Starting an Energy Efficiency Program in Your Town

Last month, we explored several funding options available for starting an energy efficiency initiative in your community. Establishing incentives like retrofit rebates, energy audit subsidies, or even revolving loans are great options, but they aren’t everything. There’s a lot you can accomplish with much less money--namely, educating town officials, contractors and homeowners about the many benefits of home performance. This simple strategy can be incredibly effective, as shown by the Claremont Home Energy Retrofit Project (CHERP).  

The CHERP Story

Devon Hartman, the principal of Hartman Energy Strategies, got the idea to start CHERP while attending a building science class. He recognized that home performance was the answer to reaching Claremont’s sustainability goals, since 80% of its electricity was going to residential uses.  But with the economy faltering in 2008, Devon knew municipal funding for a retrofit project was unlikely, especially since municipal budgets were being slashed. Additionally, Devon had been advised from industry experts that rebates and incentives were needed in order to get homeowners to care about energy efficiency.

With no money, a tanking economy, a bunch of skeptics, and no rebate programs available, Devon set out to inspire 100 homeowners to get energy retrofits. Reflecting on his own contracting business, Devon knew that homeowners kept springing for items such as granite countertops even though there were no available rebates, third party incentives or even a clear payback calculation. This is because people buy things when the value proposition is right: granite countertops are aesthetically pleasing and durable, are an indication of a home’s quality, and improve a home’s resale value.  In other words, the value proposition is right in the homeowner’s mind.

With this concept in mind, and using time-tested marketing strategies, Devon prioritized educating the public as to the many benefits of home performance--comfort, health, monthly savings, indoor air-quality, noise reduction, sustainability, durability, and more. His first move was to go to City Hall to try and speak with the mayor, city planners, and anyone else who would listen for that matter. This was an important first step, because homeowners need several points of validation before they’ll recognize building science as legitimate, and having public officials on your side helps the cause.

From City Hall, Devon extended the conversation to local trade groups and nonprofits to build a team of knowledgeable volunteers, including those skilled in building science and others in public education. He recruited professors, journalists, environmental scientists and contractors. CHERP also joined forces with an organization called “Sustainable Claremont,” which greatly improved his volunteer base, marketing reach, and funding, which to this point was nil.  

CHERP 4th of July ParadeWith a small, educated team assembled, CHERP pounded the pavement holding lectures, workshops, celebrations, and tours of recently retrofitted homes. They also set up a mailing list, started a blog, and contributed to a local newspaper series entitled, “Demystifying Sustainability.”  And as the excitement grew, home energy upgrades began to happen.  CHERP volunteers visited these early-adopter homeowners and created case studies detailing homeowner motivations, experiences and results.  Check out the CHERP website for a great library of case studies.  

Today, CHERP is one of the most successful home performance programs in the country, having completed close to 100 residential retrofits. Their goal of retrofitting 1% (130 homes) of Claremont’s housing stock is rapidly approaching, so CHERP is doubling down and resetting the goal at 10% (1300 homes). Devon is quick to point out that the subsequent rebates are now helping and that he has a great relationship with the Energy Upgrade California program, but that CHERP is not designed to be dependent on utility programs.

Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.  If you want to create a buzz about home performance in your community, don’t wait for the grants to come flowing in.  Start the conversation today. Talk to anyone who will listen--some will and some won’t. You have many tactics at your disposal, from workshops to storming City Hall.  Remember, building science is interesting work, and if explained correctly, will resonate with people.
  1. Talk about the Benefits.  Marketing the benefits of your product or service is nothing new, and is quite effective when the value proposition is right. The good news for us in the home performance industry is that our product is valuable in and of itself--a safe, comfortable and durable home with manageable heating and cooling costs.

  1. Speak up.  Forming strong community relationships is an important aspect to your overall marketing strategy. Not everyone has the disposition to barge into City Hall extolling the benefits of home performance, but this doesn’t mean you sit quietly on the sidelines. Maybe you start with neighbors, attend community events, participate in town government, or write to the newspaper. You don’t have to be the catalyst for the home performance movement in your town; you can also play a pivotal role as one of the all-important points of validation for curious homeowners.

Thoughts? Comments, concerns? Feel free to chime in in the comments section.


Nice work! Excellent case study and guidance for everyone. Especially... don't wait for the grants!

Was this all volunteer? Any paid staff or assistance from any day staff? Did. This group have any costs in its efforts?

I believe CHERP did not receive any funding until it teamed up with Sustainable Claremont--a local community organization.  Further, I think CHERP is still completely volunteer-based.  Although considereable progress was made with no money, it can't be overlooked that CHERP was fortunate to have a group of smart, committed volunteers who understood both building science and public education. 

Peter Troast's picture

@Anon: there were definitely some hard costs associated with CHERP. We did their primary web presence at a discount, but not for free. They received some support from City of Claremont staff. Devon Hartman and I are working on a case study that will detail it. 

The larger point, though, is that some mostly volunteer awareness building combined with strong communications on the web can make a huge difference in the penetration of energy retrofits. The singularity of their goal--# of retrofits completed--is clearly a big part of CHERP's success. 

While not zero cost (what is?) it is a stunning success story, especially when compared to some of the richly funded ARRA and utility programs.

Yes, great story. I was just trying to figure out how one can replicate it, and also my own takeaway, which I think is that strong committee volunteers need not feel frustrated by lack of town government support, or absence of rebates or grant programs; strong local leadership and focus (and a great name and logo :-) ) can bring about real measurable actions. And it is a great message to get out there.

Peter Troast's picture

@Anon: we are actively seeking out additional communities in which to test this concept. Claremont, CA is obviously a unique place. We're anxious to test the concept in diverse places--really small towns, different income levels, conservative and liberal, various climate zones, etc.

If you're interested in keeping the dialogue going outside this thread: ptroast at energycircle dot com

@Anon: your takeaway is exactly what we were hoping to inspire by creating this case study in city engagement - that a small group (starting with one! - you?) of passionate individuals can very effectively educate an entire city on the extraordinary benefits of building science and energy efficiency and inspire them to take action. The cost is time -time to give workshops, energy parties, city meetings, community organization presentations. Alignment with other groups with overlapping missions creates great synergies. Close coordination with at least one great home performance contractor is critical for execution at high performance levels, continued education, and client satisfaction.

One more thought... we designed the CHERP logo to work in any community and we are willing to share so you don't have to reinvent the wheel. We are the Claremont Home Energy Retrofit Project but it's also designed to be the Community Home Energy Retrofit Project. So we imagined, for example, a,
a, or a

Peter Troast's picture

Wow. That's incredibly generous, Devon. Thanks. 

and I would be remiss not to chime in that Energize NY (which started like CHERP -- unfunded and staffed by volunteers but now ARRA funded) is following this same "deep dive" into communities. We just got in the numbers of completed upgrades for July -- summer traditionally a downturn in numbers of upgrades -- and they are outstanding. This method WORKS!

Peter Troast's picture

Thanks Heather. We'd love to do a similar piece about your program as well. I had many good long discussions this week with...the coach.

Hi! The Coach -- he's the man.
It would be great if you did a piece on ENY. I will be in Maine end of next week so can meet in person if you like. I'd like that.
Here's the recently released New Energy Cities report in which ENY is featured:

Peter Troast's picture

Thanks for the report. Let's definitely get together end of next week. Let me know your schedule. 

Devon, clearly you have an excellent website, name and acronym (and love that you are interested in having CHERPs in other geographic locations). So far so good. But what is essential to getting homeowner to take action in your program vs other areas? I am working with a group that has implemented a small Revolving Loan Program successfully; up until then, their education and outreach efforts resulted in very little action by homeowners. We have concluded that energy efficiency is more like selling a product, than a political campaign. Thoughts?

Peter Troast's picture

Ann--yes, absolutely. It is a product and needs to be sold like one. 

Ann - Like Peter says, Home Performance is classic product marketing, with all the attending message segmentation around it's approx 20 different benefits, aimed at the demographics most receptive to those benefits. It doesn't hurt, however, that some of the benefits accrue to the public at large and cities in particular when those cities have climate action or other sustainable goals. So, a piece of your marketing initiatives should be to encourage political action and grass roots movement where ever possible because there is a definite overlapping mission for Home Performance contractors and a city that has climate action goals (mitigating Global Warming is the law in California). One great manifestation of a mutually beneficial marketing initiative between a city and their Home Performance contractors that was when we held a city-wide celebration of energy retrofitting where the Mayor of Claremont handed out $250 checks (from EECBG block grant funds) to every homeowner who had completed a retrofit through the Energy Upgrade California program. - Never, in 35 years of designing, remodeling and building homes (, have I seen a city hand out checks and congratulate homeowners for putting on a room addition, buying a new HVAC system, or remodeling their kitchen!

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