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What Works – Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements

How do you motivate homeowners to invest in comprehensive home upgrades that eliminate energy waste, avoid high energy bills and spur the economy?  The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) just published a study of lessons learned from residential energy efficiency programs from around the country.

In the report’s executive summary, the authors conclude:

in retrospect many of these lessons seem obvious: Forge strong local partnerships.  Find out what people care about.  Speak their language.  Sell something people want.  Be trustworthy.

Whether obvious or not, these results are not surprising to anyone who’s been involved with the planning and execution of Green Needham’s Home Energy Efficiency Improvements program.  The HEEI seminars focus on a significant aspect of this big challenge  by targeting the key barriers preventing people from taking advantage of opportunities that would reduce their energy use, save money and increase their comfort and the value of their homes .

The approach taken by the HEEI seminars is to bring in trusted local experts to walk through the process from  identifying the high-value opportunities to taking action on them. The goal is to provide enough information and motivation to help people take the next steps.

What’s so encouraging about the LBNL study is that so many of their lessons learned reflect what we have been doing in our program.  At the same time, the study provides ideas for further development and improvements that incorporate the experience of many other programs.

Some examples of the “lessons learned” that are found in the current HEEI program:

  • It is not enough to provide information; programs must sell something people want – the HEEI seminars focus on how making improvements saves them money and makes their homes more comfortable
  • Time spent studying the target population is important – we designed HEEI with the understanding that over half the homes in Needham are more than 50 years old. Both older people who’ve lived in their homes a long time and younger people who have moved into existing houses can benefit from making home improvements but may need help getting started
  • Partner with trusted messengers – The cornerstone of the HEEI program is that is being brought to homeowners by people they know – a local organization (Green Needham) with presenters who are local businesses and residents
  • Make it easy, make it fast – While this speaks especially to the process of executing home improvements, it also reflects the approach giving people enough information to get started in one short session.

Some of the lessons that can be incorporated into our work going forward are:

  • Persistence and consistency are valuable – It takes time for partnerships and messages to “take root”, so it’s important to maintain the program over an extended period to gain momentum
  • Contractors are program ambassadors and should be full partners – The HEEI program reflects this in using professional domain experts for the seminars, but we can clearly reach deeper into our local professional contracting community
  • Know success and failure by measuring it, and experiment to figure out what works – The HEEI program, in partnership with Needham Opportunities, Inc., has taken some initial steps to follow up on seminars, but there is clearly an opportunity for much greater interaction with participants

You can find the program page and the full study here – Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements.

If you could help incorporate some of these ideas into Green Needham’s HEEI program, or if you would like to have an HEEI seminar at your organization or business or just have questions about the program, please contact Bill Okerman or Michael Greis.

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