Comfort 1st Insulation: Take a Closer Look Where Others Won’t

It’s easy to ignore what’s in your attic … at least until a bigger problem develops. For this home insulation expert, better insulation is just the beginning of a mission to make the home more comfortable.

Mike Callahan, owner of Comfort 1st Insulation, in Rockford, has focused his business around easy-to-forget areas of the home that can have a big impact on the comfort of those who live inside. (Samantha Behling Photos)

What’s in your attic and inside your walls?

Is there a nice bed of insulation keeping your home dry and cozy? Or, has it become a harbor for mice, bugs, mold and poor-quality air?

“People don’t typically think about it,” says Mike Callahan, owner of Comfort 1st Insulation, 612 Harrison Ave., in Rockford. “There’s so much to being a homeowner. Every home is different, and you don’t expect these things.”

It’s a good bet they realize when something is amiss, because problems in the attic can impact any home of any age. Ice dams in the winter, mold in the home, rodent problems, poor indoor air quality, furnaces and air conditioners that run constantly – these all could indicate something is amiss.

For more than 15 years, Callahan and his team have sought to make homes across northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin more comfortable and better protected against the elements. With a focus on insulation and home energy performance, Comfort 1st Insulation is more than a “blow-and-go” type of company, Callahan says. By being upfront with customers and putting their needs first, he’s won loyal customers and hundreds of positive reviews.

“I wanted us to make a difference and try to improve our customers’ comfort,” he says. “So, we’re not just a company that installs product. We’re trying to give a good service that makes a big difference when it’s done properly.”

For Callahan, good service starts with an entire home assessment. The point is to find out where a home is least protected from the outside world. A thermal camera shows where energy loss is coming from (it’s most commonly escaping through the roof, says Callahan). Then, a blower door test provides an even deeper picture by blasting high air pressure inside. It’s almost like expanding a flat tire to find the leak.

“Our homes aren’t built to be submarines,” says Callahan. “There are going to be drafts, and some homes are draftier than others. So, we use a really powerful fan connected to a manometer, and it measures exactly how tight the home is.”

Buildings of any age can have issues, he adds. If the home was built before the 1970s, there’s a good chance there’s no insulation inside the walls, because that wasn’t a requirement at the time. Homes built in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s are probably better insulated, though they’ll typically have less thermal protection than newer homes because of updated technologies and updated local ordinances.

The difference in insulation is like a spring jacket versus a down coat, says Callahan.

“Some customers say they have 40% energy savings,” he adds. “Their whole house is quieter, top to bottom. “They have better pest proofing, so they’re not getting stink bugs, beetles and mice coming and going. So, comfort can really be more than just staying warm in the winter or cool in the summer.”

Comfort 1st specializes in spray foam, fiberglass, cellulose and radiant barrier insulation, and every job is backed by a lifetime warranty. Estimates are free to customers around the greater Rockford area and southern Wisconsin. Call (833) 255-7283 for more information.

The company’s installers are certified through the Building Performance Institute and Pearl – designations that allow the team to provide energy ratings on homes. Such a rating can actually raise resale value by up to 5%, says Callahan, and it can have plenty of other payoffs.

“With insulation, it’s going to gradually pay for itself,” Callahan says. “Your furnace and air conditioner aren’t going to have to work as hard, so it’s less wear and tear on them. And, there are utility savings.”

Callahan was no stranger to the insulation business when he launched his own firm in 2005. In fact, he had plenty of insights from his father, who’s worked in the industry for years. But whereas the elder Callahan has a more “old-school” approach, the younger Callahan started his career in the world of home energy use. He first was trained as a residential building analyst for the state of Illinois’ Home Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income residents make energy-saving improvements to their homes. Callahan worked for a few local companies and then specialized in weatherization improvements for the City of Rockford. Eventually, he branched out on his own.

The past year has brought rapid growth to Comfort 1st Insulation as more homeowners are recognizing problems and investing in their properties. Consequently, call volume is increasing and what’s now a team of 20 people has new faces.

At the heart of this company’s culture is a philosophy that people want to come to work and can succeed with the right feedback. Keeping true to that philosophy in the midst of growth has been a challenge, but it’s one that Marly McFarland has taken to heart since she became office manager last fall.

“We’re very close-knit, which is weird because most of us have only been working for the company less than two years,” she says. “But we’re all very supportive of each other and we try to help each other succeed.”

Callahan credits her with keeping things well-organized; McFarland adds that she appreciates the constant encouragement from her boss.

“He likes to take us out to dinner sometimes, and even when things are slow or really busy and we can’t always see the benefits of our work, he always reminds us that we’re doing a good job and there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

There’s also advancement opportunity for those who are determined to succeed. Callahan says he routinely hires interns and brings them up the ranks. Their employment history may look a bit checkered, but if they have the right skills and attitude, he’ll equip them with the tools to succeed.

“Everyone has goals at our company,” Callahan says. “I try to make it clear that I’m not just in it for myself. I want everyone to succeed here, because when you succeed, everyone succeeds.”

That positive outlook inevitably influences customer service.

“I love getting the reviews when customers talk about how great our installers are, or how polite they are, or what a great job they did,” McFarland says.

Callahan is quick to return the love. He encourages the team to find tax credits, rebate programs or other discounts, especially for senior citizens, veterans and active military service members. He also gives back to the community, including the annual Festival of Lights at Sinnissippi Park. Last year, his team “made it snow” when they created a giant snowman from cellulose insulation.

“I have a vested interest in Rockford, so I like to do things that put a smile on peoples’ faces over the winter season,” he says. “Winter’s a tough time for a lot of people. So, we try to do stuff like that to get the whole company involved.”

Of course, it’s also a powerful reminder that the insulation in your home may be out of sight, but should never be out of mind.

“We’re going to take a look at your house from top to bottom,” says Callahan, “and we’ll find the best recommendations to get you the results you want.”