Farewell to Maine’s Leading Independent Energy Auditor

The Legacy of DeWitt Kimball

Our friend and Energy Circle client, DeWitt Kimball, died last week after a lionhearted, fearless and very personal fight against esophageal cancer. I was privileged to have been one of his caregivers, and had some indelible conversations with him in the months before he passed.

DeWitt was passionate about his particular approach to impacting better buildings: he was an unabashed and often strident advocate of the independent energy auditor model.

Independent energy auditors have fallen out of favor with many in the industry. Programs don’t see audits correlating with completed retrofit work. States that once saw merit in the separation between the company doing the work and the one testing it have abandoned that requirement. As audits became more commoditized, or given away for free, the business of energy auditing became stressed. And in most of the country, skewed markets make it impossible to charge what a thorough audit genuinely costs (and is worth.)

DeWitt defied these trends. Even in Maine, where the efficiency program has essentially abandoned independent auditors, DeWitt ran a thriving business.

DeWitt and Mike Mathis of Warren Construction | Mallett Deep Energy Retrofit

DeWitt and Mike Matthes of Warren Construction after reaching .68 ach50 at the Mallett Deep Energy Retrofit,
a number Joe Lstiburek said we had no f…ing chance of hitting.

To be clear, Energy Circle is not partial to any particular business model. We’re unbiased. Our team supports any business model that makes an impact on better, healthier, more durable and more energy efficient buildings. But, in honor of DeWitt, I wanted to at least document his approach and business success, because it is so contrary to conventional industry wisdom.

Here’s how DeWitt ran his business, and some observations from me on why he was successful, both financially and in his impact on buildings in Maine:

No Financial Ties to the Work

  • DeWitt had no financial stake in the outcome of his recommendations; they were unbiased. His only income was getting paid for his evaluation and recommendations.
  • He regularly charged $350 to $500 via a transparent, tiered audit structure, and had thriving demand for his service.

Contractor network

  • He maintained relationships with good contractors, and actively guided his clients to find and hire the best company for the unique challenges of their home.
  • He “fired” contractors from his preferred list if their quality declined.
  • Quite a lot his work came from contractor recommendations--quality companies who knew he’d include them on the list, and were confident enough in their performance that they welcomed his scrutiny.
  • He tested out and held contractors accountable for performance and fair pricing, and sent many a contractor back to jobs that he deemed inadequate.

Audits that converted to jobs

  • His conversion rate from audit to work completed, the critical metric of the home performance industry, was 85 to 90%. (Typical conversions for integrated companies are 30%.) People willing to pay for the value of independence are serious about doing the work.
  • Residential energy audits weren’t his only product. DeWitt was a multi-faceted building consultant that offered blower door testing, large building pressure testing, duct testing, home inspections, ratings (at one point) and healthy home evaluations.
  • He loved working with DIYers, and offered training in air sealing for people doing their own work.

Aggressive communications

  • He aggressively (to put it mildly) promoted the value of independence, sometimes to the chagrin of very good integrated auditor/contractors. He showed that taking a bold stance on a particular philosophical approach to fixing buildings, and aggressively promoting it, can be very powerful marketing.
  • He was an instinctively good marketer who invested in his brand and his web presence. He let the clarity and straightforwardness of his approach be his qualifying filter. I’d often hear him say to phone leads, “Check out my website. If you like what you see, email me to book a time.”
  • He embraced the healthy home movement, and was a frequent critic of insulation companies that tightened homes without consideration for mechanical ventilation.
  • He was a former teacher who brought that sensibility to his clients--showing them their home’s challenges with thorough, informative audit reports and explaining building science without dumbing it down.

Dewitt Kimball Hard At Work In Maine

All about the mission

  • DeWitt was giving. When we discovered a Maine couple attempting to trade their car for oil, DeWitt unhesitatingly lept at auditing their house and guiding the pro bono work to fix it.
  • Ultimately, he was deeply committed to tackling climate change, and was a loud and fearless voice for that as well as many other energy issues.

Fixing the housing stock is a big job that can only be tackled from every angle--we need many business models and approaches to succeed. DeWitt’s approach was one that had a very real and measurable impact here in Maine.

Maine’s buildings and homeowners are the lesser for his passing. Cranky bastard that he could be at times, DeWitt is sorely missed.

Comments

A lovely tribute. Sounds like my kind of auditor. RIP DeWitt !!

Peter, I'm sorry to hear of DeWitt's untimely death. I met him once and heard you talk about him many times over the years, including the story about DeWitt helping the older couple who couldn't afford oil for heating and wanted to trade their car for another tankful of oil just to keep from freezing in their home.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about his passion.

Dee was a friend and also great to work with professionally. We are in the middle of construction on a net-zero home he helped us with on the envelope and systems specifications. We will always raise a glass to him over every raclette dinner our family enjoys, since he was the one who showed up one fine winter evening with his Swiss grill and a bag full of yummy grillables. RIP, good man.

I really appreciate your effort Peter, to spell out the advantages of Dewitt's approach, ideals and expertise. As an independent auditor myself in Northern Colorado, I share his credo and love my work as much as it sounds like he did.

Thank you for a wonderful tribute to an important member of our home performance community. Dewitt was in my BPI Energy Analyst with Rick Karg and I appreciated his passion for the field, as well as his wit.

RIP Dewitt. You will be missed by many across the state. We shared, always enjoyed and respected your deep passion for helping homeowners wherever they were on their journey toward greater health, safety, comfort and savings.

Thank you for writing this tribute of an inspirational figure in our efficiency community whose legacy is lasting.

All of us at Warren Construction Group are sad to have to face life without DeWitt Kimball. His influence helped us understand and celebrate the creation of an efficient envelope and changed our company forever. We progressed from being a company that did things well, with a list of very satisfied clients to an educated, passionate and respected group who not only knew how to build, but understood the importance of following a detailed plan, never skipping a step, and seeing the results in clear accurate envelope testing. We always have felt that our work should be validated by someone independent especially as we started to see very impressive numbers. It is just human nature to not trust “the wolf to watch the hen house”. DeWitt was very smart, exceptionally patient as we tested, fixed little issues and a huge cheer leader as we hit targets some only dream of. Somehow he was able to infect even our most grizzled, set in their ways carpenters with the enthusiasm for the envelope. Many of our folks never understood how dew points worked or how to chase vapor through a wall assembly until DeWitt explained it in his careful, easy manner.

With nearly everything else in his life, DeWitt was opinionated, impatient and private, always seeking the perfect spot to fit in. I met him on a jobsite 20 years ago where he was installing cabinets and we immediately appreciated each other. It wasn’t until he got involved in inspections and performance testing that he really hit his life stride as a teacher and innovator.

We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude, will remember him always as he continues to influence how we work. We will continue to carry his passion and do our best never to let him down.

Peter Warren, Mike Matthes and
the entire team at Warren Construction Group

1-on-1 Marketing Benchmark Analysis

Admit it...keeping up with digital marketing can be challenging. Let us help.

Having worked with over 400 companies across the US in the better building industry, Energy Circle has developed key benchmarks that every company should be meeting. Gain from our perspective with a 1-on-1 marketing benchmark analysis to see how your digital presence compares and learn about solutions to take your digital marketing to the next level. Your evaluation will include key areas such as website health/performance, SEO, reviews, content, conversion optimization and paid search engine marketing.