DOE Announces Report on Encouraging Homeowners to Invest in Energy Efficiency Improvements
November 10, 2010
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently released a report on how governments and industry can spark homeowners to seek out home energy improvements, or retrofits, which save energy and money for consumers. Energy efficiency upgrades include energy saving improvements such as adding insulation, sealing air ducts, installing high-efficiency lighting, enhancing or replacing windows and doors, and replacing furnaces, heat pumps, water heaters, and air conditioners. Called "Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements," this study will help ensure that the Department's investments in energy efficiency provide taxpayers with a high rate of return on their investments, deliver the maximum impact in local communities, and support a self-sustaining industry for residential energy efficiency improvements that will help grow America's economy and create new jobs.
The report is aimed primarily at policy makers and energy efficiency program designers, especially those new to the field. The authors examined 14 residential energy efficiency programs, conducted an extensive literature review, interviewed industry experts, and surveyed residential contractors to draw lessons from first generation programs. The report highlights emerging best practices, provides insights into how to increase the effectiveness of incentive programs for comprehensive home energy improvements, and suggests methods and approaches to use in designing, implementing, and evaluating these programs. The report's findings will guide future investments for DOE's residential energy efficiency programs and similar state and local programs. The report's conclusions include:
- It is not enough to provide information, programs must offer something people want: High home energy use is not currently a pressing issue for many people. It is more important to identify an issue that people are drawn to such as health, comfort, energy security, competition, or community engagement to attract interest.
- It is important to know your target audience: A blanket marketing campaign to reach "everyone" will likely be ineffective and expensive, especially at the start of a program. The more effective approach is to find and target early adopters and tailor messages directly to this important audience. Demographics can help program administrators better understand the market and select optimal strategies. Organizers can also segment the market by interest in hot issues such as health concerns or the likelihood of getting savings.
- Partner with trusted messengers: Larger subsidies and more voluminous mailings don't necessarily win over more customers. Programs can and should have a local face, with buy-in from community leaders. Tapping trusted parties, such as local leaders and local organizations, builds upon existing relationships and networks.
- Language is powerful: Avoid meaningless or negatively associated words like "retrofit" and "audit." Use words and ways of communicating that tap into customers' existing mental frames. Encourage program staff and contractors to use specific vivid examples, personalize the material wherever possible, frame statements in terms of loss rather than gain, and generate a public commitment from the homeowners.
- Contractors are program ambassadors: Contractors, more than any other party, are the people sitting across the kitchen counter making the final sales pitch to a homeowner – contractors are often the public face and primary sales force for the program. Most programs that succeed in performing a significant number of energy upgrades have worked closely with contractors. Conversely, poor first impressions or shoddy work by contractors can reflect poorly on the program.
- Make it easy, make it fast: Offer seamless, streamlined services such as packaged incentives, minimized paperwork, and pre-approved contractors. By making it simple, it will make the decision to invest in home energy improvements even easier.
The report concludes that success will require multifaceted approaches that acknowledge a deeper understanding of what motivates homeowners and what contractors are concerned about. Effective programs will tend to be tailored to the location, thoughtfully researched and piloted, personalized to the target audience, and more labor-intensive than simple incentive programs.
Read more information about the report. The report and signup links for upcoming Webinars and email lists on this subject are available. Download the complete report.
This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program. For more information on the Program, see the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program Web site.