What does it take to run and grow a successful home performance contracting business?
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified to answer this question than Michael Helwig from DNR Construction, winners of a 2019 ENERGY STAR Contractor of the Year award and longtime Illinois Home Performance rock stars. Each year, the Contractor of the Year award is given to Home Performance with ENERGY STAR participating contractors that exhibit outstanding professionalism, build strong customer relationships, and apply building science solutions to improve homes. In 2018 alone, DNR helped more than 900 homeowners across northern Illinois improve the comfort, safety and value of their homes through the IHP program.
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
MEEA: Tell us a little about DNR Construction
Michael Helwig: DNR Construction started in 1996 as a siding contractor. Shortly after, we were involved in lead abatement for windows and quickly learned about different types of weatherization programs in Illinois. Within six months from the start of our company, we were doing weatherization jobs. We have grown from 3 full-time employees to more than 90 and remain a family business. We weatherize over 2,000 homes/units per year.
We have grown our business thorough priding ourselves on doing things right and developing a positive reputation within the industry. We also acknowledge that every customer is different and do our best to go back and resolve any issues that they may have.
What do you like about helping homeowners with home performance?
From a customer standpoint, we believe increased comfort and saving money are their priorities and we strive to accomplish both. We have learned a lot over the years through technology. By being able to show concrete and measurable data using thermal imaging, temperature readings and manometers used in blower door testing, we know for sure that we are making a difference. This assurance can be seen in the high referral rate we see. If homeowners did not see a benefit from the work we do, we would not be referred by so many of their neighbors, friends and family.
DNR completed more than 900 IHP qualifying jobs last year. What’s your secret?
A lot goes into growing a business. From purchasing a large quantity of materials, to managing customer expectations, to scheduling work, effective leadership and investment in our employees allow us to increase our workload. We have provided “in house” training for many of our employees and have employees with BPI licenses. We are constantly evolving to ensure our growth never compromises quality.
What are the most common issues you find/address in homes?
The biggest issue we see in older homes is the lack of insulation and the homes ability to hold hot or cool air. The average Chicago home built in 1920 is four times leakier then new construction homes. These older homes are very connected to the outside which explains why they are so drafty. We establish and define the thermal boundary, where the home’s insulation and sealing separates the indoors from the outdoors. Our workers install many different air-sealing techniques to ensure air infiltration rates are drastically reduced. The insulation of walls and attics to recommended R-Value protects interior construction materials from the outside elements. Both result in our goal of increased comfort and monetary savings to our customers.
What advice would you give to homeowners who want to improve the energy efficiency of their home but don’t know where to start?
There is so much information available to you through the internet. There are many non-profit groups (like MEEA) who do a wonderful job providing a large degree of education, resources and support. There are also a lot of incentives and programs available for people who need this type of work.
What are your goals or hopes for the future of the company?
We hope the weatherization industry grows with the help of groups who continue to offer education and incentives to people who need these energy saving measures done to their home. As an industry, we need continue to leverage technology to offer better ways to lower utility expenses, increase home comfort and help keep the environment clean.
How did you feel when you found out you won an ENERGY STAR Contractor of the Year award?
We were very excited to hear the news and would like to thank the many people who have helped us along the way.
MEEA Wins ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year
MEEA’s very own Illinois Home Performance was also awarded with an ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year award this year, their fifth win in just six years. In 2018, IHP awarded more than 1,200 ENERGY STAR certificates of completion to homeowners who participated in the program, trained dozens of real estate professionals on how to properly value high performing homes, and supported contractors through the Building Science Training Series and an equipment loan program. IHP would like to thank everyone for their support of the program and their commitment to improving the efficiency of homes in Illinois!