Energy Solutions for a Resilient Future: Q&A with Josh Notes of greeNEWit
I recently spoke with Josh Notes, co-founder and managing partner of greeNEWit. Among many other accomplishments, greeNEWit was recognized by the EPA with a 2016 ENERGY STAR Contractor of the Year Award for its outstanding efforts to increase the adoption of energy-efficient products in homes.
greeNEWit, an ENERGY STAR partner since 2009, was honored for helping improve home comfort, energy efficiency, and safety while lowering residential energy bills.
Q&A with Josh Notes
Tom White: Tell me about your motivations for forming greeNEWit in 2008. A lot has changed in both the housing industry and home performance.
Josh Notes: I was a young, hungry entrepreneur in a couple of different business fields. Once I went to business school at University of Maryland, I really started focusing in on real estate. Specifically real estate that was primed for adaptive reuse or improvements of neighborhoods.
I spent many days driving to the city of Baltimore and really learning about poverty and neglected populations that were only 15 minutes from where I grew up. That experience really helped shape our entry point for greeNEWit because we were acquiring houses that were projected to be worth $30 to $50,000. But when the market tumbled, it ended up being more like single-digit thousands of dollars. We had legal bills that were in excess of the equity in the building. It really was a life lesson in a bubble and it affected all parts of a community. Fast forwarding, I owned a bunch of real estate that was dilapidated in a city that would be hardest hit because it has some of the most at-risk members of our society. Out of that, myself and few business partners formulated the idea that there was money locked in buildings through energy waste. That’s where the birth child of greeNEWit came from. As we drove through the cities of Baltimore and Columbia, there was value locked in people’s attics and basements. Then we went out and got educated as building science experts and really allowed our vision to turn into a reality.
We didn’t quite understand how complex the industry would be even for a small industry, but also how important.
TW: Where do you see the growth for your company?
JN: We see growth in two business models: residential and commercial. All the multifamily is included in that. We have taken a comprehensive approach to the energy solution that starts with the existing building shell. Once that is upgraded, stabilized, and maintained, we shift towards renewables and resiliency, which is really the topic that we’re hoping to focus on. How sustainable is the community without resilience? Solar plus storage provides, from a power perspective, a resilient shield. Critical systems can be kept up and maintained in case of an emergency, which is when you would usually need it the most.
Resilient homes is where greeNEWit is heading but we’re still getting there the old-fashioned way of one house, one building at a time. We’re looking at the entire profile and now painting the picture of what that could look like, while getting a gauge from the customer on how far they are looking to go, from an efficient and sustainable home to a resilient one.
TW: What is the learning process moving from single family into multifamily and commercial?
JN: It’s effectively created a second business. We operate all of our overhead under one roof. The time for cash conversion is different, the financing options are different. The way the buildings are collateralized and value is different. The root of it is the asset of real estate. We’ve tried to really become experts in not just the energy of commercial buildings but understanding what it’s like to own them and how that could affect the changes from owner to manager to tenant.
TW: Part of the Home Performance ENERGY STAR award was for your expertise in working with air-conditioning professionals to connect them to the program, and partnering with subcontractors to support their completing more than 100 home performance projects.
JN: We’ve found there are quality HVAC partners out there, but only a small percentage of HVAC contractors that were aware, engaged, or have attempted home performance but they are not focused on it. And from their own regard, not successful at it being worth their time, but they believed in it. We have tried to remove that burden of operational success, in exchange for marketing, and sharing profits downstream in an equitable way. So, effectively, every town, city, smallville, has an HVAC partner that’s hopefully approaching that market with a sustainable mindset that they’re reducing energy and they’re helping people in the hottest times, the coldest times of the year to be more comfortable.
TW: How are you finding interest in the market on going from home performance to smart homes? How are you seeing people engage with home automation devices?
JN: I’ve seen that emerge more as a Fitbit for the home gadget-driven kind of techie. It hasn’t aligned with the “My kid is cold and that’s why I’m doing this,” person who spends $5,000 or $10,000 on a retrofit, as opposed to $300 to monitor the temperature in that room, but doesn’t do anything to fix it. We’re kind of jumping past tech gadgets for the purpose of just knowing, and really getting more into the ones that people are willing to pay more for that provide an extra shield around the home.
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