When the recession caused the market for new homes to take a dive two years ago, many homebuilders in Chicago, Illinois jumped out of the way. Some turned to multifamily development, some started working with banks and fixing up homes that had been foreclosed, and some simply left the business.
Other Chicago homebuilders, like David Kirk and David Faganel, turned to home energy audits, banking on the growing interest of consumers looking to start saving money on their monthly utility bills to save their careers.
Kirk, whose family company, Kirk Homes, started building homes in Chicago in 1978, said he started thinking about energy-efficient homes after getting a monthly heating bill for his 100-year-old house one winter that cost him $1,100. “I thought maybe there's something to be had here,” Kirk told the Chicago Tribune. “The real Achilles’ heel of the home is what it's leaking, not how efficient the furnace is.”
Faganel, president of R.A. Faganel Builders, said in an interview that he had been interested in the science behind residential construction since the 1990s, and that moving into the home energy efficiency space was a natural transition for him when the new home market tanked.
Deregulation, Energy Rates Grow Interest in Home Energy Audits
It appears the pair’s entry into the home energy audit market, though unrelated, couldn’t have come at a better time for both of them, and not just because more consumers are looking at saving money by saving energy at home.
Energy deregulation in Illinois broke the monopoly held by Commonwealth Edison Co., and alternative retail energy companies, such as Spark Energy, recently entered the market to compete with the utility, and each other, by selling energy directly to consumers.
In addition to giving consumers the power to choose which company they buy their energy from, deregulation paved the way for the Illinois General Assembly to introduce legislation, backed by ComEd, that would allow the utility to automatically increase residential utility rates an estimated 2.2 percent every year.
The price of energy has many consumers thinking about energy efficiency and saving money with home energy audits, according to Kirk and Fanagel.
“Five years ago, no one was asking for audits," Faganel said. "Now, awareness has greatly increased, but it's still minuscule compared to what it will be."
Kirk agreed with Fanegel’s sentiment, saying interest in energy efficient homes has been an evolution. “In the 10 years prior to '07, we had a fairly docile market from a cost standpoint,” Kirk said. “That's changing. It's going to be far more expensive to capture energy, and I see (people) far more concerned about being efficient now.”
Kirk left Kirk Homes in 2007, prior to the company’s bankruptcy and subsequent closure in 2009. Last year, Kirk started Smart Sealed LLC with two partners to provide energy audits and weatherization services.
Fenegal serves as business development director for Intelligent Energy Solutions LLC, a company affiliated with R.A. Faganel Builders that works with homeowners, architects, and other builders on energy efficiency issues.
“Builders Putting Their Energy Into Efficient Homes,” Chicago Tribune, March 4, 2011.