JULY 2017



If you’re the type of business owner in the construction world who avoids attending the trade shows, the exhibitions, and the multivendor events, you’re not just eluding the inevitable inconvenient bagful of free samples and the parking wars – you could be missing out on an opportunity to make building science work in your favour. In fact, if you’re solely in the market for an industry-leading energy service firm, you can avoid the colour swatches all together. When Will Marshall, the President of Nova Scotia- based companies Equilibrium Engineering and Thermo Homes, and his business partner Jeremy Lutes attend the big shows, they’re there to provide you with options, not just products, the pair told Spotlight on Business Magazine in late June. “We’ve been successfully servicing the Annapolis Valley and South Shore since 2010,” Jeremy explained. “Then in 2014, we attended a home show in Halifax promoting the Thermo Homes brand. Out of that show we came away with dozens of sales leads. It was obvious that the market was ready for a company offering a complete residential energy efficiency solution. It was at this point I began negotiations with Dave Brake to flip his spray foam company into a Thermo Homes branch. We completed the deal within three months and started to service the HRM in May of 2014.”

“There isn’t a scenario where the builder isn’t interested in designing the waste out – it’s really our basic theory.”



T he Thermo Homes name has become quite well- known in the Halifax Regional Municipality during the building boom. I’m sure there are a lot of folks out there who’d love to hear how you got your start. JL: Well, the two companies have different start up dates: Thermo Homes was founded in 2010 and Equilibrium was founded in 2012. Thermo Homes is a full-service insulation company, and we also sell high-efficiency heat pumps. At Thermo Homes, we look at the home as a collection of systems – insula- tion, heating, windows – and design our solutions based on science. Our technical salespeople are not traditional sales- people, they are building science experts who endeavour to improve the way your building works. Equilibrium Engi- neering is a full-service engineering firm with a focus on energy efficiency. We partner with our clients to design solutions that reduce energy costs, greenhouse gas emis- sions, and overall ecological footprint. “I said he’d be a great fit – and the friendship piece just made the decision that much easier.” WM: And it was all started as a co-op program. It’s a story with two sides, really. I’ve known Jeremy since grade two. He was a couple of years ahead of me, but I was really close with his family. His younger brother was in my grade. We’;re all still really close friends. We grew up in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. It’s where we’re based. When I was going through university for my engineering degree, Jeremy had been managing the Future Shop in St. John’s, Newfoundland – he was actually the youngest store manager in Canada at one point at 23 years old. He has great perspective. When I started Thermo Homes in 2010, he was working as a business analyst for Internetworking Atlantic in Halifax. He thrives on the business management side of things: dealing with staff, dealing with clients, the bones of a business. The invoices and regular demands of any business weren’t really my strength – I thrive on bringing in projects, putting things together, and then back out the door. I’m a technical guy, an engineer. So early on, I recommended Jeremy to my business partner Shelley Kerr. I said he’d be a great fit – and the friendship piece just made the decision that much easier. We waited until his contract was up and he’s been on board with us ever since.

In the beginning we basically took the cooperative, disas- sembled it, and then reincorporated it as a corporation. We grew it for two-and- a-half to three years and then sold a piece of it to a Quebec-based firm, Econoler Inc. What makes you such a go-to in a competitive market? JL: Well, I think part of it is that we’re specialists with a wide scope. We’re into mechanical, electrical, and plumbing – building science and design, really – so we’re doing anything from energy modeling to commissioning to LEED-type certifications. WM : And on top of that, most of us folks here are either engineering technologists or engineers. Both Shelley and I, for instance, are Professional Engineers. We both taught and designed curriculum at the Nova Scotia Community College; we were lead faculty members of the Energy Sustainability Engineering Technology Program. The Engineering Technologist program is a two-year program and the whole course was really about whole-building, energy modeling, high-performance building, and LEED renewable energy design. We were teaching about these next generation jobs for three years and we weren’t about to leave the opportunities we were opening up for others on the table. There’s no doubt that you’ve caught the attention of some big names in the energy and resources communi- ty. Can we go back a little bit and talk about how your partnership with Quebec-based Econoler came to be? WM: Well, Econoler used to be the international develop- ment arm of Quebec Hydro. After thirty-plus years, they decided they wanted out of that game, so two Quebec Hydro employees bought it – they are currently the presi- dent and vice-president of Econoler. Equilibrium Engineering happened to work with them on an Efficiency Nova Scotia contract and they liked what we do. You could say that they are highly specialized in energy efficiency; they don’t do any of what’s called ‘commodity engineering’ and they work with groups like the UN, the world development banks, and the inter-American govern- ment banks. They have a couple of offices around the world and they were looking for some, we’ll say younger, energy efficiency experts – because a lot of their experts were getting older and needing some new faces to take on some of these international missions.

We were looking for a way to branch-out beyond Nova Scotia and the margins looked great so we jumped at the

“We invest in great people, pay them well, and offer excellent benefits and bonus plans. We are committed to creating opportunities for great people in the Annapolis Valley.”





opportunity. We sold a portion of our company to Econoler in order to significantly expand our reach and we’ve been steadily growing for at least the last two-and- a-half to three years. I’m sure the readers would love to hear about these interna- tional missions (and I’m curious as to whether these expe- riences have changed the way you approach your day-to- day operations in any way). “They have a couple of offices around the world and they were looking for some, we’ll say younger, energy efficiency experts – because a lot of their experts were getting older and needing some new faces to take on some of these international missions.” JL: Our day-to- day operations haven’t changed, and that was one of the benefits, that we maintained our operational independence. The partnership has given us international opportunities. Econoler has 70-plus full-time staff and 10 offices world-wide. Since the partnership we have been to Argentina, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Georgia for international missions. WM: And it’s interesting. My first international mission was to Argentina. It took 16 hours of travel time to get there and it surpassed my expectations. I arrived in January – which is the equivalent of August temperature wise in Canada – so it was a relief when I got off the plane when I felt the 38 degree Celsiustemperature with 85 or 89% relative humidity. We got to work with a local firm backed by a US conglomer- ate who handled asset management for large multination- als. They were huge warehouse facilities and we got to work directly with architects on energy and design. Canada and the US are leaders in building science and there is a massive backlog, an exponential registration of projects that just aren’t getting through the back end in places like Argentina because of a shortage of experts. In my second internation- al mission, I was in Argentina four months later for a week. I’ve also performed energy audits in Turkey and factory work in Bulgaria and Georgia similar to what I did in Argen- tina. Everywhere I’ve been the people have been great and the clients accommodating. The international component of what we do has so much appeal for all the obvious reasons, but it also really helps you to grow and develop your skill set. It’s also something We were hired under an inter-American development bank program to help provide some assistance.

to fall back on down the road.

Contract work is kind of a retirement plan in itself. So it seems like the two businesses really cover the needs of both the commercial and residential client. What are some of the needs of the modern energy effi- cient-minded builder? JL: Both businesses are a mix of commercial and residen- tial. Thermo Homes has insulated many of the large new construction projects within HRM, and it’s also focused on residential energy efficiency solutions. Equilibrium sees a wide variety of projects. Being in the Annapolis Valley, we tend to deliver all types of residential construction engi- neering requirements, and we work closely with some of the largest real estate companies in Atlantic Canada on both new construction – meaning mechanical and electrical design and energy modeling – and retro-commissioning of older building inventory. WM: The nice thing about the whole energy-efficient building is that it’s boundless. There isn’t a scenario where the builder isn’t interested in designing the waste out – it’s really our basic theory. It reduces the cost, for instance, of mechanical components that would otherwise be included to deal with waste. It also reduces non-operational losses, the human effects like people jacking up the thermostat in winter or leaving the lights on. We make sure that buildings reach the high performance they’re capable of and that might mean installing some unseen component between the gyp rock and the siding – but that’s the core that drives the heating equilibrium. You can imagine that energy efficient insulation is cheaper than buying a geothermal heat pump and it’s those kinds of decisions that more and more property owners are facing nowadays. Over the next decade or so, we’re going to see a lot of pressure on the North American lifestyle to reduce its impact on the environment through lower-emission tech- nologies. We all want the mansion, the big dream house, but the reality is that a family of four with two kids just doesn’t need the 4- 5000 square feet home. We’re going to have to adjust our expectations and adopt a global perspective that factors in population projections. We can’t all have the lion’s share, that’s just an irresponsible approach. We pick products that have some sort of life cycle analysis, something that can be third-party verified –not products just green washed with marketing tools. And the client clearly loves what you do. I’m wonder- ing: what’s your growth percentage been like since starting operations and does your contract work for Efficiency Nova Scotia give you a little more clout in the local market? JL: From 2012 to 2015, both businesses doubled in sales and staffing levels. In 2016, we saw significant



growth: not 100%, but close. We invest in great people, pay them well, and offer excellent benefits and bonus plans. We are committed to creating opportunities for great people in the Annapolis Valley. We know that our business is built on our incredible team and I think first and foremost that we look to them when we attribute success to what we’ve done. WM: What we do for Efficiency says a lot about us. We’re still able to be there for our existing client base but when they need us for a few hours or a few weeks, we’re there. We’re their third-party verifier, which means that we make sure that home owners and business owners are effectively getting the savings that they were guaranteed when they invested in energy efficient solutions. In this capacity, we ensure that Nova Scotian homes are legitimately becoming more efficient. We even look up programs for Efficiency and sample them. Whether you’re considering the residential or commercial side of things, people don’t have all the facts when it comes to energy efficiency. They end up trying to make educated decisions based on Excel documents or suppliers’ claims

over the phone. It’s not a world where everything is made to the same standard and our relationship with Efficiency shows that we’re a trusted and discerning voice in energy and resources. “We invest in great people, pay them well, and offer excellent benefits and bonus plans. We are committed to creating opportunities for great people in the Annapolis Valley.” JL: Understanding the baseline data is the key to develop- ing any strategy to reduce energy consumption. Both companies have different tools they use and both use substantial experience in the lab and on the job site to design the best solution for each client.




(902) 482-0811

6 Neva Mae Place, Suite 30, Kentville, NS B4N 0G5

as spotlighted in the JULY 2017 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE

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