Like many heating and cooling contractors, Isaac Heating and Cooling has always followed an "emergency room" business model: customers call when there’s a crisis (such as a broken furnace in 10F weather.) We do a great job of remedying the situation. Here in Rochester, NY, Isaac Heating & Cooling is top of mind when people have a problem. Our company motto tells the story: "When you need us, we'll be there."

In 2009, we opened a new company focused on energy efficiency. Today, for many of our customers, Isaac Home Energy Performance is closer to a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) model, in that we take a more holistic view: We start with a thorough "physical" exam of a customer's whole house, and offer a "diagnosis." Next, we prescribe upgrades that will increase the "health" (that is, energy efficiency) of their homes, from the attic to the basement.

The great news about this approach is that we’ve increased the services we can provide to customers. Customers are more loyal, because they view us as their "general practitioner." Because of that loyalty, we've experienced business growth: we started in 2009 with two trained technicians for energy efficiency, and today we have 11 employees working specifically in energy efficiency.

Part of this transformation is due to consumer education, in the form of home and garden TV shows, renovation magazines and home-improvement tradeshows. Many people now actively monitor the major systems in their homes, so they can make decisions on their own terms and schedules. They also learn as much as they can about programs and incentives that will help them afford upgrades.

The other major contributor to this transformation is in the available programs and incentives themselves. This is especially true in the case of comprehensive, whole-house energy assessments that are financed through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and made possible by the Green Jobs-Green New York Act of 2009. A free or low-cost whole house home energy assessment provides a comprehensive list of the things a homeowner can do immediately, or over time. The more we show our customers how energy efficiency can reduce their utility bills, the more it builds our bottom line.

Building Performance Pays Off
For example, we recently worked with a 89-year-old gentleman who has been a customer of Isaac’s traditional HVAC services for 50 years. His furnace was overdue to be replaced, but instead of simply handling the furnace, we proposed conducting an energy assessment. We uncovered reasons why he was experiencing other issues, leading to energy upgrades throughout the house, from the attic to the basement.

"For years, we’ve had enormous icicles hanging from our roof in the winter," Walt Silverman said. "They were dangerous, so we had to have someone come out to remove them. When we had a new roof installed a few years ago, the contractor assured us that they would solve the icicle problem by insulating the eaves. But we've had them every year since then."

From a whole-house perspective, icicles are a red flag that point to ice damming – symptoms of poor attic insulation and inadequate ventilation. From our assessment, we were able to prescribe several upgrades to solve this problem, and improve the Silverman's year-round energy efficiency and comfort. In addition to insulating the attic, the Silverman's purchased a new furnace and water heater, and replaced all incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Our experience with homeowners like the Silvermans' is an excellent example of the way that Isaac Home Energy Performance is tapping unmet needs.

Qualifying for Programs and Incentives
Since it was founded in 1945, Isaac has served both the residential and commercial markets through four business divisions. We've had consistent growth, expanding from the Rochester area to include locations in Avon, Syracuse, Elmira and Canandaigua, NY.

In order to qualify for NYSERDA incentives – and to tap into the residential customer leads that NYSERDA provides – our new company needed to first meet requirements outlined by the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program. That meant we needed to be accredited by the Building Performance Institute (BPI). Our technicians required training to receive BPI certification. This national standard for home performance and weatherization brings together leading building-science experts to establish the latest techniques and tools for conducting energy efficiency work. The way we see it, conforming to BPI standards is a way to level the playing field among contractors, and set the bar for quality for everyone. NYSERDA helps make this learning possible for contractors by funding a portion of the costs for training and diagnostic equipment such as blower doors and thermal imaging cameras.

Today, customers are more aware of how energy efficiency correlates to home value – in saving costs on monthly utility bills, in enhancing resident comfort and health, and in improving the overall worth of a property. For example, some home buyers only evaluate the mortgage cost and interest rate as part of their financial decision-making process; however, if the house they’re buying is 15% more energy efficient than the one next door, that makes for a far more compelling investment.

Focus on the Future
In the future, the whole-house approach to energy efficiency will define our industry. Federal, state and local programs that help save money, decrease energy consumption, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and improve our environment will continue to spur homeowner interest in making properties more energy efficient, while legislation like Green Jobs-Green NY will support energy efforts plus the workplace development critical to feed opportunities for economic growth.

For Isaac, expansion to energy efficiency and awareness is changing our business every day, as new products and technologies come into their own. We’re moving into geothermal and solar (photovoltaic) technologies to bring even more options to customers through these clean-energy resources.

Homeowners who understand the value of these renewable-energy technologies and place a priority on energy efficiency will drive the market for better alternatives, and they'll seek companies that can advise them and deliver solutions. We’re making sure Isaac Home Energy Performance will be first on their list to call. And we're still available for emergencies, just as we have been since 1945.

Domenic DeLeo holds NATE certification in heating, air conditioning and heat pumps, and BPI certification in building analysis, heating/AC and envelope. He joined Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in 1996, and launched Isaac Home Energy Performance, in 2009. www.IsaacHomeEnergy.com