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Kettering Alum Creates Company For Greener Homes

FARMINGTON HILLS -- After spending eight years working for several automakers, Amanda Godward has founded Ecotelligent Homes, a certified home energy auditing company based in Farmington Hills.

"I was looking for an opportunity to combine my mechanical engineering background with my passion for environmental stewardship," Godward said.

After working to obtain several green certifications, Godward said she "stumbled across energy auditing" and found it to be a perfect fit.

"Once I found something that fit so well with my passion it was not that difficult to develop the business plan for Ecotelligent Homes," she said of the company she founded in 2009. "I get to use my thermodynamics and heat transfer technical skills while helping homeowners and business owners reduce their utility bills and their environmental impact."

Godward said she now uses more of her mechanical engineering knowledge as an energy auditor than she did in previous automaker engineering positions.

"When evaluating insulation levels and locating the source of drafts I use fluids and heat transfer, and the basics of a furnace are the same as a vehicle engine," fuel, air and spark, she said. "We measure combustion efficiency for furnaces and water heaters just like an automotive engineer would measure in an engine on the dyno (dynamometer)."

One of the biggest challenges Godward has faced has been explaining the process and findings of the energy audit to customers.

"There are a lot of technical terms that will fly right on by most customers, so we have found some analogies that make what we're doing easier to understand," she said. "For example, when we talk about a thermal barrier and an air barrier we reference a wool glove (a thermal barrier that is like fiberglass insulation) and a leather glove (a thermal barrier combined with an air barrier, like spray foam insulation)."

Challenges other than helping customers understand the technical aspects of the energy audit process include issues related to local, state and national economies. The sluggish economy and home building market have been both a help and a hindrance for Godward.

"The fall in property values have helped us and hurt us at the same time," she said.

It has hurt the new construction side of the business, which impacts Ecotelligent Homes because they perform HERS energy audits on new homes. Most builders use the HERS score (Home Energy Ratings System Index) to market the energy efficiency of their homes and to determine if they qualify for an Energy Star certification, according to Godward.

"Luckily, builders have started building homes again here in Michigan, so that side of the business is picking back up," she said.

Conversely, the slow housing market has also helped Ecotelligent Homes. Because property values are lower, causing homeowners to stay in their homes longer, they are making investments to improve the property and to help lower their utility bills. Said Godward: "It is one aspect of the cost of ownership that they can control."

Ecotelligent Homes provides customized and environmentally sound solutions for both homes and business through comprehensive energy audits and installation of energy efficiency upgrades for residential and commercial properties.

According to Godward, the comprehensive energy audits she performs are more than a quick visual inspection.

"We use diagnostic test equipment like a blower door and thermal infrared camera to find areas where insulation is missing and to locate the source of drafts," she said. "We compile a software analysis of a home or office to model various potential improvements to understand which upgrades will best achieve the owners' goals."

Energy auditing is a relatively new field, and more competition is popping up on a regular basis, Godward said.

"But we have noticed during the past three years that not very many of my competitors are able to stay around," she said. "I feel that my technical background and our ability to provide customized solutions have really helped to set Ecotelligent Homes apart for the competition."

Not only does Ecotelligent Homes offer eco-conscious solutions for its customers, the company operates as a green business.

"We are what we sell," said Godward.

Her green business strategies and goals include: installing insulation and air sealing efficiency improvements at the office, offsetting the office electrical use through DTE Energy's Green Currents Program, having print material, including customer reports and business cards printed on recycled paper whenever possible, using Web hosting powered by wind, ordering organic cotton company shirts, and having some of the company vehicles powered by biodiesel fuel.

As Ecotellignet Homes has expanded from a home based business to a growing brick and mortar, Godward has added four employees. She would eventually like to be a Kettering co-op partner.

"Like most grads, I am thankful for my experience as a co-op employee," Godward said.  "I would like to help future students gain that valuable experience and to see that you can do more with a Mechanical Engineering degree than just work in the auto industry." A native of Westland, Godward and husband Thomas, now reside in Farmington Hills. Thomas Godward Jr. is a 2003 graduate of Kettering with a degree in mechanical engineering. He currently works for IAV Inc. When not running Ecotelligent homes, which she says gets most of her attention, Godward gardens, growing organic fruit and vegetables, and roots for the Detroit Tigers.

While admitting that starting her own company was "a little scary and difficult," Godward said she feels it was well worth it. Quoting from her favorite movie, "A League of Their Own," she summed up her experience as an entrepreneur:  "It's supposed to be hard, if it wasn't hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!"

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