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Efficiency Program Q&A: When the in-home audit is the retrofit

Efficiency Program Q&A: When the in-home audit is the retrofit
December 1, 2011 Anne Maertens

For the second article in EnergySavvy’s series of interviews with energy efficiency program managers, we turned to Craig Clark, Connecticut Light and Power’s Program Administrator for Residential Programs.

Clark’s residential energy efficiency program, the Home Energy Solutions (HES) program, is designed to make $750 worth of energy efficiency retrofits the day of the in-home analysis. The cost to the homeowner is $75, which Clark believes is enough of a hook to keep the homeowner interested but not too much to scare them away.

For HES participants that are interested in “swinging for the green fences” and completing a whole-home retrofit, Clark says Northeast Utilities offers a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. In addition to the initial $750 worth of retrofits, which includes air sealing, duct sealing, lighting upgrades and more, Northeast Utilities will pay 50 percent of the cost of the home retrofit or 50 percent of the deemed savings (whichever is less).

Many utilities include direct install measures at the time of the in-home audit — to book savings associated with the audit — but Clark’s HES program, and a few others around the country, go a step further to combine the in-home audit and a light retrofit into a single visit. How does it work and why?

Here’s what Clark had to say:

Q: How many homes is the program hoping to retrofit?

About 14,000 to 15,000 homes in 2011. The vendors average 1,300 assessments a month with as many as 3,000 per month during the busiest periods of the program.

A lot of people think, “Why the heck are you saving people what you sell them? What’s going on here?” That sounds counter productive, but we explain that buying energy efficiency is more cost effective than buying energy. Investing in energy efficiency has a much better payback then buying energy. If we can show that down the road we’re not going to have to build more power plants and substations, that’s going to save us a lot of money. A homeowners’ average savings after working with the HES program is $200 per year, which shows that energy efficiency is a resource.

Q: How is the Home Energy Solutions in-home survey structured?

We have two vendors go to a home to do a complete survey of the home, and hopefully the customers walk around with them during the assessment. The vendors are there for half a day, and they make as many upgrades as they can on the spot.

There are obviously major upgrades like insulation, HVAC, windows and other improvements homeowners can make later, and we have rebates for all those things as well.

After the assessment, the vendors sit down with the customer to tell them, “Here’s how leaky your house is, here’s what we’d like to do: for example, install CFL’s, do some air and duct sealing, put in some water saving measures,” and then they have the homeowner sign off on the work plan so HES vendors can make the improvements while they’re in the home. That was the main reason for the path we chose rather than strictly a whole-home audit program. If you don’t get in there and do the possible upgrades on that first visit, you’re going to miss out on some people completely.

After installing the on-spot measures, the vendors follow up with the homeowners. They provide estimates for further upgrade costs, savings and paybacks. They also provide the rebates for the measures that are recommended.

Q: What tools do you use to educate homeowners?

During the “kitchen table wrap-up”, we present homeowners with a toolbox to educate them on all of the resources that are out there. This includes all of the info on what is done to their house, tax credits and financing information, how to dispose of CFLs and other education pieces.

Q: How do you measure program success?

First of all, if I make my goal to be cost effective. We want to complete as many measures as we can without going over budget. We get paid via the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund at the end of the year based on if we spent our budget, but didn’t overspend, and came in at a certain measure of cost-effectiveness.

The other thing I think really kind of speaks for itself is that 80 percent of the surveys we receive back from homeowners say they heard about the program from a family member or a friend.

About 30 percent of homeowners who participate in the program respond to the surveys. So if most people are participating in the program because it was recommended by a family member or a friend, that says most homeowners had a good experience. Word of mouth sells a job more than any marketing can do.

Q: When did this program start? When is it expected to end?

The program started in 2006, and eventually we want to have it completely market based, but I think it will take five years to get there. We’re on such a roll and achieving so much energy efficiency, but I think we still need to have some ratepayer based funding for now.

We’re always tweaking the program, and the goal has always been to make it a true market-based program so customers understand that energy efficiency is worth something and make it something homeowners are willing to pay for. Everybody tunes up their car to make sure they’re getting the best mileage. What about your house? We need to change that mentality to make sure energy efficiency is in the homeowners’ budgets–to make sure a house is running as efficiently as possible.

We’re also working toward building up the trade itself. Six years ago, there were only two or three contractors who did home energy efficiency. We now have 25 vendors with 124 technicians amongst them.

Q: What advice would you give to other program managers with similar programs?

Try not to have dips and valleys in your funding. Sometimes I think we shouldn’t have accepted stimulus funding because it caused us to expand too quickly, now we have to back off and that hurts the industry. It’s good to have paced and gradual growth.

Also, have a good relationship with the vendors. Don’t just let them run out there. I communicate with our vendors everyday. They’re the only ones who can tell you what’s happening on the ground.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

How are other programs getting homeowners to take out $7,000 to $10,000 in financing to pay for deep retrofits? How do you get homeowners to do the deep level of retrofits? We only have 8 to 10 percent of homeowners doing more than what they get at the standard HES level.

I go to all of the meetings like NEEP, ACI, and CEE everyone is talking about deep energy retrofits, we do all we can to get homeowners to act on the further measures but the uptake is very low. What percentage of homeowners in other programs are doing these deep retrofits?

Craig Clark earned a B.S. in Environmental Sciences from San Jose State University. Clark has worked in the residential energy efficiency business since 1989. Currently the CL&P Program Administrator for various residential energy efficiency efforts that are funded by the CT Energy Efficiency Fund, CT gas companies and Federal Stimulus grants including the development and management of the comprehensive, building science based Home Energy Solutions program that services 2,000 homes per month and employs over 200 green helmet workers. Clark is an active member of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partners, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency and the Affordable Comfort Institute as a member of the Northeast Conference Planning Committee. He is also active in the CT Energy Workforce Development Consortium and member of the Green Work Force subgroup.

This article is the second of a series of industry best practice articles. If you’ve got a good idea for a program or story for us to cover, let us know.

Correction: The Home Energy Solutions program is supported by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund.