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The home building industry has been hit hard by the economic downturn, but one Washington-area contractor sees it as an opportunity.
“About two or three years ago, the industry completely went to sleep,” said Charles Juris, manager of Alexandria, Va.-based Energy Resource Management Construction Co. “That’s when my daughter told me I was too old and needed to start looking at something new. I was skeptical, but I went with it.”
Juris and his network of construction subcontractors turned to the burgeoning field of energy resource management. ERM now designs and installs energy-efficient appliances in homes and small businesses in the D.C. area.
It’s a move that might have saved the business.
“I was an old dog who didn’t want to learn new tricks,” Juris said. “But I’m glad I did because now we’re as busy as can be.”
Juris credits the Obama administration for his company’s new direction. Federal tax credits help make the upfront costs manageable for his clients, he said.
He was also affected by an encounter he had with the president at an energy efficiency event at a Home Depot in Alexandria, Va.
“I met [President Barack Obama]. I shook his hand,” Juris said. “But my co-worker grabbed him and pulled him close and said, ‘We started this company because you told us to, that this was the way to go and you wouldn’t let us down.’”
ERM has developed a hands-on marketing strategy to attract customers. On Oct. 22, one of ERM’s clients will host an open house to demonstrate the mechanics, costs and savings of energy-efficiency upgrades.
The company has already held open houses at two homes in Northern Virginia, and its latest showcase is a renovated 1890s row home on Eighth Street Southeast in the District. The company secured the properties by offering the owners a discount on the upgrades in exchange for the right to showcase the work to the public.
“If I came to you to describe what a mini-split was and how it could save you money, you’d be like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Juris said. “But if you could see it and I could open it up for you and show you how the geothermal system works, and you felt the water running through it, you’d be much more receptive.”