in all those expensive cabinets and two weeks later have a storm ruin [them],” Lintow says.

If your clients are “pushing the edge of their budget,” Seville says, try to get in a discussion early on about home performance. If that won’t work, Seville is optimistic that clients can still pull through. People “usually have extra built into their budget” for contingencies, he says. If there’s no emergency during the project, they may be willing to go ahead with necessary home performance work before it’s too late.

Regular Practice

While it makes sense to talk about home performance up front, it works best if it’s part of your process. Lintow doesn’t necessarily “sell” home performance; rather, it’s a regular business practice. Though he doesn’t automatically do a home energy audit, he does charge a consultation fee — $99, but it can be higher depending on project size — for a project feasibility study.

Michael Anschel, principle at Otogawa-Anschel, in Minneapolis, and CEO of Verified Green, a company dedicated to helping those in the construction industry build “green,” does do an energy audit on every project. He includes blower-door, combustion spillage (any appliance that vents to make sure it’s not dumping noxious gas back into the house), radon, and moisture tests. “If we find things we feel need improving, [then] that becomes part of the project,” Anschel says. “You don’t try to work it in at the end.”

Seville learned that return on investment isn’t the best way to sell home performance. Instead, he focuses on comfort, indoor air quality, and safety. ROI can be 100 years in some cases. Even with insulation, which has a more immediate return, the discussion can become a slippery slope. “Without moisture monitoring and combustion spillage, [added insulation] can be dangerous for the occupant,” Anschel points out. “Once you get into that discussion, it’s not a simple sales job.”

Focusing on ROI isn’t the best way to sell home performance. Focus on indoor air quality, comfort, and safety.

—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.