Vancouver home remodeler refashions his company into one that audits energy efficiency

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter

Published:

 

o OWNER: Robert Brierley.

o WHAT: The company is a home-performance contractor whose work includes auditing buildings to measure how energy efficient they are. The company also is capable of fixing a building's energy shortcomings.

o EMPLOYEES: 5.

o ADDRESS: The company is run out of a home office in Vancouver.

o PROJECTED 2011 REVENUE: $500,000 to $2 million in sales.

o Clark Public Utilities offers a free, online home energy calculator to help people understand where their energy dollars go and to give them ideas for tightening their energy budgets. Website: http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com/yourhome/calculators2011?HomeEnergyCalculator

o OWNER: Robert Brierley.

o WHAT: The company is a home-performance contractor whose work includes auditing buildings to measure how energy efficient they are. The company also is capable of fixing a building’s energy shortcomings.

o EMPLOYEES: 5.

o ADDRESS: The company is run out of a home office in Vancouver.

o PROJECTED 2011 REVENUE: $500,000 to $2 million in sales.

o Clark Public Utilities offers a free, online home energy calculator to help people understand where their energy dollars go and to give them ideas for tightening their energy budgets. Website: http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com/yourhome/calculators2011?HomeEnergyCalculator

Robert Brierley is a different kind of home inspector. He wants to make money by putting more of it in other people’s pockets.

Facing a sluggish housing market and figuring he needed to change things up, Brierley has refashioned his 7-year-old Vancouver-based home remodeling company into a home-energy auditing business: Revival Energy Group.

Using equipment such as a calibrated fan and a thermographer, his company diagnoses the problems behind a home’s energy consumption and recommends fixes, including everything from sealing air leaks to installing proper insulation. Brierley said the payoff for homeowners comes in the form of lower utility bills over time.

“Some houses you go in and they’re decent on air leaks but they’re horrible on their insulation,” he said. “Every home kind of speaks for itself.”

Not new, but green

What Brierley is doing isn’t new. But his decision to reinvent his company reflects his assessment of the Clark County construction industry, which has become a wisp of its former self. Many homeowners, meanwhile, are just holding on to what they have while scrambling to build savings. And local, state and federal governments are promoting energy-efficient buildings in an effort to conserve power, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to boost a green economy. That effort includes offering rebates and tax credits.

Brierley’s goal is to profit by serving the needs of homeowners who may not want to pay for expensive remodeling projects but who are still willing to pay to maintain their homes, including making them perform better energywise.

There’s evidence that Brierley is on the right track. An annual survey by AVID Ratings Co., a customer loyalty management company, showed that “green” features, including energy-efficient appliances and high-efficiency insulation, were No. 2 on a list of 10 things homebuyers said they wanted most from a new home.

Mike Selig, program coordinator of energy efficiency services for the Clark County Community Development Department, said that conservation will play an important role in managing energy use in the years ahead. Building more power plants and refurbishing our power distribution network is a costly proposition, Selig said. Boosting the energy efficiency of old and new buildings, however, is a relatively cheap way to gain new capacity.

Brierley, 28, said he recognized he needed to reinvent his business when he found himself advising prospective customers against remodeling projects because, with home foreclosures rising and home values dropping, they didn’t make financial sense. “I’d end up shooting myself in the foot by saying if it’s not repair or maintenance work, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.

For about a year-and-half, Brierley did a lot of soul-searching about what to do with his company — Revival Remodeling — in light of an economy that didn’t seem to need its services anymore. One day, Brierley said, he was reading a story in Fine Homebuilding Magazine, “Every House Needs an Energy Audit,” and his next step crystallized. Revival Remodeling was no more. In summer 2010, Revival Energy Group was born.

No guarantees

Although Brierley’s timing seems right, there are no guarantees. Consumers are paying down their debts and ramping up their savings. That makes it potentially very difficult to persuade them to spend on conservation now in hopes of saving later. Those who do see the value in these projects may opt to learn how to gauge their energy use and to fix problems on their own — arguably at a cheaper price.

Brierley is aware of those points.

As a result, he said, he offers to help homeowners build a do-it-yourself plan. He said he also avoids overselling or pressuring customers, which, from his perspective, happens all too often in the business of selling window replacements and home heating, cooling and ventilation systems.

The point of an energy audit is to take “an unbiased look at the home,” Brierley said. “It’s what the equipment tells us.” And the data produced by his diagnostic equipment shows whether, say, a leaky duct is the main culprit behind your home’s energy flaws.

Brierley said he charges customers about $100 for a basic energy audit, which includes testing for air leaks and proper insulation. He charges as much as $260 for a more comprehensive energy audit. Revival Energy Group also is capable of fixing the flaws it finds. On average, a full energy retrofit, including sealing air leaks, installing insulation and repairing leaky ducts, can cost $2,000 to $4,000.

Brierley said that within two to six years, on average, customers recoup their investments through lower utility payments.

Brierley said he wants Revival Energy to grow but that he doesn’t want to rush things, either. He’s running the business out of his home but looking for office space. He has five employees, including Jim Ballman, a longtime homebuilder in the area, and Jerry Limber, business development manager for the company.

Energy audits and green retrofits for residential customers make up about 70 percent of Revival Energy’s business, Brierley said. About 15 percent is made up of commercial customers, such as owners of office buildings who want to make their properties more energy efficient. The remaining 15 percent of Revival Energy’s business goes to customers who want to do a traditional kitchen or other home-remodeling project. Brierley said his company is profitable and that he expects it to generate roughly $500,000 to $2 million in sales this year.

The credibility factor

It’s unclear how far Brierley’s revamped company will go. What is clear is that he’s worked hard to build up its credibility. Revival Energy works with several energy rebate programs, including those provided by Northwest Natural and Clark Public Utilities.

And Brierley, a native of Australia who studied civil and structural engineering in England before deciding to leave school to launch his own business, has numerous building and energy systems certifications through the nonprofit Building Performance Institute, including as an energy auditor and building analyst. He’s also certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use lead-safe work practices in older homes.

He sees himself as a problem solver, as someone who enables people to feel more comfortable in their homes.

“It’s challenging to solve a home’s problems,” Brierley said. “When you do a remodel for somebody, they can love their remodel and they can kind of not like the paint color.

“This,” he said of his new focus on energy efficiency, is “totally measurable.”