It is time to put all of your planning efforts to work by launching your program, recruiting and enrolling contractors, working with them to deliver energy efficiency upgrades, and collaborating with training provider partners to develop the energy efficiency workforce. All of the essential parts of your program—including identifying your key partners, making design decisions developing your implementation plan, selecting evaluation metrics, and preparing key resources—should be in place before this stage.
This handbook provides guidance and resources to help you:
- Ensure that your program partners, procedures, plans and resources are ready
- Recruit and bring contractors on board
- Consider a soft launch or pilot to test systems, work flows, and processes
- Provide program delivery support for participating contractors
- Verify the quality of your program services
- Integrate workforce development with contractor engagement.
You will deliver the contractor engagement and workforce development component of your program in coordination with the other components of your residential energy efficiency program, and before you launch the program itself.
Ensure that your program partners, procedures, plans, and resources are ready
Before you launch, it is worthwhile to step back and ensure that you have the necessary elements in place to successfully engage contractors and help prepare the workforce. You will want to walk through the full range of contractor engagement and workforce development steps:
- Learn about the contractors and training providers in your local market, including contractors working in HVAC, insulation, air sealing, and other trades that could offer home energy upgrade services.
- Set goals and objectives for your contractor engagement and workforce development, such as job creation and quality and energy services delivered.
- Identify partners to recruit and establish ongoing relationships with your contractors and workforce development partners.
- Design procedures and standards for contractor participation and quality assurance to support efficient program-contractor interactions and delivery of high-quality work.
- Develop workforce development plans to train local technicians and help them find employment as home performance professionals.
- Develop evaluation plans to identify the key measures you will need to track your progress toward achieving your contractor and workforce objectives.
- Prepare key delivery resources to ensure that contractors, program staff, and training provider partners are able to complete the activities smoothly and efficiently.
Consider a soft launch or pilot to test systems, workflows, and processes
As discussed with the other program components, prior to wide-scale deployment, you should consider a soft launch or pilot of your program to test systems, workflows, and processes. A pilot program is an experimental effort to test a concept or approach to determine whether a more significant investment in the approach is justified, whereas a soft launch is the quiet startup of a program where growth is already planned.
Work with the contractors who have participated in the stakeholder engagement process to run your pilot or soft launch. On the contractor side, program participation can be costly and disruptive, increasingly so as program complexity rises. Consequently, contractors can be hesitant to participate in the program. On the program side, kinks in systems and processes often become apparent only after the system has deployed. If you decide to do a pilot program, you should do so after you have conducted initial contractor recruitment and training efforts so that you will have a base of contractors available to perform initial assessments and upgrades.
In your pilot (or soft launch), consider using a very intensive account manager approach in which you work very closely with initial contractors to test systems and also provide a high level of assistance to contractors as you work out kinks in your processes. The objective is twofold:
- You want to help contractors understand and work through program requirements, so they can succeed in the program. You can incorporate early successes into your marketing materials or contractor outreach materials (e.g., as testimonials and case studies to recruit other contractors, and in referrals).
- The pilot allows program staff to better understand deployment from the contractor’s perspective. The pilot also helps program staff spot problems in workflows, processes, forms, and program requirements. It is generally easier and less expensive to correct issues early on, before program volume ramps up. Similarly, insights on potential problem areas for your contractor partners can help you shift resources accordingly.
After conducting and learning from the pilot phase, you can shift your attention to launching the contractor engagement and workforce development components of your full program, followed by the launch of your overall program. This phase includes recruiting and onboarding contractors, providing contractor delivery support, verifying quality, and developing the workforce.
Boulder, Colorado Uses Pilot to Shape Program
Boulder, Colorado's EnergySmart program launched a small building pilot program in June 2010 to evaluate its approach and identify future workforce needs for completing building energy improvements—or energy-saving tune-ups—in the Boulder area. EnergySmart staff coordinated with local utilities, government entities, and other local partners to gather the following types of data to identify a sample of buildings for the pilot that would best represent the city's building stock:
- Building use
- Building size within specified ranges (e.g., between 5,000 and 50,000 square feet to avoid overlap with a local utility program)
- Type of cooling, heating, and air-handling equipment and the systems used to control them
- Decision-makers for the energy upgrades (e.g., building owner, tenant, property manager).
Based on an analysis of the sample of 15 buildings, Boulder established a set of common specific energy efficiency upgrades appropriate for similar buildings within the city, such as installing and scheduling programmable thermostats. Boulder found that all the buildings included in the pilot benefited from the energy-saving tune-ups. The pilot resulted in an average annual electricity savings of 9,468 kWh per building, an average annual utility cost savings of $1,995, and a total annual carbon dioxide emission savings of 259 tons.
As a result of the pilot, EnergySmart administrators understood the most common types of energy upgrades likely to be implemented. Lessons learned from the pilot included a greater understanding of seasonal factors, essential contractor training objectives, and realistic timelines for small buildings. After the pilot, EnergySmart distributed a customer survey to solicit participant feedback, and integrated lessons learned into contractor training.
Recruit and bring contractors onboard
Based on your program design and implementation plan and using your recruitment materials, begin recruiting contractors. Once your contractors are enrolled, you will help them acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, behaviors, and processes to begin making home energy upgrades.
By communicating and collecting input from contractors, Austin Energy developed a rich contractor network that serves as an extension of the utility’s direct staff. Austin Energy worked collaboratively with contractors during its highly successful Best Ever Offer promotion in 2010, intentionally launched during the slow contracting season to help ensure steady work for contractors and avoid seasonal layoffs.
Austin Energy hosted breakfast meetings with contractors to review launch plans and provide an opportunity for contractors to ask questions and receive training on various program components. The utility responded to concerns about how to market financing options such that contractors felt better equipped to work with homeowners interested in home energy upgrades. Another concern reported by contractors during these meetings was the timing of contractor payments. Contractors often have very tight budgets, so Austin Energy responded to concerns about the lengthy payment processing by creating a system that delivers electronic rebate reimbursements directly to contractors within two weeks.
Austin Energy is also providing bonus incentives so demand for contractors does not come to a sudden halt once promotion-related work is completed.
Source: Spotlight on Austin, Texas: Best Offer Ever Produces Upgrades in Record Time , U.S. Department of Energy, 2011.
If you have done a soft launch or pilot, you will have experience to build on. You can conduct a launch event combining recruiting and basic training functions as part of a larger conference or as a standalone event, offering technical training sessions alongside a formal recruiting launch. Staff will develop contractor leads based on your initial market assessment and partner identification and on new information you gather as you move forward (e.g. as you attract the attention of previously unidentified contractors, or contractors become interested who previously were not, or you learn more about the types of contractors you need, or etc.).
Depending on the complexity of your program and your resources, you may choose to hold one-on-one recruitment meetings to explain the program benefits and enrollment to individual potential contractors. Staff should be ready with the enrollment materials you have developed.
With successful recruiting, you move on to enrolling contractors. This step entails reviewing and approving applications, providing orientation, and checking that contractors are eligible and prepared to deliver services. Having developed enrollment material, you can facilitate communications, level expectations, and streamline this process.
Provide program delivery support for participating contractors
With contractors enrolled and eligible to participate, program staff can focus on support needed to ensure continued contractor participation. Much of the support revolves around your approach to managing the contractor relationship, from hands-off processing useful in simple programs, to more involved account management, to actively working with contractors on a project-by-project basis. Most residential energy efficiency programs that move beyond simple rebate programs gravitate toward some form of account management to establish a primary point of contact for participating contractors. See Develop Resources for more discussion of the account manager role.
Next, deliver the program-specific, technical, and business training that you have planned and prepared for in your implementation plan and that you developed resources to support. As you proceed, you should not only be providing support but also gathering information and feedback as identified in your evaluation plan. Doing so will allow you to assess how impactful your program is and to make improvements as needed.
Your contractor support and workforce development activities should be closely coordinated with other aspects of program delivery. In particular, closely monitor the effectiveness of your program’s marketing efforts, program design, and financing and align your contractor support and communications accordingly. Make sure that contractors know what kind of financing options are available to customers, and that they are equipped to communicate about financing and incentives with customers.
Michigan Provides Technical, Business, and Program Participation Mentoring
After providing technical training to contractors, Consumers Energy Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program in Michigan followed up with support for participating contractors. At one point, contractors became overwhelmed with program paperwork due to the number of applications they were required to complete (e.g. home performance surveys, energy efficiency kit installation surveys, reimbursement forms, etc.). The program deployed staff frequently to contractors’ offices to assist them with the process and paperwork, help break the bottleneck, and improve the program’s processes. The result was a steady stream of project completions. The program also expanded their technical training to include field mentoring.
The program went further to provide marketing and sales training using outside experts, including offering private coaching sessions. Program staff encouraged contractors to incorporate practices that would help their companies become self-sufficient as efficiency programs decreased or disappeared. This approach not only prepared contractors for the future but also strengthened their ability to participate more effectively within the program itself.
Verify the quality of your program services
As discussed in the guidance about your contractor engagement implementation plan, the quality of services that your program, contractors, and other partners deliver is fundamental to the integrity and success of your program. As you roll out your quality assurance activities, gather early data and feedback so that you can provide additional support or make adjustments when needed. These activities are discussed more fully in the Assess and Improve Processes handbook. Early success and real-time corrections to promote success are critical to the later participation of homeowners and contractors alike.
Integrate workforce development with contractor engagement
Much of your program’s training will focus on ensuring that contractors participating in your program and their employees have the program knowledge, technical skills, and business skills needed to successfully delivery high-quality services to customers. Your market assessment and implementation plan might also specify an independent workforce development strategy that focuses on increasing the number of qualified home performance professionals in the labor market. This effort to develop new members of the home performance workforce can happen in parallel with your contractor engagement efforts.
Trained home performance professionals do not have jobs and work unless contractors in your community need them; therefore, try to sequence workforce development activities, so that trainees are ready for work at the time contractors are ready to hire. This timing is difficult to manage, but the more closely you stay in contact with your participating contractors and monitor their labor needs, the better you will be able to match trainee development to job opportunities.
Community Power Works in Seattle piloted a new approach to training in order to meet contractor needs and the requirements of the city’s high-road workforce agreement. The program’s previous training programs did not meet contractor needs because they relied on an outdated model of training, failed to involve contractors in designing the training process and model, and lacked adequate support after the training for graduates to apply their skills and find jobs.
The new approach includes partnering with South Seattle Community College and the nonprofit Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, which offers classes and workshops, as well as participation by participating contractors. The program provides introductory prerequisite training to entry-level technicians who are new to home performance, as well as individual training modules that are tailored to more experienced workers (e.g. air sealing or shell insulation training modules). The program includes an option for contractors to hire entry-level technicians first, and then train them through the program. The training is free to the contractors. By establishing these ongoing collaborative partnerships, Community Power Works is developing a robust workforce of trained professionals for the future.
Source: Community Power Works Better Buildings Conference Presentation, Community Power Works, 2012.
Tips for Success
Establish collaborative partnerships with contractors and communicate with them early and often
Contractors are more likely to serve as program champions when the program engages with them throughout program design, delivery, and improvement. Your contractors are the primary contact points with your customers, and the quality of their interactions and services strongly influences how customers view your program. Many Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners found that gathering contractor input during the program’s planning phase helped ensure that the program would create value for contractors as well as for customers. The programs built personal relationships with contractors by demonstrating interest in their business concerns and needs. Indeed, an evaluation of over 140 programs across the United States found that programs were more successful when they fostered relationships with their contractors and communicated frequently with them.
Source: In Their Own Words: Engage with Contractors From Day One, U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
By communicating regularly (e.g., via a monthly breakfast meeting, other outreach events) with a core group of contractors, programs were able to better monitor program implementation and receive suggestions for improvement. These programs elicited feedback from contractors about how customers perceived program offerings, as well as input about what was working and what was not for both contractors and customers. Some programs surveyed contractors to collect a regular stream of information about how program implementation was going and to get feedback before rolling out new offers or program design changes.
- NeighborWorks of Western Vermont maintained steady lines of communication with its network of contractors to help ensure that barriers to getting work done in a timely manner were identified early and that solutions were collaborative. The program held monthly one-on-one meetings with each contractor to review client status and progress and to identify any problems and potential training opportunities. The program also organized bimonthly group contractors meetings focused specifically on sharing new techniques or products. NeighborWorks used regular contractor communications, performance feedback, and contractor incentives and competitions to help contractors improve their assessment-to-upgrade conversion rates. By engaging contractors and including them from the start on any proposed program revisions or promotions, NeighborWorks was able to improve program delivery.
- Enhabit, formerly Clean Energy Works Oregon, program is charged with saving energy and supporting clean economic growth. Much of its success has come from engaging contractors in a continual learning and improvement process. Enhabit solicits feedback from contractors at meetings every two weeks and uses this feedback to guide improvements. With support from the Energy Trust of Oregon, a few contractors collaborated to create the Home Performance Contractors Guild of Oregon, which enables contractors to organize their opinions into a unified voice and have a more formal role in program and regional policy discussions. When Enhabit engaged a new financing partner, the program asked the Guild to examine the loan product and approval process. Input from the Guild helped ensure that the product was something that contractors would be able to explain and promote to customers.
- In Washington State, the Repower Kitsap program started in a region where the home improvement market was fragmented and under-developed. Contractors were initially wary of one another, tended to work only in their specialty, and often did not have working relationships with one another. The program established monthly brown bag meetings to discuss program goals and requirements and to gather contractor input on the program. The monthly meetings helped contractors get to know and trust one another and develop productive working relationships. Many contractors even shared leads with other contractors who specialized in the types of projects they could not or did not want to handle.
- The Long Island Green Homes program began consulting with contractors during program design and continued to do so as the program launched and began full service operations. The program established contact with a core group of contractors it trusted, meeting with them regularly to review program status and direction. In particular, the program made it a priority to engage with contractors when rolling out program changes, asking them about their needs, concerns, and current state of business. In this way, the program ensured that program offerings were adding value for the home performance industry and that program requirements were manageable for contractors. For more information on the Long Island Green Homes’ launch and other pilot programs, visit the October 2011 Better Buildings Residential Network Peer Exchange Call Summary.
Help contractors enter the home performance market by lowering barriers to entry and providing training, networking, and mentoring opportunities
Entering a new market adds risk to contractors’ businesses. As several Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners focused on their efforts to attract contractors, they realized that it would be valuable for them to help contractors enter the home performance market. Many programs took steps to lower or eliminate unnecessary hurdles or barriers to contractors’ successful entry into the market. These barriers included long delays to receive payment for the program, paperwork burdens that were sometimes excessive enough to make contractors reluctant to participate, program expectations that were unclear to contractors, and upfront costs (e.g. for equipment purchases).
Source: In Their Own Words: Mentoring Benefits both Program and Contractor, U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
To help contractors overcome these barriers and enter the home performance market, many programs have provided program orientations covering expectations and procedures, offered mentoring and networking opportunities, and worked with contractors to improve work processes. Some programs have offered equipment loan programs, subsidized training, and other services to lower the upfront costs of entering the home performance market. Taking steps to help contractors enter the home performance market can help you establish a trained workforce of high-quality contractors to support home performance work.
- Rutland County, Vermont recruited and trained qualified technicians and “loaned” them to smaller contractors, to help them scale up to meet demand while mitigating business risk. The program set up a temporary labor pool that contractors could access when they needed greater capacity to meet demand. The labor pool helped new technicians enter the home performance industry, and helped smaller contractors weather seasonal fluctuation in market demand. Ten employees had worked in the labor pool as of 2012, with about three to five workers in the pool at any given time.
- Fayette County, Pennsylvania helped contractors enter the market by providing grants and financing to minimize startup costs, and by giving contractors the opportunity to provide Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification to their technicians. The program partnered with a local private industry council to train technicians to become BPI certified at no cost to students. The partnership program helped new home performance professionals start new businesses, for example, by providing grants and low-interest loans to purchase computer software and professional equipment. Ninety-four individuals completed the training through the partnership program. Training and certification in the home performance industry provided Fayette County residents with an opportunity for stable and well-paying careers.
- New Hampshire’s Beacon Communities Project sought to reinvigorate the local economy of Berlin, New Hampshire, following the 2006 closure of a pulp mill. The program began working with local community colleges to provide BPI-certified training to develop more qualified home performance professionals. The program supplemented the training with mentoring opportunities for students who completed classroom trainings but needed more experience in the field before being hired by a contractor or starting their own company. In the nearly three years since the program’s launch in September 2013, 42 students were trained through these classes and mentorships. These trained students helped the program offer quality home performance upgrades to homeowners, and the mentorship helped students become qualified home performance professionals.
- Enhabit, formerly known as Clean Energy Works Oregon, provided networking and mentoring opportunities to help contractors enter the home performance market. The program connected new contractors with peer mentoring services, allowing them to shadow an experienced professional in the field and office and get focused guidance from top-performing contractors. Mentors are compensated with additional project leads from the program. Enhabit also held morning meetings twice monthly for contractors to connect with each other. Contractors were able to use these meetings to organize and coordinate with the Home Performance Guild of Oregon, helping enable the Guild to expand significantly and to hire its first full-time executive director. As of December 2015, the Guild had over 50 home performance contractor members across Oregon, including more than two-thirds of the program’s contractors.
Establish a clear system and process for ensuring quality work
A residential energy efficiency program’s success is dependent on the quality of work that contractors conduct in customers’ homes. Indeed, an in-depth examination of selected program strategies found that effective quality assurance and quality control programs provided a foundation for quality upgrades and were achieved through numerous program design and implementation decisions and follow-through. Many Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners and Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Sponsors found that tiered and onsite quality assurance strategies, in addition to file reviews of upgrades reported to the program, worked well. Most programs use a tiered approach, in which a program inspects the first several upgrades completed by a new contractor and then inspects a specified percentage of subsequent projects. Onsite quality assurance is a useful strategy, both as a way of gathering feedback and as a training opportunity.
Programs conduct a broad range of verifications, including checking contractors’ certifications regularly, implementing a mechanism to re-check certifications, and verifying home performance professional safety skills (e.g., combustion training). In addition to inspections and feedback, some program also identified standards for ensuring quality work, including standards for technical work, for diagnostic tools and installed equipment, and for professionalism and customer service. Setting those expectations helped allow contractors to understand what was expected of them and better enabled them to help programs be successful from the beginning.
- In New York, NYSERDA uses a tiered approach for quality assurance. Inspection rates vary based on the contractor’s status in the program (see NYSERDA’s QA Procedures). The program inspects the first three projects that all contractors complete. After these initial projects, the program inspects 15% of a contractor’s completed projects, and at least one project annually. Customers may also request that field inspections be conducted within one year of the contractor’s work. If contractors have repeated QA/QC issues, NYSERDA increases the field inspection sampling rate, generally to 50% or more. If problems persist and are not resolved, NYSERDA sometimes suspends contractors from the program according to its QA procedures.
- The RePower program on Bainbridge Island, Washington, created a standardized process for quality control inspections. Energy upgrades completed under the RePower program could be randomly selected for quality control inspections, and were rated “Pass,” “Needs Minor Corrective Action,” or “Needs Major Corrective Action” based on the current RePower Weatherization Specifications Manual. If problems were found to require corrective action, contractors were required to perform the corrective actions at no additional cost to the customer. Repeated occurrences of an individual problem or serious problems resulted in a performance improvement plan or suspension from the RePower program. The program randomly selected 10% of their rebate applications for quality control inspection, and RePower staff worked to schedule an appointment with the homeowner within one week of selection.
- The NeighborWorks of Western Vermont program in Rutland County, Vermont, designed a quality assurance approach as a means to gather feedback and incentivize improvement. The program produced monthly contractor performance reports that compared contractor conversion rates, and then provided incentives to top performers. This approach was a productivity driver that encouraged contractors to make improvements to their business practices. During monthly one-on-one meetings, the program checked on each contractor’s client status list, made sure that no customers fell through the cracks, and gathered contractor feedback during the conversation. The program also set a timeline by which contractors must submit assessment reports to homeowners, with penalties in place for late reports. Using this approach, wait times dropped from four months to three weeks. See the Concierge Programs for Contractors webinar for more information. This approach has given contractors and the program the opportunity to improve over time.
- The Town of University Park, Maryland’s STEP-UP program worked to address variability in the quality of work that its contractors provided. The program approached this problem in two ways. First, STEP-UP issued a request for proposals for contractors that met specific performance benchmarks. From those proposals, the program then selected contractors with whom they had worked well in the past and began listing them as “preferred” contractors on their website. Ninety-nine percent of customers began selecting contractors from this list. Second, the program employed an energy coach for participating homeowners, to provide regular quality assurance of contractors’ work. The coach provided intermittent inspections at customers’ request, when they had concerns or when they chose to assist the program by allowing them to check on the contractors’ performance. The energy coach reviewed work proposals for scope and price; as a result, customers were reassured that they were getting the work they needed at a reasonable market price and therefore were getting fair value. By playing these roles, the coach gave customers assurance that they were receiving high value work from contractors and incentivized contractors to do quality work.
Recognize and reward good contractor performance
Many programs used the information they gathered through their quality assurance efforts to recognize contractors that deliver consistent, high-quality work. Rewarding good contractor performance can help you build trust, strengthen partnerships, and boost workforce morale. You can incentivize contractors to work for these awards by posting them on your website, announcing them at awards ceremonies or other events, recognizing them in newsletters, and encouraging contractors to post the awards on their websites.
- To improve contractor morale and work quality, electric utility Arizona Public Service (APS) and Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program sponsor FSL Home Improvements developed annual Contractor of the Year awards to recognize their top five participating contractors, given for the first time in early 2017. These contractors receive marketing benefits including a Contractor of the Year program logo for their website and additional marketing support. The program had been monitoring contractors’ work through quantitative metrics since 2012 and developed the quarterly scorecard as a tool to communicate contractor performance in 2016. These scorecards show how contractors compare to anonymized top and bottom scoring companies, based on their quality of measure installation, scope of work, customer satisfaction, and energy savings achieved. The program calculates each score based on performance over the past four quarters in an effort to avoid overly penalizing a contractor for any one insolated issue that they subsequently address. Not only do these scores enable annual contractor recognition, they also allow the program to give contractors regular feedback and increase contractor accountability. This comparative scoring has fostered friendly competition among contractors. The program has seen increased interest from contractors on how to improve their scores.
- Enhabit, formerly Clean Energy Works Oregon, singled out its contractors quarterly with honors such as the “James Brown Award” for the contractor with the most completed upgrades and the “Promoter Award” for showing the greatest job growth from one quarter to the next.
- The annual Charlottesville, Virginia, Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) “Blower Door Boss” award went to the contractor performing the most energy assessments while scoring the highest on customer surveys. The “Ruler of the Retrofits” title was bestowed on the company that scored the highest on customer feedback surveys and quality assurance reviews on home performance upgrades in Central Virginia.
- Maryland’s Be SMART program used awards and public recognition of accomplishments to help motivate home performance contractors that worked hard to realize significant energy savings. Be SMART gave awards to top performers that completed the most upgrades. The program presented awards for the greatest number of HVAC and home performance upgrades, the highest assessment-to-upgrade conversion rate, and the “Accuracy Award” for best rebate paperwork submission.
Provide information to help customers pick the right contractor
Early on, many Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners focused on providing customers with a range of contractors to choose from, while providing contractors with access to customers. Customer feedback received by some programs, however, indicated that customers were confused or overwhelmed by the choices. A comprehensive evaluation of selected program strategies implemented by Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners found that programs were more successful when they provided customers with lists of pre-approved contractors; however, offering long lists of contractors without differentiating their products and services often led to inaction. To help customers distinguish between contractors and choose a qualified one, many programs provide customers with information about contractor skills, quality of past performance, proximity, and other factors. Some programs matched individual contractors directly with individual customers.
Customers can provide valuable information about the quality of contractors’ performance, and this feedback can supplement other information, such as field inspections, used to differentiate contractors based on their performance. Many Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners incorporated customer ratings into the order in which they list contractors online, to help future customers select a contractor. Some programs also used rankings to evaluate contractors, support disciplinary actions, allocate benefits, and identify retraining needs. Through this approach, contractors had the opportunity to improve their standing and reap the rewards when customers saw that they could be relied on to do high-quality work.
- On Maryland’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR website, homeowners can rate and review their contractors. Some contractors choose to reach out to their customers to encourage them to provide reviews. These customer reviews, along with contractors’ accreditations and services, are published on the website as part of each contractor’s information page. Users of the website can search for contractors and sort the results based on homeowner ratings and by geographical location. Users can also narrow their results according to which contractors participate in the customer’s local utility rebate program.
- Efficiency Maine provided customers with a “Find a Residential Registered Vendor” locator on its website. This locator listed the services each contractor offered, sorted the list by distance from the homeowner, and differentiated contractors based on number of projects completed and customer satisfaction. All contractors were added to the list when they met the program’s requirements. The list was sorted by location closest to the customer and number of completed projects, and also noted what services the contractor provides. The website also listed questions a homeowner could use to interview and evaluate contractors, such as “How soon can you begin?” and “How quickly will my work be completed?”
- The Town of Bedford’s Energize New York program learned that selecting a contractor was the primary barrier for homeowners interested in home performance upgrades. The program addressed this challenge by developing a rating system to differentiate high- and low-performing contractors. Contractors’ ratings were calculated using a combination of customer survey results, the number of BPI certifications held by their technicians, and their number of completed upgrade projects. Some contractors were dissatisfied when they received low ratings, and in follow-up discussions, program staff reminded contractors that they would have an opportunity for their score to be updated quarterly and reviewed the scoring criteria. As a result, many of those contractors decided to improve their overall score. The program also set a minimum standard of completed projects (i.e., six completed projects over the last four quarters) for contractors to be included in the program. This narrowing of available contractors made it much easier for customers to select one without being overwhelmed.
- Seattle’s Community Power Works began matching homeowners one-on-one with certified contractors to create the best fit based on homeowner needs, contractor skills, and contractor availability. The program found that its past approach of suggesting two or three contractors led to indecision and that the potential price advantage of competition among these contractors was not an important factor in homeowner satisfaction.
- Programs should be transparent about the process of matching individual contractors to customers and ensure that all qualified contractors have the chance to participate in the program by competing for upgrade projects.
- While Community Power Works did not encounter any issues, programs should recognize that this approach can limit competition among contractors and discourage the growth of new contractors in the market. Most programs, including Enhabit, Austin Energy, Energy Impact Illinois, and many others, mitigate this by allowing contractors who bring their own customers to the program to keep them, providing an incentive for the contractor to market themselves instead of relying on the program to generate demand.
Have clear rules and systems for identifying and remedying contractor problems
Even with the best contractor partners, a program may sometimes encounter difficulties that require remediation. Consistent with Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program principles, many Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners discovered that they could address these difficulties by establishing contractor requirements to set standards for quality work, a transparent remediation process, and measures for dismissing underperforming contractors. They found that the key is to make contractor requirements clear from the beginning of your program. Contractor participation agreements and codes of conduct for interactions with customers can help ensure understanding of standards and provide a rule of thumb for when issues needed to be addressed. Not all contractors are equally skilled or customer-service oriented. These programs learned that, in order to preserve their reputation, they needed to be able to confidently recommend any contractor on their list. It is important to apply corrective actions as needed in response to problems and deficiencies, as well as a procedure to respond to serious or recurring problems such as probation or dismissal from the program. By setting the bar high and dismissing contractors that failed to meet program requirements, these programs helped ensure consistent, quality customer service.
- Efficiency Maine developed a Contractor Code of Conduct that contractors sign, stating that they will respect the homeowner’s property, minimize disruption to the homeowner, and leave the home in as good or better condition as it was found. It lists 15 things that contractors will and will not do relating to communications, onsite behavior, and work practices. To assure quality in the program, a minimum of 15% of upgrade projects are subject to random and/or targeted onsite inspections, covering the pre-installation, installation, and post-installation phases. Efficiency Maine’s Program Manual outlines clear procedures that program staff will follow in the event that the inspections reveal errors, omissions, or inconsistencies. The manual also outlines procedures for removing a contractor from the program’s registered vendor list for repeated failure to correct deficiencies.
- Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska’s reEnergize Program furnished its contractors with an Energy Upgrade Contractor Protocol and General Scope of Work, which governs contractor work processes and customer interactions. This protocol was intended to serve as a supplement to contractors' technical training. It provided rules that contractors were required to follow to achieve customer satisfaction throughout the upgrade process and also outlined basic safety requirements. Topics covered everything from how to greet the customer to cleanup steps once the upgrade was completed. The protocol was an important tool for ensuring that all homeowners had a pleasant experience with the program through their interactions with contractors. It helped the program achieve over 1,300 residential energy upgrades over a 3 year period that included program launch.
- The Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance Better Buildings Chapel Hill WISE program in North Carolina discovered that even though contractors might have met the required program criteria and had qualifying credentials, the quality of their work and their understanding of building science varied substantially. To address these issues, Chapel Hill engaged an external training partner that worked with contractors on the quality of their work and the implementation of quality control mechanisms to improve future work. The program developed and implemented a contractor probationary and debarment policy and corrective action plan. Under that plan, contractors were subject to a corrective process that included a preliminary review of concerns, probation, specific requirements to return to the pre-qualified list after probation, and dismissal from the program. This policy helped the program systematically approach the issue of alerting contractors whose work fell short of the program’s quality standards, and to dismiss contractors who were unable to improve the quality and consistency of their work.
Last Updated: 01/05/2018