WellHome is a home performance division aimed at residential home improvement. The division was launched earlier this year by building products manufacturer Masco, which operates a similar division called Environments for Living. That division is targeted at new-home builders.
Remodeling: How is the Environments for Living program for new builders connected to WellHome? Is that your model?
Larry Laseter: It's not our business model but it's definitely connected. Environments for Living started in 2001. It's a building science ¬based program focused on helping home builders build high-performing homes. The program, once implemented, guarantees certain heating and cooling costs and comfort levels. We've issued more than 135,000 guarantees through that program. It has grown in a down market. We found out that building science is real and could be applied to homeowners.
RM: How does Environments for Living work?
LL: Customers sign an agreement to participate in the program. It starts with a design review. We go through designs and recommend changes to make the homes perform better. We do inspections and testing in the home building process. At the end of the process the homeowner is issued a guarantee.
RM: How does what you're doing with WellHome differ from energy audit franchises such as Pro Energy Consultants, Energy Doctors, or an audit/implementation company such as GreenHomes America? Are you looking to franchise your model?
LL: We are a home performance contractor. We don't do audits. We make recommendations with a turnkey price. We serve as a general contractor to implement the home improvement. We don't just do a checklist audit. It's a diagnostic whole-home assessment.
This is important because there have been millions of free or low-cost audits in the last decade.
The biggest problem when there are free audits is that homeowners don't take action. It's a big barrier when you, the homeowner, get this long list of recommendations and then you have to go shop, trade by trade, for people to do the work.
We built this business by starting with the homeowner, looking at the situation from his or her perspective. With WellHome they have one person who's on the hook to deliver what we promise. At the end of our process, we issue a guarantee. If we say our improvements will save 40% and that doesn't happen, the [homeowner] can contact us and we will write them a check for the difference. So, we are not in the business of auditing homes and giving recommendations.
A second difference between ourselves and these other organizations is that we're definitely not a franchiser. [Ours] are company-owned locations.
And a third is that we have a parent company that already has national operations and service businesses. So we understand buildings and services.
RM: You've launched in seven cities and in your press release you indicate that you plan "multiple locations." How many, where, and how are you staffing them?
LL: We are in the process of recruiting to staff the locations. Our intent is to be a total branded provider of home performance services. Our target this year is 25 locations. We are a very process-focused company ? we have an 83-step process to make sure everything is in line before we go live in a market ? so we want to make sure that we provide a high service experience in every home we go into.
Our staff receive nine weeks of training before going live with a customer. We have taken building science and combined it in a way that it can be mass-produced. That said, every home and owner is unique, but what the appropriate improvements are for that home are not unique. So in training our staff we start with building science, we show them how to use the tools, we practice on real homes, show them how to do a sales presentation ... because in the end we are selling home improvements.
RM: What will WellHome do to help homeowners find out about state tax credits and utility rebates and incentives?
LL: Part of our launch process is having people in the market contact utilities, state energy offices, and the like, to see what rebates are available. So when we're in the home selling a job, we can take that right off the top as an instant rebate, and if [the homeowners] file for it we can help them as much as possible. We also have a national organization working across markets to provide that data.
RM: What would be the maximum amount that a homeowner could recoup from state, federal, and utility credit and rebate sources?
LL: It's different state by state, home by home, and that's part of the complexity a lot of people don't take on. Say the job costs $10,000. A homeowner may be eligible for a local rebate of less than $500. But then ? and we don't know every homeowner's tax situation ? if they're spending that much, they'd be eligible for the $1,500 federal tax credit. So there's $2,000 out of the $10,000.
There are programs where homeowners are eligible for $4,000 in instant rebates. And they can get part of the tax credit. The range we've seen is anywhere from 15% to 50% of the cost of the job, as long as you get more than 20% energy savings.