Creating Building Solutions

As our process, and our software, improved, we became better organized and found it easier to get the work done while still taking the time to find more jobs.

September 07, 2008
September/October 2008
A version of this article appears in the September/October 2008 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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When Building Solutions, an Oakland, California, based company, joined the home performance industry in June 2006, we knew that recent advances in building science gave homeowners more options—and left them asking more questions—than ever before. With so many choices out there, whether among simple solutions like envelope sealing, or among big, expensive investments like PV solar arrays, homeowners needed to know which choice best suited their house and their budget. Our primary goal was to get the necessary information into the hands of homeowners so they could make educated decisions on their own, without feeling bullied into making improvements they didn’t fully understand.

Of course, as anyone in the field knows, educating homeowners takes time. James Quazi, one of the founding partners at Building Solutions, had been working in the home performance industry for several years when he came to the conclusion that there had to be better, more efficient ways to get all the necessary information to the homeowner. That’s when he decided to enlist me as a partner—someone who came from a technical background, creating software solutions for just this kind of problem. Together we developed a Web application to collect, process, and manage home performance data and present the results to the homeowner in a detailed, customized report.

We needed more than software, however, to build our own home performance contracting business. We  enlisted the help of a third partner, Matt Kealey, who has extensive experience making energy improvements, and who brought his own special brand of enthusiasm to the team. We began working with homeowners, testing their houses and making the necessary retrofits, all the while making improvements both to our software and to the ways we tested houses and responded to our clients. We started small, working one house at a time, air sealing attics and crawlspaces, installing furnace and duct systems, and replacing old water heaters. Our biggest challenge at that point was to strike a balance between finishing a job and finding more work. In many cases we would be working so hard to complete one job that upon completion we found ourselves scrambling because we had no new work lined up.  But we kept at it, hired more employees, and expanded the scope of our work to include other improvements, such as radiant floor heating, and renewable energy sources, such as solar-thermal water heating. We found that our customers responded well to being offered a wide array of solutions, as opposed to feeling cajoled into purchasing one specific service.

Since our founding in 2006 until the time of this writing, we have air sealed and insulated 31 homes, installed 34 high efficiency HVAC systems with sealed duct systems, installed 6 radiant floor systems, replaced 23 water heaters with energy-efficient ones, and installed 12 solar-thermal systems.  In our first year of business we did $300,00 worth of business.  In 2008, we expect that to grow to $1,000,000.

As our process, and our software, improved, we became better organized and found it easier to get the work done while still taking the time to find more jobs. Establishing strategic partnerships helped immensely. We found that the easiest way to get more work was through referrals from contractors, architects, and homeowners who had worked with us before and knew firsthand our dedication to quality work. Most importantly, we made an effort to listen to customers, and make sure all their concerns were addressed.  As Elizabeth De Oliveira, one of our satisfied customers put it, “It was a real pleasure to work with them. They not only know their stuff, but they were very accessible—always returning phone calls quickly, patiently answering all my questions. They were also willing to accommodate special requests, and I had several.  I am very happy with the finished product.”

We also worked at improving our marketing presence, both through the Internet and through traditional media. We tried putting advertisements in magazines, the Yellow Pages, and other print materials, with limited success. We believe these types of marketing can be useful, as long as the investment is properly focused.  We also invested some money with various internet search engines to increase our Web traffic, which over time has begun to pay off. Trade shows were another source of leads for us, and these were especially useful as they gave us a chance to talk to potential leads face to face right from the start. Marketing has been one of the toughest challenges for us, and we are still learning what works and what doesn’t. In doing so, we have also learned the value of persistence  and patience; sometimes the best strategy is to make 1,000 pitches and see which one sticks.

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