Bill Nemitz: Warm way to energize economy
Portland Press Herald
He’s tired of watching the politicians tie themselves up in rhetorical knots over the wisdom, or lack thereof, of a new economic-stimulus program.
So Josh Wojcik is starting his own.
“If nobody else is doing it, I’m going to try and do it – at a small level,” Wojcik, owner of Upright Frameworks in Wilton, said Tuesday.
It works like this: Between now and the end of the year, Wojcik will forgo any and all profit on the first 100 home weatherization projects that come his way. That’s right – you pay for the materials and the labor, he pockets nary a dime.
And he’s doing this why?
“Because I believe in this stuff,” said Wojcik, who founded his 11-person company three years ago on the notion that there’s a future – and a potentially huge one at that – in reducing Maine’s $1 billion-a-year dependence on home heating oil.
A little history:
Last year at this time, thanks to a statewide rebate program fueled by $9 million in federal stimulus funds, homeowners all over Maine flocked to companies like Wojcik’s to give their dwellings energy audits, plug the heat leaks and, more often than not, reduce their annual heating bills by 20, 30, sometimes even 50 percent.
But the Home Energy Savings Program, administered through the state’s Efficiency Maine initiative, ran out of money in May. And without the rebates that ranged from $1,500 to $3,000, the weatherization market is nowhere near as hot as it was this time last year.
Goodbye stimulus-funded Home Energy Savings Program, hello Wojcik’s Raise ME Up.
“Slashing your heating bill is the key to saving Maine’s economy,” notes the page Wojcik recently put up on his company’s website (www.uprightframeworks.com/Raise-me-up).
He’s not just blowing smoke: The Web page goes on to note that a home energy retrofit typically pays for itself in five to seven years, instantly increases a property’s value, diverts money from major oil companies to the local economy and “helps prevent the growing economic disaster that is global warming.”
Throw in the “at cost” offer – Wojcik figures he’s giving up anywhere from $500 to $1,500 in per-project profits – and, well, let’s just say the phones are ringing once again.
“A guy who’s willing to give up profits to help some folks? I think it’s great,” said Keith Martin, a teacher from Wilton who came across Wojcik’s offer on The Daily Bulldog, an online newspaper in Franklin County, and decided it’s time to stop shivering in his circa-1920s farmhouse.
“I think it’s very generous,” said Martin. “I’d been debating this for a couple of years – and (the at-cost offer) was the reason I decided to call.”
John Ritzo of Falmouth, also a teacher, heard about Wojcik through word-of-mouth and, to be honest, was skeptical at first.
“I’m sort of from the old school that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Ritzo. “So I looked at this hard.”
“How can you beat someone offering to do it at cost?” asked Ritzo, whose 60-something-year-old home suffers from, among other things, nasty ice dams. “That’s a good deal.”
Wojcik is the first to admit he can’t do this forever. Giving up somewhere between $50,000 and $150,000 in profits, after all, isn’t exactly a growth strategy for a small business in this anything-but-robust economy.
And he wouldn’t even have considered it if he hadn’t already approached his local legislators and pointed out how well the rebate program helped businesses like his – and reduced Maine’s energy footprint to boot. His question for them: Why not keep doing this?
“They all said, ‘That’s great but we can’t sell this kind of thing right now,'” he recalled.
So here is Wojcik walking a tightrope – trying to create a “critical mass” of Mainers who see weatherization for the “win-win” that it is, while at the same time not letting social conscience put him out of business.
Hence in the coming months, Upright Frameworks will mesh its not-for-profit work with new construction and other money-making jobs. And, Wojcik added, he’ll urge others in his industry – energy auditors, subcontractors – to do the same.
“I’m willing to invest in this stuff,” said Wojcik, who holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a master’s in public affairs from Cornell University. “But I’m also not going to kill my business to make a point here.”
Back at Efficiency Maine, where the rebates have been replaced by low-interest PACE loans (up to $15,000 for 15 years) for home weatherization, residential program manager Dana Fischer said only good can come out of Wojcik’s, shall we say, unconventional business plan.
“I’m in the same camp as Josh when he talks about how important this is for Maine,” Fischer said. “And if this is his way of both doing well by his community and promoting his business, then that’s good for him.”
Some might call it downright stimulating.