The Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center offers a wealth of information for the industry
January 01, 2015
A version of this article appears in the January/February 2015 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
From 2010 to 2013, DOE’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program leveraged approximately $500 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding to help more than 40 state and local government partners develop sustainable, residential energy efficiency programs in neighborhoods nationwide. By December 2013, Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners had facilitated energy efficiency upgrades in more than 100,000 homes and other buildings, with an average energy efficiency improvement of more than 20% per upgrade (see Figure 1). These upgrades will reap families and businesses $800 million on their utility bills over the lifetime of the energy efficiency measures. Energy and utility bill savings will also continue to grow as loan funds created during this time are used to finance energy efficiency upgrades in the future.
More than 30 Better Buildings partners planned to continue their programs through at least 2014 without additional funding from DOE—expanding the extensive energy-saving investment DOE and its partners have made in communities across the country. With more than 5,000 home performance professionals trained and more than 2,000 certified through Better Buildings partners, the residential energy efficiency industry is ready for the next generation of improvements.
Proven Resources for Home Performance Programs and Partners
Through the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, Home Performance with Energy Star, utility-sponsored programs, and other initiatives, hundreds of communities have been working to promote energy efficiency upgrades in homes and multifamily buildings. To share the innovations and lessons learned from these efforts, DOE has compiled a one-stop shop for residential energy efficiency programs and home performance professionals.
Available free of charge to programs and practitioners across the country, the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center serves as a repository of hundreds of examples, lessons, and resources for residential energy efficiency practitioners. All content is based on evidence and best practices from existing energy efficiency programs and has been reviewed by third-party experts in energy efficiency program design and business models, marketing, financing, workforce development, data collection, and evaluation. (See “Better Buildings Solutions Benefit Contractors, Too.”)
Information in the Solution Center is available in a series of handbooks—concise reference manuals that list steps for planning, operating, and evaluating a residential energy efficiency program. The handbooks provide tips and real-life examples about ways programs have succeeded. The handbooks contain tools, calculators, publications, videos, presentations, and program examples that may be useful to home improvement contractors.
Solution Center Topics
Following are topics and examples covered in the Solution Center, which are relevant to both program administrators and contractors in the industry.
Market Position and Business Model handbooks describe how to assess the current and potential demand for energy efficiency products and services (e.g., home energy assessments and upgrades, financing products, contractor training) and the factors that influence this demand. These handbooks also provide tools for examining other organizations in the market, as well as identifying gaps that your organization could fill.
Program Design and Customer Experience handbooks explore how to create a customer-centric process by bringing together the products and services that customers want. Readers learn how to make upgrade options clear and concise so homeowners understand the savings and other benefits that result from different efficiency measures.
For example, Austin Energy’s Clean Energy Accelerator, in Austin, Texas, developed an energy savings estimate form that contractors can use on-site during energy assessments to quickly communicate which measures achieve the best energy savings in customers’ homes.
Marketing and Outreach handbooks discuss ways to spur consumer demand through target audience research, development of effective messages, and promotion of program offers that motivate customers to act. The handbooks highlight the value of conducting one-on-one outreach, whether at large-scale community events or at intimate, in-home gatherings.
Energy Impact Illinois (EI2)’s house party initiative brought Chicago homeowners, neighbors, and friends into each other’s homes to learn about ways to make their houses more energy efficient first-hand, which increased the demand for home energy assessments and upgrades. Within a year, 652 house parties took place, with 3,110 people in attendance. The house parties were huge lead generators for contractors; EI2 estimates that more than 2,000 attendees signed up for assessments at the house parties, and more than 900 of them completed upgrades.
Financing handbooks provide guidance for creating loan products, rebates, and incentives that help customers pay for home energy upgrades in ways that are also affordable for programs and contractors. For example, under the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, homeowners using financing consistently installed larger projects (averaging $11,800) with greater energy savings than those without financing (averaging $5,400). One key to this achievement was ensuring that contractors understood theirpartner programs’ financing options to communicate the benefits effectively to homeowners.
EnergyWorks in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, invested in training that taught contractors how to successfully highlight the affordability of energy efficiency during the energy assessment and sales proposal process. Contractors also learned how to better utilize special financing and monthly payment plans to increase both their closing rates and number of projects. As a result, EnergyWorks helped finance more than 1,900 residential upgrade projects between 2010 and 2013, totaling more than $17 million in business.
Contractor Engagement and Workforce Development handbooks describe how to design a program that provides value for contractors and aligns their offerings with business cycles. It outlines how program administrators can better support home performance professionals by understanding contractor capacity, enabling technical training and business development support, and fostering clear communication and partnership.
NeighborWorks of Western Vermont maintained steady lines of communication with its network of contractors to proactively identify barriers to getting work done in a timely manner and develop solutions that were collaborative. The program held monthly one-on-one meetings with each contractor to review client status and progress and to identify any problems or potential training opportunities. One of the outcomes of these conversations was a temporary labor pool, called LaborWorks@NeighborWorks, from which contractors could hire workers for periods of high demand.
In Seattle, Washington, Community Power Works closely coordinated with contractors before launching marketing initiatives intended to create demand. Contractors benefited from being able to prepare in advance ways to support the increase in customer interest.
Evaluation and Data Collection handbooks discuss how to develop effective data collection strategies and how to evaluate these data. Once an energy efficiency program is underway, collecting and evaluating data is critical to identify achievements and opportunities for making improvements. Home performance contractors can use program data to assess and improve their own processes, services, and overall business models in order to maintain market relevance and long-term viability.
Visit the Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center for more information. DOE invites you to submit your feedback and materials for possible inclusion by e-mailing BBRPSolutionCenter@ee.doe.gov.
Solutions for the Future
To ensure that the Solution Center remains valuable for program administrators and home performance professionals into the future, DOE will continue to add content and increase user friendliness. Future planned enhancements include a content rating system and a decision tool to highlight the most relevant content for each user.
Better Buildings Solutions Benefit Contractors, Too
From 2010 to 2013, home performance contractors partnering with Better Buildings programs invoiced $740 million in energy efficiency upgrade projects. Following are just two of many success stories highlighted in the Solution Center that demonstrate how energy efficiency programs and contractors are working together to improve contractor business profitability.
Efficiency Maine. To support its contractors with the skills needed to sell energy efficiency upgrades, Efficiency Maine offered sales training to its contractor base. As a result, the program’s assessment-to-upgrade ratio rose 600% in four months. Many contractors were initially skeptical of sales training but were ultimately in favor of using good communication to help build business. Richard Burbank, president and CEO of contracting firm Evergreen Home Performance, was so impressed with the free Efficiency Maine training that he subsequently paid for all of his home energy assessors to take the training. “The sales training and marketing experience in our company means we don’t need incentives to be successful in the long term. A year after the rebates ended in Maine, we were selling more with no rebates,” Burbank says. “The bottom line is that our company is thriving because of this program.”
Clean Energy Works Oregon. In Portland, Oregon, Clean Energy Works Oregon (CEWO)’s low-cost financing options for home energy upgrades created a steady stream of weatherization projects and helped stimulate the statewide growth of the local home performance contracting industry. Indow Windows, an energy-efficient windows contractor, received so much demand from CEWO customers that it was able to attract investors and raise $2.6 million in private capital to help it expand. “Now we have 80 dealers in 34 [U.S.] states and three provinces in Canada,” Indow Windows CEO Sam Pardue says. “I’d like to believe we would have prevailed without the support, but it has been instrumental to our growth.”
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