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PATH Case Study

Energy-Efficient Remodeling:

Traditional Builders Find a Niche Beyond Energy Code


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Willie and Jeff Delfs
Able Homebuilders
Sioux City, Iowa

Builder Type:

Small Residential Remodeler/Builder

The Technology:

Energy-Efficient Construction

The Project:

Knowing the Delfs' expertise in energy efficiency, Don and Susie Townley approached Able Homebuilders about replacing the windows and siding in their 1970s house and expanding the kitchen by 400 square feet. Using optimum-value framing for the exterior kitchen walls, stabilized cellulose insulation, high performance glazing, insulative vinyl siding, and whole-house building envelope air sealing, the Delfs achieved 20-percent energy savings from one December to the next. Even with a few bad weather days, Able Homebuilders completed the remodel in just 60 days.

"We set out to create a niche for ourselves, and with the rate of our business growth, we must be doing something right."

-- Willie Delfs


By improving the building envelope and efficiency of their client's homes, Able Homebuilders can add space without adding to monthly utility bills. In addition to expanding the kitchen, they also replaced the windows and exterior siding. THE DELFS' STORY

"Able Homebuilders offers a variety of home technology features that help differentiate them from their competitors, but energy-efficient remodeling has become their most profitable niche," says Willie Delfs.

"First and foremost, incorporating energy efficiency is the most important thing we do for our customers. There was a point when we didn't understand this, but after we educated ourselves on the process, we saw it was so easy. There's no reason that anybody out there shouldn't be doing it. It doesn't matter whether it's remodeling or new construction, every bit of energy savings benefits your customer, your business, and the environment. Energy efficiency is an important part of our business model, and we wouldn't go back to building the way we started."

"We realized that there was a large remodeling niche that deserved the attention of an energy-efficient contractor. When we started out, we decided to focus on the working-class market. As our reputation grew, more affluent clients requested our services based on referrals. For the last ten years, most of our client base has come from referrals. Now we're recognized for energy-efficient remodeling, so when someone is looking for construction services that involve energy efficiency, we're the first company people call."


A local utility presentation about incentive programs that help offset the cost of energy upgrades changed Able's business strategy in 1997.

"As builders and businessmen, we thought, 'Now here's an edge we can have over our competitors.'" At the time, it was a very competitive market with tight profit margins. We decided that learning more about building performance would be worth it if we ended up earning a couple extra thousand dollars per job in addition to providing a better product to our clients."

"As we began educating ourselves through the local utility's ENERGY STAR® program, we started learning about why energy efficiency was important--how energy efficiency affects all of us. We used ENERGY STAR to create our basic requirements; as time progressed, we became so comfortable with ENERGY STAR that we committed ourselves to 100-percent participation. Then we thought, if we can build ENERGY STAR qualified homes for new construction, why not take it to our remodeling business?"

"Shortly thereafter, we joined EEBA (the Energy & Environmental Building Association), which puts on annual conferences that Jeff and I attended to expand our knowledge. In trying to target our niche, we wanted to become known as the local 'energy guys'."

"The main concept is that a house, whether new or remodel, is a system, and whatever you do to it affects everything else. We don't start each day going to work to just throw sticks together and do it over again at the next project. By studying energy efficiency, we've become smarter builders than we were ten years ago. Ten years from now, we'll be even smarter because as technology advances, we'll be using it before our competition."


"A large portion of people's disposable income goes straight to utility companies. As a larger portion of their income gets tapped, it's really a no-brainer for our customers to increase their home's energy efficiency. Our goal is to be able to add space without adding energy consumption."

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Willie and Jeff Delfs

Able Homebuilders of Sioux City, Iowa, was founded by brothers Willie, Jeff, and C.L. Delfs. The Delfs started as remodelers in 1987, then expanded to new construction in 1993. They began as traditional stick builders and quickly saw the business benefits of energy efficiency. Their commitment to construction excellence and efficiency has earned them awards from numerous organizations, and helped build their reputation as energy experts. Able Homebuilders average over 100 remodels and two new homes a year, with annual sales revenue in excess of a million dollars.

Why the Delfs promote energy efficiency in construction:

"By studying energy efficiency, we've become smarter builders than we were ten years ago. Ten years from now, we'll be even smarter because as technology advances, we'll be using it before our competition."
-- Willie Delfs

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Content updated on 9/25/2006

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