Chris Buchanan and Robert Lawless want to make buying a heating system, windows, or solar panels almost as easy as buying a plane ticket online.
They have formed a start-up, Enmojo, to act as a price-comparison website, similar to Kayak.com and Priceline.com but for home energy products. Homeowners key in the relevant information, and Enmojo returns a handful of price quotes from providers qualified to do the work.
Buchanan and Lawless are shooting to cash in on the rapidly expanding home energy-efficiency business. Lux Research Inc. in Boston estimates the residential and commercial segments of the US energy-efficiency retrofit market are worth upward of $5 billion.
In Massachusetts alone, National Grid provided $121 million in rebates to customers in 2012 for energy-efficiency projects, the utility said.
Given the market potential, there is a need for outfits like Enmojo to help consumers buy highly technical energy systems that can cost thousands of dollars, said Aditya Ranade, senior analyst at Lux.
“There is certainly room to play here for companies like this,” Ranade said.
Enmojo’s founders used to work for Next Step Living, a Boston firm that provides energy audits and related services, and so bring a deep background in helping homeowners with the complex and sometimes daunting task of making homes energy-efficient. Buchanan said he often would notice that homeowners who just had an audit were unsure about what to do next. Or they found that shopping around for a contractor proved confusing and time-consuming.
“The things we took away was that a family only has so much time,” Buchanan said. “These are big decisions and important decisions, and as important as saving money and energy, you should really save time.”
So Buchanan and Lawless left Next Step Living to launch Enmojo, which stands for “energy, money, and jobs.” The two are still beta-testing the website but have teamed up with 10 service providers and started promoting the business through word of mouth.
Here’s how it works: Potential customers visit www.enmojo.com and choose the type of energy improvement they are looking to make. They are then asked for pertinent information, such as the age of the home, how much shade it gets, what type of fuel is used for heat, even whether they will need financing for the job. Enmojo will then try to secure price quotes from up to four contractors it has vetted through licensing requirements, the Better Business Bureau, and customer reviews.
“In order to get multiple quotes and get the best deals, it often required calling multiple professionals and waiting weeks to get them down in the basement,” Lawless said. “People are used to shopping for everything online” and can now do so with Enmojo.
Buchanan and Lawless said they limit the number of quotes so consumers don’t get overloaded. Having too many options can be deterrent to following through on making upgrades, they said.
They hope to add to the website’s offerings, such as by allowing customers to research equipment or giving contractors a virtual peek inside a customer’s home.
“If someone can take a quick video of their basement, we can say, ‘OK, you’re using this type of boiler,’ ” Lawless said, and “now it actually feels like I was in that home.”
Several providers said they signed onto Enmojo because it may minimize unsuccessful job leads. Robert West, of R.H. West Plumbing and Heating in Leominster, said one benefit is that he does not have to pay the company for a client unless he wins the job.
“Basically, if my price is good, I get the job, and [Enmojo] asks for 10 percent,” West said. His rate for a typical boiler replacement, he added, generally runs from $5,000 to $8,000.
Kimberly Le, marketing director for Sunlight Solar Energy, a small Oregon solar installation firm with offices in Waltham, said the company decided to partner with Enmojo after having little success with a more traditional lead-generating service.
“They already have a good idea of the industry and how it works,” Le said. “That’s a step up.”
Deb Beatty Mel, a spokeswoman for Boston Building Resources, a nonprofit cooperative for building materials, said she also thinks the concept behind Enmojo is interesting. “It’s always wise to shop around,” she said. “It’s always wise to get multiple quotes.”
The big challenge for Enmojo, said Ranade, will be getting customers who usually rely on word-of-mouth for contractors to learn about the website.
“People usually ask their friends, so one interesting thing might be to do a mashup of this technology with Facebook, where friends can share information on HVAC contractors or window installers,” Ranade said. “They’re going to have to take the social aspect of this into consideration.”Erin Ailworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.