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Browse key issues that many residential energy efficiency programs need to address. Select a topic below to see related resources, including case studies, presentations, tools, calculators, templates, and more.

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Branding is a way of presenting, positioning, and talking about a program consistently to target audiences to encourage a certain feeling, action, or behavior.

A business model is comprised of an organization or business's motivations and revenue generating opportunities. Typical business models for providing energy efficiency products and services have been documented for utility and non-utility program administrators, remodelers, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) contractors, home performance contractors, home inspectors, utilities, energy service companies, retailers, and others.

Community events allow for face-to-face contact with target audiences and provide a venue to deliver messages to potential customers by trusted sources.

Community-based social marketing aims to change the behavior of a target audience within a group, neighborhood, or town based on principles of behavioral psychology and community dynamics.

Competitions and challenges among households or towns are intended to increase program participation by creating a sense of urgency and tapping into people’s competitive spirit.

Business operations and sales training can help contractors generate leads, convert leads into upgrades, and use processes that ensure quality in their work while promoting customer satisfaction. Training may cover budget planning, marketing, sales, customer service, scheduling, project management, and quality assurance.

Cost-effectiveness tests compare the benefits of a utility or non-utility program’s investment in energy efficiency with its associated costs. The five most common tests used by public utility commissions are: the participant cost test (PCT), the utility/program administrator cost test (PACT), the ratepayer impact measure test (RIM), the total resource cost test (TRC), and the societal cost test (SCT).

Customer engagement tactics aim to increase the likelihood that a customer will participate fully in a program by forming a relationship between the customer and the program or contractor. From pledges (which provide contractor leads and engage potential customers without requiring a full commitment from them) to testimonials (which encourage homeowners to share their upgrade experience with others), engaging customers in multiple ways can help increase program successes.

Establishing written data collection agreements will clarify data ownership, privacy, permission, types of data, and procedures for transferring data a program will obtain. Data collection agreements signed by homeowners are typically required for utilities to release billing data to a program or contractor; programs might also need to establish a formal agreement with lenders for any kind of data sharing. Program administrators are responsible for protecting consumer privacy and ensuring that all relevant parties use the appropriate forms, obtain data owner permissions, and avoid the release of confidential data.

Data exchange specifications help facilitate the transfer of data between software systems used by a program and its partners or stakeholders. A standard specification for transferring data reduces the need to develop a data transfer protocol each time two systems need to transfer information. Home performance XML (HPXML) is one emerging example for transferring data collected during an in-home assessment to a program’s IT system.

Managing data quality requires establishing processes to ensure that data collected is accurate and used appropriately for evaluative purposes. Inaccurate or misleading data can invalidate evaluation results and negatively impact program performance. Strategies for data quality management include establishing data collection processes that minimize the risk of collecting bad data (e.g., pre-populated fields, testing of data collection forms/tools, clear directions and training for anyone collecting program data), desk-auditing collected data for perceived anomalies, onsite verification, and other strategies.

Deep energy upgrades aim to save at least 50% total energy use in homes. Work scopes are based on whole building assessments that review all building systems together. In addition to focusing on reducing energy use, deep energy upgrades often also address issues such as moisture control and ventilation which may be affected by upgrade measures.

Demonstration homes and displays allow potential customers to see energy efficiency improvements that have been completed in neighborhood homes and speak directly to homeowners and/or contractors about the process and its results.

Energy advisors are typically program staff who help customers understand, manage, and successfully navigate the home energy assessment and upgrade processes. Customer services can range from providing independent technical advice to serving as the customer’s primary point of contact for all program services. A program’s decision to use energy advisors varies by community needs and program resources.

Energy efficient mortgages (EEMs) allow borrowers to include the cost of energy efficiency improvements in a mortgage. Lenders offer EEMs through allowing increases in the amount that a borrower can borrow relative to the property value and the debt that the borrower is eligible to carry relative to their income. The Federal Housing Administration and Fannie Mae offer versions of EEMs.

Energy modeling, or simulation, is the practice of using software to model the energy performance of a home or its systems. Modeling is typically used by contractors or programs to estimate the energy savings that a customer could expect from completing various energy efficiency improvements.

To predict energy savings, program administrators select among different approaches (e.g., modeled savings, deemed savings, hybrid methods) that use information about the quantity and type of building improvements and engineering estimates of expected energy savings. Energy savings estimates may differ from actual energy use because of weather, home size, number of occupants, occupant behavior, installation quality, or other factors.

Impact evaluations are the traditional approach to verifying program energy savings because they measure actual reductions in consumption by a residential energy efficiency program’s participants. Formal impact evaluations seek to isolate the attributable impacts of a program’s efforts by adjusting for weather differences and independent forces by comparison with a control group.

Incentives are tools to motivate potential or current customers or stakeholders to take a prescribed action by lowering risk and decreasing upfront costs. The incentive can be financial (e.g., rebates, limited-time offers, special interest rates) or non-financial (e.g., public recognition, prizes, awards).

Information Technology (IT) systems help program administrators efficiently and effectively track energy upgrade activities, workflow, and data involving customers, contractors, utility and financial partners, and other stakeholders. Program managers need to consider the pros and cons of buying or developing a data collection solution that will meet their specific needs for aggregating, analyzing, storing, and visualizing data for program management, as well as a source of data for evaluations.

The financial industry includes a range of lending institution types. These include community banks, credit unions, non-bank finance companies (leasing company or specialized financial institutions), national energy efficiency lenders, community development financial institutions, utility-partnering lenders, and state-chartered (state-level) bond authorities. Each lender type will have its own goals and unique perspectives with respect to financing residential energy efficiency upgrades.

Loan loss reserves (LLRs) are funds provided by third parties that offer partial risk coverage to lenders. LLRs cover a pre-specified amount or percent of losses from loans that default on payments. This loss coverage typically allows financial institutions to offer a lower interest rate or longer term to borrowers, as well as less restrictive underwriting requirements (e.g., higher application approval percentages) or both. LLRs have been used successfully to encourage financial institutions to offer products for financing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

A loan is created through a series of procedural steps called origination. Steps include assembling the application file, issuing disclosures, underwriting the loan, processing the loan, producing required documents, collecting data, closing or settling the loan, and funding the loan. After a loan is closed, it is “boarded” (loaded into a database) and “serviced”. Servicing consists of sending monthly statements or invoices to the borrower, processing “remittances” (payments), updating the loan information, and performing collection activities for loans that do not pay on time.

Loan performance refers to the rate at which loaned funds return to the lender, taking into account pre-payments (e.g., partial or complete payoffs made prior to their due date), delinquencies (e.g., late payments), and defaults (e.g., losses or payments late enough to be considered losses by the lender). Expected loan performance will drive lenders’ decisions regarding interest rate, loan terms, and underwriting criteria, all of which influence customer uptake.

Loan underwriting is the process performed by a lender to decide if an applicant should be approved for a loan. The process typically involves confirming the eligibility of a borrower and the property and project, and an evaluation of the borrower’s ability and perceived willingness to repay. Typical criteria lenders review include borrowers’ loan payment performance history, credit score, income, debt, and employment.

Low-income households make up roughly one-third of the population nationally. These households tend to have older, less efficient appliances and equipment, making them good candidates for energy efficiency programs. They also have energy costs that account for a higher percentage of household income than in non-low income households.

Market segmentation divides target audiences into categories based on their attitudes, attributes, buying habits, or other characteristics. With this information, teams can research and craft messages that will resonate with specific audience groups and implement targeted marketing tactics to reach them effectively.

Media can be an effective way of communicating your program and its benefits to broad audiences. Media can be paid, earned, or social in nature; each type has a different purpose.

Messages that resonate with key target audiences are critical to a successful energy efficiency program. To motivate action, messages on communications materials need to resonate with the target audience and make a strong, immediate, and positive impression on a program’s potential customers.

Financing needs in the multifamily sector are different from those in the single family sector, requiring innovative financing options because ownership structures are often more complex (e.g., multiple owners and mortgages) and equipment is shared among the tenants and owners (e.g., furnaces or boilers, common area lighting and facilities).

Neighborhood sweeps are geographically targeted campaigns to reach a specific audience in an identified community over a defined period of time.

Energy efficiency programs provide identifiable benefits beyond energy savings, such as health and safety improvements, job creation, economic development, avoided emissions, and water savings. Quantifying these non-energy benefits may help program administrators demonstrate progress toward stated program and/or policy goals, or increase general awareness and support for program activities.

On-bill financing (OBF) and on-bill repayment (OBR) allow energy efficiency improvements to be financed or repaid through the utility bill. With OBF, the improvements are funded by utility shareholder or ratepayer funds, and repaid by customers on their utility bills. With OBR, the improvements are funded by a third party and repaid on the utility bill. The payment obligation may be presented as a tariff and “attached” to the meter. This means that the payment obligation must be assumed by the account associated with the individual meter (i.e., whoever is responsible for payment of the utility bill) rather than a specific borrower.

Pilot projects allow programs to gain direct experience in their markets, while testing and refining program design and processes before full-scale launch.

Policies and regulations - such as energy efficiency targets, utility cost-effectiveness tests, and financial regulations - influence how an organization can provide energy efficiency services.

The PowerSaver loan is an energy-related home improvement loan offered under the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) Title 1 home improvement loan insurance program. As of early 2014, this loan provides credit-worthy borrowers with low-cost, long-term funds to make energy efficiency improvements to their homes. The program supports lenders by offering insurance that covers 90% of the loss amount on loans up to $25,000.

A process evaluation systematically assesses an energy efficiency program in order to document its operations and identify improvements that would enhance its efficiency or effectiveness, while maintaining high levels of participant satisfaction. A process evaluation may be accomplished in-house or performed by an independent third-party.

Process flow diagrams illustrate key steps, decision points, and interaction points between programs, contractors, and partners from home energy upgrade project inception to completion. They are an important tool for ensuring effective coordination at critical points in the assessment and upgrade process, and identifying opportunities to streamline program processes.

Program dashboards are tracking tools that summarize metrics for monitoring progress toward meeting program goals, objectives, and efficient program processes. For many programs, they are an important tool for assessing and improving programs over time and communicating results to partners and stakeholders.

Quality assurance ensures that upgrades meets agreed upon technical standards established by programs, contractors, and/or other partners. Strategies range from requiring certification of contractors, through processes to ensure the technical quality of installed improvements, to soliciting customer feedback once projects have been fully completed. Quality assurance protects homeowners by providing an independent review of the upgrade work performed by contractors to ensure that it meets programs' technical standards. Quality assurance also protects the reputation of a program.

A growing number of studies suggest that some homebuyers are willing to pay a premium for energy-efficient homes. Real estate professionals are increasingly aware homebuyers consider heating and cooling costs, efficient appliances, and efficient lighting to be important factors in home purchase decisions. Residential energy efficiency and real estate stakeholders, however, agree that the home resale process frequently fails to account for the value of high-performance home features.

A request for proposals (RFP) is often necessary to engage the services of a program implementation partner or third party evaluator. A RFP should have a well-defined scope of work and clear description of how proposals will be evaluated.

Funding for organizational and program activities can come from a variety of sources including, but not limited to, ratepayer funds collected by utilities, grants (federal, state, foundation, etc.), and income from services provided to program participants or contractors. In many cases, individual revenue streams will have specific requirements on how the funding may be spent as well as specific reporting requirements.

A revolving loan fund is capital that is designated as funding for a specific purpose (e.g., to fund energy efficiency and/or renewable energy improvements). Typically, as loan repayments are received, those funds are consolidated and lent out to new borrowers, thus the revolving nature.

Technical standards define the minimum requirements of home energy upgrades to ensure that the work performed is effective, durable, and safe. Specifying standards helps program administrators meet objectives with minimal confusion among contractors. Standards can include quality installation practices and minimum equipment efficiencies. These requirements should form the basis of training and quality assurance.

Technician standards encompass training, certification, experience and conduct requirements for home performance professionals. These standards may be combined with contractor-level requirements such as accreditation, warranties, and dispute resolution policies. Technicians are individuals employed by contractor companies.

Giving customers a good experience and encouraging them to refer friends to a program and its contractors are low-cost, high-trust methods for generating demand for your program services. People often trust the opinions of friends, family, and co-workers more than a program or contractor promoting its services.

Public, private, and non-profit organizations often seek to work in partnership with investor-owned and municipal utilities to provide energy efficiency services. Utilities may already offer energy efficiency services that other organizations can enhance or promote, and utilities typically have access to energy consumption data that helps track program success.