Recurve Nails the Science of Selling Home Energy Retrofits

For Californians who want to make their houses greener and more energy-efficient, installing solar panels is often the first strategy that comes to mind. And there are many innovative Bay Area companies ready to help people do that, as I’ll describe in a story coming later this week. But Recurve president Matt Golden argues that solar is probably the last energy-related investment most homeowners should be making, not the first

“We are 100 percent pro-renewable energy, but you need to do things in the right order,” says Golden. “Before you install a new furnace, you put in the right insulation. Before you install 6 kilowatts of solar panels, you do efficiency improvements—and then you might need only 3 kilowatts to achieve the same result.”

It’s not very green, in other words, to put solar panels on top of a house that leaks heat all through the winter and cool air all through the summer. San Francisco-based Recurve, which Golden founded in 2004, will help you get your energy-wasting house in order before you think about bigger investments like solar panels.

Recurve is one of hundreds of energy efficiency retrofitters springing up around the country these days. But it’s perhaps one of the most high-tech, relying on software of its own design to systematize the process of home energy auditing.

Recurve’s technicians will go through your house room by room, testing factors that affect energy efficiency, such as airtightness, and feeding the data into laptops that run a physics simulation of the whole house. Once they’ve figured out how much you can save on energy bills by adding more insulation, sealing more ducts, and replacing outdated lighting, heating, and air conditioning equipment, they can do the actual work too—they’re certified builders. They’ll also help you pay for the work through zero-money-down, low-rate home financing packages.

Matt GoldenBut what really sets Recurve apart is its engineering-driven outlook on what it calls “home performance contracting.” These guys are the Amazon or the McKinsey of the energy retrofitting business, motivated by the conviction that a little data goes a long way, as long as it’s accurate. (Golden says Recurve’s retrofitting cost quotes are binding—if it ends up costing more to reach the promised efficiency improvements, Recurve eats the difference.)

While the company currently serves a relatively small market—just the counties surrounding San Francisco Bay—it’s got big ambitions. With around 65 staffers, Recurve is already the largest retrofitter on the West Coast, “and we intend to keep growing,” says Golden. The company is active on the policy front, pushing for more incentive programs like the $2,000 in efficiency rebates available to each San Francisco homeowner from the city government, the $3,500 newly available from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), and the Home Star Retrofit Act wending its way through the U.S. Congress. But it’s Golden’s long-term vision for Recurve that’s really audacious.

The company has 10 retrofitting crews out in the field and a bevy of software developers back in its Mission Street offices, and in a way every home retrofitting job they do is a rehearsal. Eventually, Golden thinks, the day will come when Recurve is hired not by individual homeowners, but by utilities. His vision is that utilities will pay contractors to retrofit thousands of homes at a time, bringing about reductions in energy demand that will help them match generating capacity with expected loads for far less money than it would take to … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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