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Thriving in Utility Energy Efficiency Programs

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Above all else, a contractor is a businessperson. Whether as a sole proprietor or large corporation, the contractor working within a utility’s energy efficiency program only does so ancillary to his business model. I started Precise Building Performance, five years ago as an energy efficiency auditor and quality control specialist working for utilities and energy efficiency implementation companies. In the years since, my company has grown and we have worked with several energy efficiency programs from Distribution Utilities to Generation and Transmission Utilities. Our roles have also grown to include assessments, consulting, and program development and implementation. We have made it one of our core missions to assist HVAC contractors in our area to become as successful as possible. I have truly learned a lot. I have seen contractors come and go, the successful ones learning to utilize the program as a growth tool. In this article I will identify and discuss three areas, which if given proper consideration can help the contractor working in an energy efficiency program sell more jobs, receive more referrals, acquire happier customers, increase the quality of their work, and create more efficient, comfortable, healthy, and safe homes.

The most successful HVAC companies buy in to an energy efficiency program across departments at all echelons of leadership. The concept of ‘buy in’ starts at the top. Perhaps the single most important duty a leader can fulfill is that of setting a mission statement. A clear and concise mission statement regarding the energy efficiency program is the first step towards making the program work for the organization. If your program offers rebates, one example of a mission statement might be, “Every customer gets a rebate.” The most successful contractors we’ve assisted have been those whose top leaders (primarily company owners) have wholeheartedly bought into the concept of creating more efficient, comfortable, healthy, and safe homes. A company owner’s total buy in of a program will have a trickle down affect to sales associates and installation crews. As these company owners came to believe in the program as a tool rather than a hindrance, sales increased and company moral increased as well.

With an established understanding of how the program benefits their organization as well as their customers, personnel require a firm understanding of how to implement the program within their area of expertise. Train crews to view projects from a whole home approach. This means that a broader understanding of building science may help a crew avoid inadvertent mistakes. Install crews approaching projects from a whole home standpoint will ultimately create higher quality finished projects; certainly something for crews to take pride in. Sales people should also understand these concepts in a way that allows them to close more sales. A whole home approach includes efficiency, comfort, health, and safety in a way that otherwise may not be considered. Any homeowner appreciates your efforts on their behalf across a spectrum of helpfulness.

Recognize that implementation of a new program will involve growing pains. Patience is key when learning how to ensure work is conducted to program standards. It is a likely possibility that some installation habits may have to be broken. If crews are struggling to see the real benefits of the program consider requesting assistance, data or even success stories from program managers.

Finally, feedback from those on the ground (i.e. you the contractor and your install crews) to program managers can assist making the program more helpful, realistic and successful for all those involved. Program managers often struggle to understand what is really happening on the ground. Feedback from those “in the trenches” can help the program manager set realistic expectations, which in turn alleviates unnecessary stress and demands on the contractor. An energy efficiency program will never start off perfect. Contractors’ input is needed to make the program increasingly beneficial to consumers and more palatable for contractors. When criticizing the program, do so in private. Public criticism never accomplishes a goal, however private input to program managers on what issues are causing problems can help make programs more successful. Offer to help program managers with data they may need about equipment cost or man-hours. Often this information is needed to determine program cost and effectiveness. As you notice trends in the field and receive direct feedback from customers, share those lessons learned with program managers.

Russell Philpott
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Posted In: Building Performance, Residential Buildings

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