Home Builder Shawn Jessup, owner of S. D. Jessup Construction, Inc., is now a five-time winner of a DOE Housing Innovation Award, recognizing forward-thinking builders constructing energy-efficient homes on the path to Net Zero. Having accomplished this feat first in 2017 and for the past four consecutive years, that puts him in rare company.
Insulation Institute spoke with Jessup about his success, what it takes to replicate it, and how his approach to building is increasingly steering buyers in his direction.
Building for Comfort and Health
Winning the coveted Housing Innovation Award in the custom builder category, Jessup says he was focused on high performance before he even knew it was a thing.
“I started out in this business in 1998, and I was taught early to do everything better. It’s just something I learned growing up. And as I learned more and more about home building, I just kept applying everything I learned and ensuring my team learned what I learned so we could replicate those things and improve processes,” Shawn notes.
With a lean team of just five crew members, Shawn doesn’t build for volume but rather for quality. “There are many people in the home market who are what I call ‘tire kickers.’ They’re mostly looking for the cheapest house to buy, so getting the best performing house is not what they’re looking for,” he said. Those are not his customers. “We don’t do any advertising at all, but customers come to us – and we’re starting to see more and more of them -- asking for a home that is more comfortable, and these are our customers – the ones who drive our business.”
When you’re building homes for comfort and health, the details are important.
“We work with subs who simply aren’t motivated to get things right – so many times, our crew goes back and fixes the batt insulation and installs it so that it’s Grade I, and it takes more time, but for me, it’s all about quality control.”
When you’re building homes that have an average HERS score between 40 and 45 and at 1.09 ACH50, like this year’s Innovation Award-winning home, ensuring that air sealing and insulation are installed properly is essential.
“I’m pretty competitive when it comes to air leakage tests,” Shawn said. “It’s kind of like my golf score – I don’t care what I got last week; I just want to lower the score I had the last time.” So, he works at it, from start to finish.
From Design to Finish
S.D. Jessup Construction does all their own construction, and drawings and designs, including details, are reviewed with team members. Shawn says he does it that way – with the designs including extensive details about products used so that nobody has to make decisions – all the information about the builds is available on the drawing.
“We don’t build 100 houses a year, but the ones we build are done with a lot of quality control,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve worked hard to improve our processes. Many builders are doing the same things they did the year before and the year before that. We’re focused on repeatable processes so that over time, we’ve become better and better at the details.” Thus, the result is consistency.
Because Shawn builds homes exclusively in North Carolina, he’s had requests for high-performance design plans from builders in other areas of the country, and he’s now selling those plans to builders. It’s a profitable business that has been a key focus for him in the past year. All of that buzz, built on word-of-mouth, is what keeps his business coming since he doesn’t advertise.
Scalability on the Horizon
While Shawn has no plans to become a production builder, he does anticipate the day that his company increases the number of homes it builds each year. He says that having repeatable processes and maintaining quality control are essential to his business.
“Everything we use is software based and scalable,” he noted. “And having repeatable processes and quality control in place will make it a whole lot easier to scale the business in the coming years, which I’m looking forward to.”
Shawn Jessup and other winners were recognized at an official awards ceremony during the EEBA High Performance Home Summit in Scottsdale, AZ, this week.