Contractor Engagement Is Key to Oregon Energy Efficiency Program's Success

Posted by Danielle Sass Byrnett on October 31, 2013
Contractor Engagement Is Key to Oregon Energy Efficiency Program's Success

Early in its development, Clean Energy Works Oregon (CEWO) knew that actively engaging contractors was critical to the program’s success. CEWO started its program by holding regular contractor meetings, but they were in the evenings; didn’t always have agendas; and the people needed to make decisions weren’t always in attendance. Staff revised their approach to meet with a rotating group of contractors every two weeks and at a time more convenient for contractors—7:30 a.m. Following an agenda and inviting other key stakeholders (e.g., the state’s utility ratepayer fund administrator and CEWO’s quality assurance firms) allowed issues to be worked out more efficiently.

Recognizing the importance of providing coordinated input on this burgeoning energy efficiency effort, several of the more involved contractors created the Home Performance Contractors Guild of Oregon to represent their business interests and provide a unified voice on energy efficiency issues across the state. As of September 2013, the guild had more than 40 home performance contractor members across Oregon. With CEWO’s financial assistance, the guild was able to hire an executive director to represent them in programmatic and policy discussions, allowing contractors to focus on running their companies and driving demand for energy upgrades.

Having a coordinated group of stakeholders also helped CEWO get timely, constructive feedback from contractors early in the process on any program changes, especially because contractors needed to explain and promote the program’s financing options to customers. For example, CEWO was developing a loan product and approval process with a new financing partner. When contractors noted that loan signings would occur too late in their sales process for the product to be useful, CEWO changed the agreement with its partner so that the loan signing occurred earlier.

Preference for Contractors Who Prioritize Customer Service

In addition to engaging contractors, the program started regularly requesting feedback from customers to see how contractors could improve their customer service. Most participants perceived the program’s contractors as hard-working and respectful. CEWO staff also learned ways contractors could improve the customer experience by improving scheduling and doing a better job of cleaning up after completing their work (see Figure 1 below).

figure 1 

Prior to regularly soliciting customer input, CEWO’s quality assurance team received customer complaints about some contractors’ work quality and the responsiveness of others. In an effort to reward top contractors and help new ones grow and improve, CEWO created two categories. These included “full contractors,” or those with a proven track record, and “basic contractors” who were new to the program or had initial performance issues. Leads originating from CEWO’s marketing efforts were referred only to full contractors. To advance to full status, basic contractors had to obtain the program’s required certifications, bring a minimum of six home energy assessment customers into the program, and follow CEWO’s High Road standards.[i]

“Clean Energy Works Oregon has created what I call a strong community of contractors. We’re all working together as allies. It’s exciting that energy efficiency is now more than a job; it’s a lifetime career,” said Dave Hammond, lead contractor for Faison Energy Solutions, which credits CEWO with the success of the company’s Home Performance division.

Approximately 40% of CEWO upgrades were initiated by contractor marketing, and most of these upgrades were brought in by full contractors. In order to open the door for new contractors to sell their own projects and gain experience needed to meet full contractor qualifications, the program also offered numerous business support services:

  • Business skills classes (e.g., money management, sales, bidding)
  • Coach-led business consulting
  • Peer mentoring for new contractors
  • Technical training and a scholarship fund
  • Partial, pre-upgrade-completion payments
  • Recruitment events
  • Business support working group

As of June 2013, CEWO contractors had completed nearly 3,000 home energy upgrades. The program currently has 35 participating contractors. Building on this success, the program announced in August 2013 a partnership with the City of Seattle, Washington, Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE). The two organizations will develop a business plan and explore funding opportunities for the next phase of Community Power Works, a fellow Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner. Both programs will be able to build upon their success of working closely with and engaging their contractors, as well as coordinating their respective implementation of High Road standards. With this regional alignment, the programs can strengthen their priority on quality work, quality training, and quality job creation in the industry.

To learn more about CEWO’s efforts to make the program work for contractors, read the full case study.

Danielle Sass Byrnett is the manager of the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program.

Information in this article originally appeared as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Better Buildings Neighborhood Program collection of case studies analyzing effective strategies used by its state and local energy efficiency program partners across the country. DOE is transitioning the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program to a voluntary, national residential energy efficiency membership network. Learn more about joining the Better Buildings Residential Network.

[i] A High Road Committee including contractors created CEWO’s High Road standards and updates them in response to program feedback. The standards, which encourage local firms to enhance their business practices and spread economic opportunities to workers from disadvantaged communities, require the program’s participating contractors to: pay their employees family-supporting wages; provide health care; hire new staff from designated community training programs; and employ a diverse workforce.

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