Matthew Coapman sat behind a computer for six years after college, selling advertising space across the country for major brands. When his company starting shutting down, he wasn't defeated — he saw an opportunity to reinvent himself and help his community as well.
"I realized the biggest need in our community was energy conservation in the places we live and work," says Coapman, now two years into starting his business — Energy Tight. "I knew it would take getting dirty to do it, but having an experience with customers where we can give them a combination of comfort and value in their homes makes it worth it."
Energy Tight began as an energy-auditing business, helping Charlotte, N.C.-area residents identify areas where they could improve their homes' energy efficiency through an energy audit. A few months later, the company began taking that one step further and now does retrofitting work, actually implementing the suggestions they make to customers during audits.
Straight out of 'Dirty Jobs'
Coapman says the work he and his employees do is straight out of the TV show "Dirty Jobs" because they look in nooks and crannies of homes to find air leaks that could be wasting energy.
"We make our livelihood sandwiched in some of the dirtiest places, like crawlspaces," he says, "but we're finding ways to save people money with 'low-hanging fruit', meaning they can make small adjustments at home to reduce their carbon footprint and utility bills without having to necessarily invest in installing renewable energy."
When they're not working under houses like Hobbits in their hillside holes, Coapman and his employees implement other efficiency measures such as sealing up recessed lighting, insulating attics, sealing up rooms over garages and ensuring customers have appropriately sized heating and cooling systems for their homes.
"Most of the homes we go in are leaking 18 to 25 percent of the heating-and-cooling capacity," Coapman says. "I can save a homeowner 25 percent on their energy costs at 10 percent of the cost of adding a renewable energy system to their home — we go for the chip shots, or the layups, of energy efficiency."
In an area like Charlotte, with mild winters and relatively low energy prices, Coapman says educating residents about energy-saving measures is a big part of his work.
"We make a deep dive into the building science behind our work and give people the best advice we can," he says. "I'm an entrepreneur and an environmentalist — I of course want to be profitable, but I want to make money while making a difference."
Investing in the future
Customers especially want to see a return on their investment, and while many are interested in lowering their carbon footprint to their home's full potential, Coapman says homeowner's decisions often come down to what the utility cost savings will be after retrofitting along with the added value to the home.
"It's like granite countertops or a stainless steel fridge," he says. "Or maybe there's that room above the garage that just won't stay cool — making a good investment in your home is a motivating factor."
With tax incentives included, most homes see a payback in about six years from retrofit work, including the cost of the energy audit, which usually runs around $350. The cost of the retrofits on an average home in the Charlotte area is about $5,000. The average household there spends about $1,500 each year on energy costs.
"The experience with the customers and the results they get afterward are starting a conversation in Charlotte," Coapman says. "We don't just want to build our company here; we want to help build an industry."