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).
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.
With 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.
- 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.
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.
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.