Avalon-based Insulwise making money by helping homeowners save

Andrew Haak, president and founder of Insulwise Energy & Comfort Solutions, might have a background in finance, but he knew he could make a difference working in insulation by offering homeowners high returns on their investments. 

Now his problem is figuring out how to deal with his significant backlog of jobs. His Avalon company is in high demand at the moment, which he says is a good problem to have.

"We could be sold out through June by the end of the week," Mr. Haak said last week at his office on Camp Horne Road where he drinks blue Gatorade between glancing at his computer and down at the planner on his desk. It's a small, modest room that contrasts with the growing amount of work his company has lined up.

Because Pittsburgh is in a part of the country that gets very hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter, there's a tremendous amount of business opportunity for the company's services, Mr. Haak said. People not only want to be able to live comfortably in their homes year-round, they want a reasonable cost to heat and cool it.

That's where he, as both an energy auditor and building performance analyst, comes in.

There are several other insulation companies in Pittsburgh and though his own five-person company is small (he hired a new employee just last week), Mr. Haak said he gets a lot of business from recommendations from other energy auditors.

“Because they knew me and knew I was actually doing the work, they sent a lot of work my way,” he said. “It’s helped to have a network of people here that know me and know the level of work that we do.”

Insulwise does around 150 jobs per year, according to Mr. Haak. The company mainly deals with residential customers, though it has done some commercial work. 

“The first year I think we did $150,000 in business and I was just hoping to do some business. Last year I think we did maybe a little over $300,000 and this year we’re on track do over half-million. I need to hire more people basically,” he said.

To figure out what is wrong with a home in terms of insulation and energy efficiency, Insulwise employees do free home evaluations using de-pressurizers and infrared technology as well as applied building science. In most cases, problems stem from how the home was built, but the age of a home is a factor as well, Mr. Haak said.

“The number one thing we encounter that causes problems is something called stack effect,” he said. Stack effect causes warm air to rise to the top of a home and escape through holes in the attic caused by things such as wires or lighting fixtures.

“As that warm air leaves the top of the house, it creates a draft at the lower part of the house, in the basement, so it sucks cold air into the house,” he said. “So you’ve got an energy loss issue and at the same time, it’s pulling super cold air in at the base of the house.”

According to Mr. Haak, homeowners can improve their energy efficiency by 30 to 35 percent simply by addressing issues with their attics and basements.

“We find all these various penetrations and air leaks in the attic, and we fill them with expanding foam sealing. The idea is we make that attic plane as tight as we possibly can. Once that’s done, we add additional insulation,” Mr. Haak said.

“The home we’re working on today, we’ll go down to the basement where the frame of the home sits on the block wall foundation and spray foam around the outer rim joist. We seal that whole area with foam and it shuts down that stack effect.”

Insulwise is a green business, according to Mr. Haak. For additional insulation, the company uses cellulose, which is a non-toxic pulverized recycled paper product.

“It’s pretty awesome stuff, completely green, completely friendly with the environment,” Mr. Haak said.

Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com

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