The Zerodraft Revolution

May 01, 2005
May/June 2005
A version of this article appears in the May/June 2005 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Business Best Practices

        Necessity may be the mother of invention, but intense frustration is often its coparent.That was the experience of Tony Woods, president of Canam Building Envelope Specialists and Zerodraft, in Ontario.Ten years ago, Canam, one of North America’s pioneer air sealing consulting/contracting firms, was consistently disappointed by poor-quality weatherstripping, foam, and other sealant products. Suppliers of these products “completely failed to understand the market and to give any kind of support to their contractors,” says Woods.
        So if you want the job done right, do it yourself— which is what Woods and Steve Tratt (now Zerodraft’s national sales manager) did with the creation of Zerodraft. Zerodraft began by manufacturing its own highend weatherstripping products for a number of retrofit window and door applications. Over time, it expanded its product line to include one- and two-component polyurethane foam sealants, a blower door, an air leakage detector (commonly known as the Smoke Puffer), and caulk.
        However, about four years ago, Woods and Tratt realized that products alone weren’t solving the problems that many contractors were experiencing on the job site.“No matter how good the products are, it’s not enough to help entrepreneurial contractors, especially small weatherization companies, build profitable businesses,” says Tony Woods. Taking the concerns of contractors into consideration, Woods and Tratt redesigned Zerodraft to provide not only weatherization products, testing equipment, and application equipment, but also something a little more unusual—but just as important: product, application, and marketing training for their contractors.

A Complete Business Package

        These additions to Zerodraft created a ready-made business package, complete with training, not only for air sealing, but as Woods describes it, for “the critical ‘house-as-a-system’ concept. All truly successful weatherization improvements are based on this approach.”
        The company offers whole- and half-day courses in “House as a System.” No weatherization installer can become a Zerodraft Approved Applicator without participating. Three certification courses—“Certified Foam Sealant Technician,”“Certified Weatherstripping Technician,” and “Certified Home Air Leakage Retrofit Estimator”—are currently being developed under contract with Natural Resources Canada. Each of these courses has “House as a System” as a prerequisite.
        Woods and Tratt decided to share everything they had learned about running a successful air sealing business with their new and prospective customers. They left nothing out. Zerodraft customers receive an unparalleled package of marketing strategies; marketing and advertising materials; guidance on sales prospecting; information on writing sound engineering and business proposals; tips for expanding into the commercial market; and even, most importantly, how to close a deal.They’re also given field support, including Zerodraft’s most experienced installers, who work with them on their first couple of jobs.

Feedback from the Field

        It’s safe to say that the best judge of a business is its customers. Contractors who have become Zerodraft customers, such as Sam Waterbury, the co-owner of Zerodraft Building Envelope Specialists of Utica,New York, have high praise for the company.Waterbury has a long history in construction, especially in building science, and is completing his MBA. “As a business owner I enjoy no longer getting complaints from homeowners about work that ‘doesn’t work,’” he says.
        Anthony Marmo, owner of Clover Heating and Cooling, operating as Zerodraft of Metropolitan New York, is president of the Building Performance Contractors Association of New York. He commends Zerodraft for the technical and business support it offers, which helps him to run a good business that makes houses safer, more comfortable, and more energy efficient. Marmo was introduced to Zerodraft at a Zerodraft training seminar held at the BASF Training Center in Hudson Falls, New York. Marmo says there are other places to get theoretical, and even good, practical training, but what is unique about Zerodraft is its business package, which helps him make sound proposals to homeowners, with accurate costing.
        Zerodraft-trained qualified applicators are encouraged to expand their residential businesses from single-family homes, first into multi unit residential and then into commercial buildings. Waterbury took that encouragement
seriously—his company has just received a letter of intent from Atlantic Energy in Saratoga Springs, New York, for a ninebuilding retrofit of the Auburn school system. The project includes, among other things, complete air sealing and weatherstripping retrofit of roofmounted HVAC, roof/wall intersections, commercial doors, and windows.
        Concerned about the number of roof failures in his area, roofing contractor Mike Montaldi of Buffalo, New York, decided to look to building science for the answer. During the course of his search, he found Zerodraft and attended the twoday introductory training course in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Montaldi now addresses not just the roof, but also the whole house—solving problems from mold and mildew to ice dams. He recently named his weatherization division Zerodraft of Western New York.
        “Anyone can buy our product,” says Tratt, “but no one is going to build a big air sealing business without a comprehensive support package. All of our customers are encouraged to take advantage of the training.Their business success means more sales for us and more credibility for the brand. One feeds the other.”
        Zerodraft offers all contractors using its products a free customizable Web page.Many small firms use this storefront as a way of educating their customers; their own local home page links directly to the detailed technical material available on Zerodraft’s main Web site.

Matching the Market

        If you’ve ever invested, you know that market timing is everything.Marketing professionals understand the concept: Satisfy a need better than anyone else, and if the need doesn’t seem to exist, create it in the minds of your target audience.The President’s National Energy Policy recommended funding increases for the Weatherization Assistance Program of $1.4 billion over the next ten years to help weatherize 1.2 million homes or close to 2% of total dwellings in the United States. Canada, which is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, is planning incentives to stimulate energy-saving measures in all types of building.
        DOE calculates that for every dollar spent on weatherization, the first simple return on investment is $1.30 in energy cost savings over the life of the weatherized home. Other financial benefits include increased housing affordability, increased property values, job creation, and lower owner and renter turnover. The business case for better weatherization in all types of buildings continues to build. For example, Zerodraft applicators are learning, as part of their ongoing training courses, that rapid smoke spread causes most high-rise fire fatalities.They are also learning that air sealing in high rises slows smoke spread and saves lives.
        Doug Anderson, of the EPA’s Energy Star program, sees Zerodraft as helping to promote the weatherization concept and the business opportunity of envelope improvement in the retrofit marketplace. “This is the type of private-sector organization that is very much in line with the Energy Star Home sealing concept and our efforts to grow the contractor base with a successful business model.”
        Helen Perrine, chair of Affordable Comfort, makes an interesting observation.“ I believe Zerodraft has been able to take the complexities of building science and create a product and process that helps people get to work without a lot of worry and study about the theory, but still respect the physics.The reality we all face is that contractors need to make money. Zerodraft looks like the kind of business opportunity that can be grasped quickly and easily, but still has integrity.”
        Improving building performance is a key theme that the Zerodraft team stresses constantly. Jim Fitzgerald, president of the Building Performance Institute, says, “I’ve traveled as a consultant through 40 states and three provinces trying to get better housing performance by integrating air sealing into the construction process and finding people to do the work. I’ve struggled with the difference between what’s available from the manufacturer, what the builder can actually do, and what’s deliverable in the real world.
        “For the first time, to my knowledge, thanks to Zerodraft,we have actual complete air sealing able to be delivered in the location it’s needed by people who are qualified and able to do it.Zerodraft allows you to give the homeowner the option of quality. As a contractor or a building performance person, you can be more confident that the problems of inappropriate transportation of air, heat, and moisture are finally solved.”
        Before Zerodraft arrived on the scene, many of the approved applicators would have turned down invitations from business and design groups to make technical presentations, because they did not feel confident in their abilities. Now Zerodraft technical personnel fly in and co-present with the approved applicator.The result is usually a satisfied audience and an entrepreneur who feels confident enough to go it alone next time. Because of Zerodraft’s unique mix of business savvy, high-quality products, and thorough training programs,a mutually beneficial relationship is developing between Zerodraft, its installers, and homeowners who use the product. At press time there were more than 50 weatherization installers who based their livelihoods in one way or another on Zerodraft.Through Zerodraft, these installers are guaranteeing a safe, energy efficient home for their customers, while ensuring that their businesses thrive through the use of Zerodraft’s products. It seems logical that, given these strong relationships,Zerodraft and its installers should continue to thrive in the weatherization business.

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