The choices you make about standards for contractor work and participation, as well as the training and support activities your program provides, affect the quality of services your program can deliver through your contractor partners. Your program can help ensure that contractors meet the standards by providing clear procedures, training, incentives, and other forms of contractor support.
When designing your contractor engagement and workforce development activities, make sure you clearly draw the connections to other program elements. You should educate contractors about any financial products and incentives available to homeowners. Review aspects of your program design (e.g., your service delivery model) with contractors before finalizing it and adjust that design if feedback identifies a gap or potential issue.
In this handbook, you will find resources and step-by-step guidance describing how to:
- Establish standards for ensuring quality work
- Determine contractor participation requirements
- Set guidelines for how your program will interact with contractors
- Decide on contractor incentives and financial support
- Outline contractor engagement and support activities
- Decide on the content and approach for training
- Outline workforce development activities
- Collaborate with contractors and workforce development partners to develop program design.
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Sponsor Guide and Reference Manual (v1.5)
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) Sponsor Guide and Reference Manual provides relevant, easily accessible guidance for program administrators to plan, develop, and implement local HPwES programs. The guide includes minimum requirements, recommended approaches, and resources for the following program design components relevant to contractors:
- Service delivery models, including strategies and tactics to establish an effective program
- Workforce development and contractor support activities are discussed in Section 3 of the guide, including contractor engagement and contractor participation agreements
- Energy assessment and upgrade installation guiding principles, requirements, elements, and procedures
- Quality assurance and quality control plan recommendations, including customer and contractor feedback, on-site inspection procedures, and steps for remedial action
- Tracking and reporting system requirements, tools, and templates.
Along with design guidance, the Guide contains templates, checklists, and other tools to support implementation.
Your decisions about contractor engagement and workforce development activities should be coordinated with the decisions you make about other program components.
Establish standards for ensuring quality work
There are three types of standards relating to the quality of energy assessments and upgrades:
- Standards for technical work
- Standards for diagnostic tools and installed equipment
- Standards for professionalism and customer service.
Each of these standards is further discussed below.
Setting clear expectations for energy assessments, installation of energy upgrade measures, and customer service is essential for technicians to deliver the services for your program consistently and effectively. Clear, consistent, and achievable standards allow contractors to understand what is expected of them and reduces the uncertainty and risk for the contractor.
This handbook discusses work standards, while the implementation plan handbook discusses processes and procedures to put these standards in practice and assure quality work, including how to take corrective actions to address issues.
Standards for Technical Work
Before establishing program-specific technical work standards for contractor partners who will be implementing your program, review established technical standards for the home performance industry (see box below). For home energy assessors and technicians, technical standards include procedures and specifications for identifying appropriate measures, installing the measures correctly, estimating potential energy savings, and performing a test-out to ensure that measures are performing as expected. Technical standards address work processes (e.g., how to conduct an energy assessment), diagnostic test procedure standards (e.g., how to conduct a blower door test), and installation standards (e.g., required density for blown-in cellulose in a wall cavity).
You may choose to adopt established technical standards for your program or you may want to start from the existing standards and tailor them to meet specific needs of your program and local market (e.g., adjustments for local climate or building codes). By basing your program on well-known standards, it will be easier for contractors to learn and adopt your program standards and access the appropriate training resources.
Technical Standards and Specifications for Home Performance Work
Technical standards and specifications for conducting energy assessments and installing upgrade measures are available through a variety of industry resources. Examples include the following.
Standards and Specifications for Energy Assessments
- DOE’s Standard Work Specifications (SWS) in the Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals define the minimum requirements to ensure that work performed during energy upgrades in single-family, multifamily, and manufactured homes is effective, durable, and safe. The SWS condenses complex information on standards and codes into a simplified format for use by home energy professionals. For energy assessments in particular, the SWS provide program administrators and energy assessors with guidance on required diagnostic testing and protocols for conducting the tests.
- The Building Performance Institute (BPI) Technical Standard for the Building Analyst Professionals provides guidance on diagnostic testing procedures and performance tolerances, and the BPI-1100-T-2012 Home Energy Audit Standard outlines procedures for conducting a home energy audit including selection of appropriate diagnostic tests for given site conditions.
- The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) Standard ANSI/ACCA 12 QH-2011: Existing Home Evaluation and Performance Improvement provides guidance on conducting whole house energy assessments, diagnostic testing procedures, and performance tolerances.
Standards and Specifications for Energy Upgrades
- DOE’s Standard Work Specifications contain industry-developed standard specifications for effective, durable, and safe completion of energy upgrade installations in residential buildings. The SWS covers quality installation standards with references to the appropriate codes. The website also contains an on-line SWS tool that allows users to create their own checklist for quality work based on the specifications as well as illustrated field guides for workers in the home.
- The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE) 62.2-2013 provides roles and minimum requirements for ventilation systems and the building envelope in order to provide acceptable indoor air quality in homes.
- The ACCA HVAC Quality Installation Standard ANSI/ACCA 5 QI-2010 is a set of standards for quality HVAC installation and is commonly used in the HVAC industry.
- The ENERGY STAR Verified Installation (ESVI) Program is based on the ACCA HVAC Quality Installation Standards, and provides a contractor checklist to help technicians verify that they have met standards for energy upgrade installations.
- The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 54-2012 (National Fuel Gas Code, 2012 Edition) provides minimum safety requirements for the design and installation of fuel gas piping systems, including combustion and ventilation air supply, in homes and other buildings.
Along with industry-accepted standards such as these examples, program administrators should ensure that work performed by contractors complies with building codes and manufacturers’ installation instructions for the materials and equipment being installed.
Standards for Diagnostic Tools and Installed Equipment
Programs can use standards for diagnostic tools to drive additional consistency, quality, and energy savings during implementation. Energy efficiency diagnostic equipment and software tools can help your program collect data about the homes and measures installed during the energy upgrade. Standards for using particular tools and equipment can complement the technical work standards relating to the processes for using the equipment in energy assessments and upgrade installations.
Energy assessors and contractors use diagnostic tools to quantify baseline conditions that are not readily observable or cannot be accurately estimated. Contractors can also use these tools to improve the sales process with the customer, and direct and verify correct installation of some measures such as air sealing. These tools include blower doors, infrared cameras, and pressure pans:
- Blower doors are machines that measure how airtight the home is, which provides essential information about leakage pathways and identifies opportunities to improve weatherization.
- Duct leakage can be tested using a calibrated fan and a pressure sensor to measure the pressure that the fan flow creates. A pressure pan, which is used in conjunction with a blower door, shows whether duct work is leaking to the outside and identifies any such leakage locations.
- Infrared cameras help technicians detect and visualize missing insulation, air loss, compromised roofing, and other home energy efficiency issues.
These tools will help your program collect data about the homes that will inform contractors’ recommendations about what energy upgrade measures are appropriate for each home.
Software tools can support energy assessments through data analysis, modeling, visualization, and/or reporting. They can include data reporting systems that allow contractors to electronically file program paperwork. For contractors who choose to use them, modeling software and tools provide one way to visualize and calculate buildings’ energy use through detailed simulations that can function as a model of the actual building performance, which is helpful in communications with homeowners. In some cases, contractors have been able to use field-based data collection and modeling tools (e.g., using tablets) to calculate energy use and potential savings while they are still in the home. Other modeling tools require data entry and analysis following the home visit.
Building Energy Software Tools Directory
The International Building Performance Simulation Association maintains an on-line directory of energy software tools (originally created by DOE). The directory includes:
- Whole-building energy performance simulation software
- Software, databases, and spreadsheets for building component and systems analyses
- Tools that enable contractors to quickly determine whether homes and upgrades comply with technical standards
- Calculators that determine heating and cooling energy use at specific points of the house such as windows, walls, foundations, and roofs.
A short description is provided for each tool along with other information including expertise required, users, audience, input, output, computer platforms, programming language, strengths, weaknesses, technical contact, and availability.
Selecting the appropriate energy software for your program can be a complex process. Some programs may use a consultant to help find the right tool.
The tools in the directory are not evaluated, guaranteed, or endorsed by DOE.
Advantages and disadvantages to identifying a standard energy modeling software tool for your program include:
- Modeling software tools can offer powerful data analysis, modeling, and visualization, and it can be easier to track data across your entire program if all participating contractors use the same system.
- Your contractor partners may already have energy modeling tools and software that they use because those tools fit within their business model. The time and costs associated with adopting new software may make contractors less willing to participate in your program.
For these reasons, it is important to identify your needs for data analysis at the program level and consult with your contractor partners about modeling software and data reporting tools before instituting new requirements that could be overly burdensome.
Home Energy Score
The U.S. DOE's Home Energy Score is an example of a tool that is useful for calculating and comparing buildings’ energy use and performance. The Home Energy Scoring Tool enables an assessor to quickly collect data during a home walk-through and then score the home on a scale from one to ten, with a higher score indicating that the home has excellent energy performance. After the walk-through, the assessor provides the homeowner with the score as well as a list of recommended energy improvements and cost savings estimates. The score is comparable to a miles-per-gallon rating for a vehicle’s fuel efficiency. An example home energy score report is below. For an interactive version, see the Home Energy Score Interactive Graphic.
Source: Energy Score, U.S. Department of Energy, 2014.
Many programs require minimum performance standards for equipment or products that contractors install. Setting standards for installed equipment can make it easier to anticipate energy savings as well as connect the measures to incentives and marketing efforts. ENERGY STAR is the most commonly used standard for energy-efficient appliances and equipment in the United States. Programs may require furnaces or air-conditioners to be ENERGY STAR certified as part of technical work specifications, or they may make marketing incentives conditional on the installation of ENERGY STAR equipment. This provides consistency with other residential energy efficiency programs in the area, which lowers barriers to participation for contractors and helps ensure that saving opportunities are maximized at the time of replacement.
ENERGY STAR Products
ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy program that promotes energy efficiency and provides independent certification for products that save energy without sacrificing features or functionality. ENERGY STAR qualified products are one key tool that energy upgrade programs and contractors can use to help homeowners reduce energy use and save money. ENERGY STAR qualified products include:
- Building products, including windows, doors, roofs
- Water heaters
- Lighting and fans
- Heating and cooling
- Electronics and other products.
Standards for Professionalism and Customer Interaction
Along with technical standards, standards governing professionalism and homeowner interactions help ensure that technicians deliver a good customer experience. Consider developing a code of behavior that technicians agree to follow when working with homeowners. This helps ensure they are positive representatives of your program.
Protocols for Contractors Help Ensure Customer Satisfaction
Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska
The reEnergize Program provided its contractors with a contractor protocol and general scope of work, which governed contractor work processes and customer interactions. This protocol supplemented other program requirements that contractors had learned through training, and provided mandatory rules that contractors must follow in order to help achieve customer satisfaction throughout the energy upgrade process, as well as basic safety requirements. Contractors were required to comply with protocols ranging from how to greet the customer to what steps should be followed during cleanup once the upgrade was completed. reEnergize used this tool to ensure that all homeowners have a positive experience with the program through their interactions with contractors.
Efficiency Maine developed a Contractor Code of Conduct that all participating 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 includes a list of 15 statements of what contractors will and will not do regarding communications, job-site behavior, and work practices. This code of conduct, along with contractor training on customer interaction techniques, will help Efficiency Maine achieve its goal of a 20% energy use reduction statewide by 2030.
The standards you develop for technical work, equipment and software tools, and professionalism will form the foundation of your quality assurance and quality control plan, since your quality assurance procedures are designed to support compliance with the quality standards. The work standards will also be a central component of training requirements for contractors participating in your program. This combination of standards that set expectations for quality work, training on standards, and quality assurance to ensure adherence to the standards will help your program meet its goals to deliver high-quality products and services.
Ten Customer Service Tips for Contractors
How your contractor partners interact with homeowners can make the difference between successful upgrades and negative experiences that homeowners may relate to others. The following tips promote customer satisfaction throughout their engagement with the program.
- Keep it simple and avoid jargon as you explain the energy assessment and your recommended improvements in everyday language.
- Build good relationships with homeowners and make it easy for them to communicate with you.
- Don’t just say it—show it by using tests to demonstrate heat loss in person and taking photos of homes with an infrared camera to illustrate areas for improvement to the homeowner.
- Be brief and avoid letting stories or remarks take more than two minutes
- Stay positive about the benefits of home energy upgrades without offending homeowners about problems with their current home
- Emphasize how upgrades will improve home comfort regardless of the season by regulating the indoor temperature.
- Be professional in your dress and demeanor. Focus only on your customer’s upgrade project while working in their home.
- Treat homes with care and respect by wearing covers over work boots or laying down work blankets while inside customers’ homes and cleaning up your work space.
- Make sure that your customers are comfortable with your presence by discussing the areas of the home you will access, so that your presence does not feel invasive.
- Lessen the stress of the upgrade process by answering and returning phone calls promptly, arriving on time, and returning results within the first few days following an energy assessment.
Source: “10 New Year's Resolutions to Keep the Customers Coming,” Danielle Sass Byrnett, U.S. Department of Energy, 2013.
Determine contractor participation requirements
Requirements for contractors that participate in your program are closely linked to quality standards for work. Contractor participation requirements set the program’s minimum expectations for what services contractors will provide for the program and how contractors will participate in the program. These requirements help ensure that contractors complete an upgrade with an acceptable level of quality, while weeding out unqualified contractors. Your best contractor partners will be those that keep up with training and credentialing requirements, perform quality work delivering your program’s services, and work collaboratively and proactively with you and other partners towards common goals.
Indeed, a comprehensive evaluation of over 140 programs found that successful programs require a pool of qualified contractors who can perform quality upgrades and who have a strong understanding of building sciences and the ability to install or subcontract a variety of energy-saving measures. The evaluation also found that contractors often serve as the main point of contact with participants, and therefore must have the tools and ability to explain the benefits of potentially costly projects and help customers understand the benefits of home energy improvements.
When identifying contractor participation requirements for your program, consider factors that relate to technical qualifications and skills of key personnel (e.g., certifications required for workers) as well as business practices the contractor has in place (e.g., requirements for licensing, insurance, and warranty service). Contractor participation requirements may be divided in the categories of contractor qualifications, contractor business practices, and program procedures and quality standards. Common types of requirements in each of these categories are below.
- Relevant experience: Ask contractors to describe past home energy upgrade projects and other similar types of work the contractor has completed and provide references so program staff can check with the references if desired.
- Technical certifications: Have key personnel in a company or on a work crew who have achieved appropriate technical certifications.
Technical Certifications for Home Performance Professionals
Several organizations provide technical certification for energy assessment and upgrade work. Common certifications for home performance professionals include the following.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, 2014.
- Training: Specify the amount and type of training that contractors need to provide to their employees before the technicians work in customers’ homes; these are often based around technical skills and certifications, but you may also include requirements for completing program orientation training or training on business, sales, and marketing skills (see next Step).
- Company accreditation: Contractors may achieve recognition for having quality management plans in place at their business in addition to having qualified technical professionals. This could be a useful way to differentiate between contractors.
Training, Certification, and Accreditation
Training imparts knowledge and skills needed to conduct energy efficiency upgrades and to be an active partner in a local energy upgrade program, while certification verifies that a person has mastered the knowledge and abilities required to successfully implement home energy upgrades. Most certification programs require continuing education to ensure that professionals maintain their skills.
People receive certification; companies or organizations can receive standards-based accreditation. Accreditation is the formal process for establishing that companies meet certain standards. When a company is accredited, a third party such as Building Performance Institute (BPI), Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) or Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) verifies that the company has certified staff and quality assurance protocols and systems in place to provide high-quality services.
A quality management system (QMS) is a set of business practices and processes that helps a company to assure quality work and meet customer needs. Accredited companies sometimes use QMSs to consistently deliver high-quality service, reduce callbacks, and increase profits. Some programs use a QMS approach to quality assurance by integrating quality principles throughout the entire program infrastructure (for guidance on this approach, see DOE’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Sponsor Guide and Reference Manual (v1.5).
Contractor Business Practices
- Licensing: Ask contractors to provide their business license number and require that contractors are licensed, bonded, and meet all relevant state laws.
- Insurance: Require contractors to provide insurance for work conducted for the program, for example covering general liability (i.e. for property damage) as well as automotive liability and worker’s compensation. Consider what type of insurance is a reasonable requirement for contractors to carry, and what minimum coverage your program is willing to accept.
- Bonds: Contractors should be “bonded” which means that they have purchased a surety bond that protects homeowners if they fail to complete the job properly. Bonding requirements vary from place to place, so know the rules where your program operates.
- Permits: Require contractors to acquire appropriate permits for any projects they complete under the program.
- Warranty service: Ask contractors to provide warranty services on home energy upgrades over a specified duration, such as a year.
- Quality control: Require adherence to policies and procedures for ensuring that contractors perform quality work, that test-outs are conducted to verify energy savings, that problems are remedied, and that reporting is complete, accurate, and timely. (Programs should encourage and support companies' efforts to develop, execute, and maintain their own internal quality assurance and control policies in addition to the quality assurance and quality control plan for the program.)
Program Procedures and Quality Standards
- Participation procedures: Detail procedures for how contractors will participate in the program, including, for example, the content, process, and timelines associated with paperwork and submission requirements. These are more fully discussed in the Implementation Plan handbook and include processes for:
- Selecting and approving contractors to participate in the program
- Program orientation and training
- Referring program-generated leads to contractors
- Coordinating energy assessments
- Coordinating energy upgrades
- Processing of customer incentives and financing
- Contractor reporting and documentation
- Test-outs and quality assurance
- Ongoing contractor communication, coordination, and feedback.
- Technical standards for work, installed equipment, and modeling software tools: Require adherence to technical standards for performing work, such as home energy assessments and upgrades. Programs may choose to combine the technical work standards with standards for using ENERGY STAR equipment and/or specific modeling tools. (See previous Step.)
- Professionalism: Develop and provide training on communication and behavior guidance so that well-mannered, courteous professionals deliver your program to customers (see previous Step).
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Contractor Participation Agreements
The Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Sponsor Guide and Reference Manual (v1.5) lists the required elements of participation agreements for contractors working with Home Performance with ENERGY STAR programs. This information is in Section 3 of the guide.
The required elements of the agreements include:
- Terms and conditions to explain the agreement
- Participating contractor commitments, including reporting on projects and field inspections
- Adhering to ENERGY STAR identity guidelines for logo usage and marketing
- General business practices, including retaining necessary licenses, certifications, insurance and training
- Certification or third-party verification of the knowledge, skills, and abilities for conducting whole house assessments, building performance diagnostics, and calculating estimated energy savings from improvement installations
- Required access to diagnostic equipment, tools, qualified staff, data systems and software, and administrative support
- Voluntary termination provisions.
Your program’s contractor participation requirements, combined with standards for quality work, help set the minimum performance and quality expectations for your program. Design these requirements with your potential contractor partners in mind. If you are concerned about alienating contractors with program standards that some might view as too strict, consider reducing the requirements for contractors to start participating with your program. You can then tailor your contractor training and support activities to build the qualifications and credentials of contractors over time and ensure that enough contractors will be able to participate.
Some programs—including Community Power Works in Seattle and Enhabit, formerly Clean Energy Works Oregon,—have chosen to use workforce standards as a tool to achieve economic and sustainable development goals, as well as to ensure baseline quality levels for energy upgrade services. Workforce standards that emphasize economic opportunity, sustainable careers for energy professionals, and high-quality upgrade work are often called high-road standards.
High-road standards can include requirements for employment of disadvantaged businesses (e.g., small, minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned), wage and pay requirements, and training and certification requirements. Since contractor participation requirements for programs with high-road agreements are often more extensive than other forms of contractor requirements (e.g., high-road agreements typically address salaries and wages), it is particularly important to consult with contractors when developing your standards and accompanying workforce development plans to make sure that your program will effectively achieve its goals.
Seattle’s Contractor Participation Requirements and Technical Standards
In Seattle, Community Power Works used a point system to qualify contractors in its “Community High-Road Contractor Pool.”
The application featured a number of minimum participation requirements and technical standards for contractors wishing to compete for work under the City’s Community Power Works Program. A few examples are:
- Key staff, such as a crew chiefs, supervisors, or any other onsite supervisors, must have Building Performance Institute (BPI), North American Technician Excellence (NATE), or Laborers International Union (LIUNA) certification
- The contractor must have performed at least two home energy upgrade projects as a licensed contractor that required two or more of the following skills: dense-pack insulation, air-sealing, duct-sealing, blower door and pressure diagnostic testing, and installation and ducting of ventilation fans.
The application scoring criteria enabled contractors to earn points for meeting additional requirements. Points were awarded for being or subcontracting with local, small, minority-owned, women-owned, and/or veteran-owned businesses. Applicants can receive partial points for future commitments to specific standards. Examples include:
- Maintaining a 100% certified workforce under BPI, NATE, or LIUNA
- Providing 80 hours of classroom/workshop training in energy efficiency or construction to each employee within the last year.
For more information about Seattle’s contractor participation requirements, see the Community Power Works Approved Contractor Application form.
Set guidelines for how your program will interact with contractors
Remember that most contractors are very small businesses, and changes to their businesses to participate in programs can involve substantial investment and risk on their part. To encourage participation you need to demonstrate an understanding of that risk, and design your program to decrease uncertainties and burdens wherever possible. Listing key guidelines by which you will hold the program accountable is one helpful way to do this.
The specific guidelines you set will depend on other design decisions, including requirements for contractors for data collection and marketing incentives, but keep in mind whether your decisions will encourage participation and help or hurt your partners’ ability to deliver the results you want. Just as you ask during broader program design if an approach will work for the customer, you should ask relevant stakeholders, especially your contractors, throughout the program design and implementation process whether your decisions will work for them.
New Jersey Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Contractor Engagement Procedures
The New Jersey Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) program established clear guidelines for its contractor engagement and support. The program uses an approach of “recruit, enroll, orient, train, communicate, reward, recognize” to guide its interactions with contractors. The program has an established set of support services that it delivers to participating contractors under this framework, and this creates common expectations among the program and participating contractors.
- Recruitment: The program’s recruitment efforts include outreach to trade allies using the “big picture,” whole-house approach to explain the program.
- Enrollment: The program requires contractors to maintain accreditations and certifications, and to agree to quality control, customer dispute resolution, and remediation procedures.
- Orientation: The program orients contractors by providing support from technical field representatives (TFRs) who assist the contractor with tasks including energy assessments, identifying potential upgrades, safety testing, identifying health and safety issues, testing and quality control, program quality assurance guidance, and entering data into the program’s online portal. Contractors can request support via email to access mentoring from TFRs when they are not physically present.
- Training: The program offers training that introduces contractors to the program and building modeling software through in-person and webinar-based learning, in addition to sales training to help contractors sell the program and upgrades to customers. Contractors also learn about the program’s online contractor portal, which provides access to program forms, information updates, webinar recordings, and marketing resources, as well as other communication.
- Communication: The program communicates regularly with participating contractors on topics including quality assurance and quality control.
- Rewards: The program offers rewards for contractors including financial incentives for completed upgrades, reimbursement for accreditation for contractors who complete a minimum of ten upgrades annually, and a graduated scale of cost-sharing for advertising (i.e., up to 50% of costs based on fiscal year production levels).
- Recognition: The program recognizes contractors through public messages on the program’s website, such as recognizing participating contractors that receive the Century Club Award from the national Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program for completing 100 or more comprehensive upgrades in one year.
Examples of the types of contractor interaction guidelines you can set for your program and communicate to contractors and others involved in the upgrade process include:
- Make any incentives and support provided by your program stable and predictable. Clearly define incentives and program support, and give notice multiple months in advance of any changes, scheduled or not. For example, you might communicate to contractors: “We will provide this schedule of incentives through the end of the year, and we will give you three months’ notice before making any changes to the incentive program.” “We will provide a high-level marketing plan and monthly updates on all marketing activities planned for the next 60 days on a rolling basis.”
- Establish clear turnaround times for approvals and payments. Just as you establish timeliness expectations for contractors for every step in the program workflow, you should determine acceptable response times for the program. Example turnaround times could include “Rebate applications will be reviewed within seven days. Incomplete applications will be returned with a list of deficiencies within those seven days. Approved applications will be paid within 30 days of the date of submission.”
- For example, Energy Fit Nevada specifies that when new contractors apply to the program, “Applicants will be notified within five business days if any missing or additional information is required” and “If all requirements are met and all documents have been verified, partners will receive a formal welcome letter detailing next steps, within 14 business days” and also “Within three days of the on-site inspection, the Quality Assurance Specialist will provide a copy of the completed Evaluation form to the Partner.”
- Spell out program responsibilities in the quality control process. For example, responsibilities could include: “We will notify contractors of upgrade projects selected for field inspection within three days of receipt of the application.” “We will notify you of approval or any deficiencies in the work within two business days of any field inspection.” “All program quality control inspectors must meet or exceed the certification requirements of participating contractors.”
- Establish appeal and response procedures. Examples of guidelines related to resolving disputes and responding to appeals include the following: “We will respond to all appeals within seven days. In cases where a visit to a customer’s house is required to address the appeal, and in recognition that scheduling can sometimes be difficult, that period may be extended to no longer than three days following the site visit.”
- Determine your program’s position between the consumer and the contractor. The position “We will serve as an unbiased arbiter in disputes between the consumer and contractor” is different from “We will serve as the consumer’s advocate throughout the project.” Either position can have a place in effective program design, but you should decide which approach you will take.
Establishing these guidelines for the program’s relationship and interactions with contractors can go a long way toward building trust and making contractors more willing to be full and active partners in your program.
Decide on contractor incentives and financial support
Contractor-oriented incentives and financial support, such as training subsidies or equipment loans, are useful ways that programs can make it easier for contractors to participate, gain necessary skills and certifications, and deliver more energy savings for customers.
Contractor-oriented incentives are program tools to lower barriers and motivate contractors to take a desired action, such as participation in a program and high productivity or good performance. Incentives for participation can keep well-performing contractors engaged in your program. They can also address key barriers that limit contractors from entering the home performance market.
While incentives can be financial, such as rewards for completed upgrades, they do need not be financial to be effective. Awards or recognition can be a powerful motivator, and some financial incentives, such as bulk purchasing equipment deals, may require little program investment but allow contractors make their resources go further. The most important criteria in deciding what incentives to offer is determining what actions or behavior are you trying encourage. Feedback from contractors about their needs or problems, as well as what you observe based on implementation experience, can be useful in identifying barriers or areas in need of improvement. For example, you could consider:
- Would incentives encourage more significant upgrades with deeper energy savings?
- Would performance incentives be useful for encouraging higher assessment-to-upgrade conversion rates, or more timely reporting?
- Are contractors expressing difficulties entering the market and if so, what costs are driving that (equipment, training, etc.)? Would offering additional contractor mentoring and support be helpful?
- Would it be useful to encourage more training and certification of technicians?
DOE’s “Ideas to Incentivize Contractors and Build a Strong Workforce” document describes several examples of types of contractor incentives and assistance that you might evaluate as appropriate for your program, including the following:
- Incentives to Improve Contractor Productivity and Performance
- Awards and recognition, including highlighting contractors as they meet program-defined milestones (e.g., 100 upgrades completed in one year), complete performance challenges or competitions (e.g., to improve conversion rates, achieve the greatest energy savings, or increase the number of completed upgrades)
- Financial incentives or rebates for turning leads into upgrades or as rewards for performance-based competitions
- Program-generated leads, which you can then decide how to allocate to contractors (e.g., top-performers).
- Incentives to Improve Contractor Skills and Qualifications
- Tuition or training reimbursement for classes that improve contractors’ capabilities or for certifications.
- For example, the Maryland Energy Administration program offered subsidies to contractors from 2007 to 2009 to cover 75% of training costs and 100% of certification costs, but only if they met certain energy upgrade goals. The training program has since transitioned to being managed by community colleges.
- Mentoring for newer technicians with internships, in-field training, and networking opportunities.
- Tuition or training reimbursement for classes that improve contractors’ capabilities or for certifications.
- Incentives to Attract Contractors to Participate and Lower Costs
- Access to low-interest or no-interest loans for equipment and tools, potentially with per-company caps and loan forgiveness clauses based on volume of completed upgrades.
- For example, Fayette County Pennsylvania worked with a local private council to provide low-interest loans to contractors to purchase professional equipment and computers.
- Access to low-interest or no-interest loans for equipment and tools, potentially with per-company caps and loan forgiveness clauses based on volume of completed upgrades.
- Renting or leasing equipment (e.g., blower door system, infrared camera) to contractors, with rent-to-own potential.
- Bulk purchasing, which involves coordinating with a group of contractors to secure bulk purchase discounts for various construction items, tools and services.
- Working capital in the form of advance rebate payments, partial or full, to help contractors reduce their cash flow burden. You can use this incentive to reward contractors that have completed a certain number of upgrades that meet quality standards.
- Co-marketing with contractors, including providing sales training and marketing tools and materials.
- For example, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) programs enable contractors to co-market their home performance offerings using the widely-recognized HPwES mark.
- Co-marketing with contractors, including providing sales training and marketing tools and materials.
Vermont NeighborWorks Performance Incentives
Rutland County, Vermont’s NeighborWorks H.E.A.T Squad program uses established timelines, friendly competition, and incentives to reward high-performing contractors. Contractors have five to 10 days to submit assessment reports to the homeowner and the program. NeighborWorks helps to schedule house visits for homeowners and home performance professionals and removes contractors who report late from their scheduling list. Every six months, an infrared camera is awarded as a prize to the contractor with the most completed projects. When contractors submit assessment reports, they are paid a small bonus, with another bonus when a project is completed.
Source: “Concierge Programs for Contractors – They’re Not Just for Consumers Anymore”, Jonathan Cohen, U.S. Department of Energy; Ryan Clemmer, Enhabit; Melanie Paskevich, NeighborWorks; and Jay Karwoski, ICF International; 2012.
Contractor Loans and Financial Support
Many home performance programs offer financial support for contractors, including equipment loans and training and certification subsidies, to encourage and help them participate in their programs. Typically contractor loans are smaller and for shorter durations than homeowner loans. Because of their size, many programs have provided direct loans to contractors rather than partnering with financial institutions to offer them.
Startup costs to participate in home performance programs for both new contractors and those from a different trade include training and certification of staff and purchasing equipment, which can be considerable for a small business. After that, cash flow pressures can continue, as contractors may have to wait for payment after a project is completed (e.g. in cases where payment is partially dependent on incentive programs), sometimes even putting businesses at risk. While cash flow issues are not unique to the home performance industry, contractors expanding their business or entering a new market face additional uncertainty and risks.
Financial support for contractors might range from loans and/or loan forgiveness programs to help contractors acquire diagnostic equipment to reimbursement for certain outside training to cooperative marketing programs.
In addition to equipment for installing energy improvements that a contractor might already own, it costs more than $10,000 for a building contractor to purchase the necessary equipment and tools to start in an energy efficiency upgrade profession. A home performance professional will need the appropriate tools to conduct a home energy assessment, to test the health and safety of the indoor environment, and to verify that energy improvements were installed correctly. To reduce the economic burden to a building contractor of entering the energy efficiency upgrade profession, program administrators may consider equipment rental programs or equipment loans to defray the costs.
Reducing the Equipment Cost Barrier in Fayette County, Pennsylvania
To help local contractors enter the program more quickly and offset start-up expenses, Fayette County, Pennsylvania created a loan fund to help contractors finance equipment purchases. To qualify for loans, program contractors had to be BPI certified, attend the program's sales and entrepreneurial training sessions, and demonstrate the ability to perform energy assessments to BPI standards during a job shadow phase with county energy upgrade assessors.
The program considered eligible equipment purchases to be those that have been outlined by BPI as being the minimum necessary to perform an energy assessment. All loans had five-year terms, with flexible interest rates adjusted to fit the contractor’s income level.
Source: Spotlight on Fayette County, Pennsylvania: Developing the Skills and Tools for Workforce Success, U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
If you do not have the funds or the resources to provide loans directly up front, you may be able to work with a local financial institution on a loan product tailored to your program, keeping the loan between the contractor and the lender, but allowing for qualifying support from the program as it is earned.
Financial Assistance for Outside Training or Certification Assistance
If your program allows or encourages outside training, such as for program-required certification or similar credentials, you might consider some level of reimbursement of these costs for contractors.
- For example, in the early days of its Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) provided an incentive for each person who received BPI certification to cover the majority of the costs of certification.
If your market assessment indicated that the certifications you’ve chosen to require are not sufficiently widespread, this type of assistance may reduce a financial barrier and encourage early participation.
Outline contractor engagement and support activities
Encourage contractors to participate in your program and help them successfully deliver program services. To motivate contractors to partner with your program, show them that the benefits of participation clearly exceed the time and costs. Contractor recruitment strategies and contractor incentives can help to encourage contractor participation and expand your program’s impact. On the other hand, the requirements you established for contractor participation—including technical skills and certifications, training, and quality assurance processes—may represent new costs for businesses. Because you will need a critical mass of contractors, be sure to design your contractor support services to help contractors meet your requirements.
It is useful at this stage to review lessons and feedback on how other communities, either locally or nationally, have approached contractor engagement activities. The case studies and guidance in this Solution Center are one source for this information.
The full range of contractor engagement and support that your program provides could include the following:
- Recruitment and marketing of the program to contractors: Contractor recruitment strategies and incentives that your program provides to encourage and sustain contractor participation.
- Technical training and program orientation: Assistance with technical certifications, training on energy assessments and installation of energy efficiency measures, orientation to program requirements, incentives and financial products offered to customers, and the program’s procedures and work flows, including reporting, reimbursement, and quality assurance processes. (See the next Step for more on training.)
- Business training. Business fundamentals, how to market home performance, sales strategies, and business operations (see the next Step).
- Contractor incentives and financial support: Incentives to motivate improved contractor performance as well as loans or other support to make it easier for contractors to participate and gain the necessary skills and certifications (see the previous Step).
- Program support for marketing and lead generation: Customer outreach, marketing materials that can help contractors sell upgrades and processes for referring program-generated leads to contractors. Programs should determine their relationship to contractors with respect to lead generation and referrals.
- In most cases, contractors will generate most of the leads for upgrade projects, but programs will also generate customer leads through the overall program’s marketing and outreach efforts.
- You will want to decide how you will allocate these leads to contractors on your approved list, whether based on availability, past performance (i.e., providing leads as an incentive for good performance), or other criteria.
- Contractor performance feedback and rating systems: Every program should have a system for collecting and evaluating contractor performance feedback. Many programs have chosen to establish scoring systems that rate participating contractors based on a set of rigorous standards or customer feedback. These scoring systems can also be shared with the public. Customers benefit from these systems through the opportunity to select a contractor with positive feedback, and contractors benefit when their good performance helps them get more business.
- Account managers: Consider establishing an account manager to act as the primary contact person at your program for your contractor partners. An account manager:
- Serves as a liaison between the program and contractors, making sure that customers experience a smooth assessment and upgrade process and that contractors have a resource for addressing problems
- Works with contractors and program staff to keep the upgrade process on track and to resolve any issues that emerge
- Could help contractors find qualified professionals to hire and can help your program meet employment and job creation goals.
Meeting Demand for Home Performance Professionals
When designing and implementing contractor support activities, keep in mind the overall demand from contractors for home performance professionals, as well as how to manage for seasonal fluctuations. Most communities experience seasonal variations in the demand for home energy upgrades as homeowners desire a comfortable climate—high demand for heating in the fall and winter, high demand for cooling in the summer. Contractors are often hesitant to hire new installers on a temporary basis to meet fluctuating demands, so peak demand periods can sometimes result in bottlenecks or project delays. Given this reality, it is important for program administrators to be flexible and work with local contractors to determine how to best align with their business cycles. For example:
- Increased marketing and incentives during non-busy periods can help smooth contractor workloads throughout the year. (Note that cyclical incentives can have unintended consequences if customers wait for the incentives to return.)
- Some contractors, however, may appreciate focused marketing efforts during peak periods, as this can increase business for contractors when they want it and are prepared for it.
- Coordinate with your contractors about what kind of workload they prefer over the course of the year (e.g., focused on slow or peak periods), and what your program can do to help them meet demand.
- Plan any major program changes or other program commitments of contractors (e.g., required program training) so that you provide sufficient lead time for contractors to make adjustments before their busy periods.
Launching During a Lull – Austin Energy’s Best Ever Offer Program
With its long history of operating residential energy efficiency programs, Austin Energy has an extensive understanding of the existing contractor workforce and has acquired key insights into local contractors’ schedules and capacity. Austin’s hot climate keeps contractors busy with home cooling problems during the warm months of the year. In consultation with participating contractors, Austin Energy purposely launched its Best Offer Ever promotion in fall 2010 to take advantage of contractor availability and provide additional work during what are otherwise slow contracting months. This strategy increased the likelihood of energy upgrades being completed in a timely manner while also helping Austin-area contractors avoid seasonal layoffs. Austin Energy’s approach really paid off: 47 contractors completed a record 564 home energy upgrades in just six months.
Austin Energy actively considered contractors’ busy period when planning and launching this campaign and has applied this understanding of peak periods not only to when it launches new initiatives but also other major areas of program activity. For example, Austin Energy has learned that recruiting and training contractors during their busy season is less effective than in slower seasons.
Source: Spotlight on Austin, Texas: Best Offer Ever Produces Upgrades in Record Time, U.S. Department of Energy, 2011.
Decide on the content and approach for training
Your training efforts will help ensure that contractors participating in your program are familiar with your program’s requirements and offerings and that their employees have the skills and qualifications necessary to succeed in your program. These include both technical skills in building science and business skills such as sales and financial management. The certifications you require of participating contractors (see the Step above on contractor participation requirements) will likely address most of the technical skill needs.
You may also have workforce development goals and objectives that will require training to build the skills of people who are new to or who are seeking to enter the home performance industry. The approach you take toward training for your program will depend on the skills and expertise of contractors that are in your market, including the extent to which those contractors already work in home performance.
You should design your training efforts to equip participating technicians to understand and implement the basic program elements, skills, and tools involved in energy efficiency upgrade work. For technical skills, the simplest strategy is to require standard industry certifications such as BPI or RESNET. Then you should seek to fill any gaps with other training, such as on program-specific requirements and business skills.
Develop your training program to ensure that participating contractors and their work crews are knowledgeable about the following topics:
- Program Requirements and Components
- Program goals and expectations of participating contractors, including the purpose of your program, what it aims to achieve, metrics to measure its progress (e.g., number of homes upgraded, kilowatt-hours saved per year), contractor participation requirements (see the previous step), and expectations for work processes for coordination, reporting, and quality assurance.
- Program work quality standards, which help ensure that energy assessments and upgrades meet performance standards, protect the health and safety of homeowners during and after upgrades are completed, and provide for professional and courteous interactions with customers.
- Financial products and incentives offered, including rebates and other incentives available through your program, the loan products available through your program, the conditions the energy professionals or their customers must meet to qualify for the financing and incentives, and how to communicate the financing and incentive offerings to customers.
- Technical Skills
- Building science concepts, which describe the interactions among occupants, building materials and components, and the outside environment and the flow of heat, air, and moisture in the home.
- Diagnostic tools and software, including how to properly set up, use, and understand the results from energy efficiency diagnostic equipment and software tools to determine the most effective energy improvements for a home and to verify that the upgrades were installed properly.
- Installation of energy upgrade measures, including the procedures to install improvements to lighting, HVAC systems, insulation, and/or other building structures or components to improve home comfort and reduce energy use.
Weatherization Assistance Program Standardized Curricula
The DOE Weatherization Assistance Program offers a set of standardized training curricula that new or experienced instructors can use to train and expand the workforce of home performance professionals. Training modules cover weatherization fundamentals and technician basics, intermediate skills, energy assessor skills, working with different types of buildings, health and safety issues, and other topics. A new instructor can download an entire module for a comprehensive training session, while experienced trainers may only want to focus on specific sections.
The curricula are one of the training components of the DOE Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals.
- Business Skills
- Business operations, including topics such as budget planning, customer service, scheduling, human resources, and contract management.
- Sales and marketing, including how to identify the most likely candidates for home energy upgrades, how to make and close the sale, and how energy professionals can access logos and other program marketing materials. Don’t overlook training on how contractors should market loan products and incentives.
Contractor Sales Training Increases Energy Upgrades
In Contractor Sales Training: Providing the Skills Necessary to Sell Comprehensive Home Energy Upgrades, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory describes how adding sales skills to contractors’ existing technical expertise helps convert more assessments into comprehensive home energy upgrades. Training contractors to effectively market the idea of efficiency to homeowners can provide the missing link for programs that have difficulty achieving the anticipated number of energy upgrades. This policy brief also summarizes Efficiency Maine’s experience with sales training, as well as contractor advice on how to talk about home energy upgrades with homeowners.
The case study, “Spotlight on Maine: Contractor Sales Training Boosts Energy Upgrade Conversions” describes Efficiency Maine’s experience and results with a two-day sales and marketing training that helped contractors communicate with customers more effectively. Through monthly webinars and professional development courses, the program has enabled its contractors to boost home energy upgrade conversions as they improve their skills in targeted communication and selling program options. After conducting a two-day sales training course for contractors, and coinciding with additional homeowner incentives and a filing deadline, Efficiency Maine saw an increase in the average monthly rate of energy upgrade conversions from 10% before the training to 60% a few months after the training.
In most cases, you do not have to develop training programs from scratch, and you may want to partner with a local training provider to deliver training courses where needed. The scale of your training efforts will depend largely on the needs you are addressing – whether you have an expansive workforce development program for example, or just need to address targeted improvements in skills for a small group of contractor technicians.
There are multiple formats for training, and you should select the format or combination of approaches most appropriate for your program and your contractors. Many programs combine multiple training formats, such as beginning with classroom training to a certain threshold and providing additional lab training if those facilities are available. Then experienced professionals provide in-field mentoring for initial projects so that installers gain experience and understanding of quality. This in-field mentoring is also often part of the quality assurance process. Each of the following training formats, individually or combined, can provide important skills for your workforce:
- Providing access to training materials, books, manuals, and information on websites is fast, inexpensive, and supports consistent delivery of services, but it doesn’t give students an easy way to ask questions or have difficult concepts explained from alternative perspectives.
- Classroom or online instruction can be efficient in transferring a large amount of knowledge to large groups, but contractors’ technical staff is often not used to spending many hours in a classroom or going through a structured computer course. Many adults learn better by practicing what they have learned in the field, rather than through lectures. Time in the classroom is also time off the work site, which can mean schedule delays, and many contractors prefer to spread training out over time.
- Distance learning is training broadcasted from a central training center to distance learning hubs in other locations. The technology, which includes high definition cameras and displays, allows for real-time interactions between instructors and participants while providing students the ability to see detailed view of presentations made with props and other instructional materials in the training center. Distance learning can be a real asset to programs without high quality training programs in their local area.
- For example, the Association for Energy Affordability, Inc. and its partners coordinate a national distance learning network for weatherization training, offering in-person and interactive, high-definition distance learning courses at facilities in several states.
- Hands-on lab training can take place in a controlled laboratory setting with identified training providers. This training allows for larger groups to attend, compared to in-field training, and for curriculum to be taught more consistently. Lab training provides hands-on practice for identifying and addressing problems, which prepares technicians to recognize and fix issues when they’re at a customer’s home. Lab training has the same issues of cost and missed revenue for contractors.
- In-field training and mentoring refers to training conducted on the contractor’s work sites, in real-world situations, and frequently with the contractor’s equipment. Students should experience in-field training in conjunction with the types of training listed above, after they have learned basic skills in a classroom setting. In the “live” setting, technicians must apply their newly-learned skills to all elements of projects, so the training happens in the full context of a home upgrade. While the topic may be air-sealing around a recessed can light, other issues (e.g. setup, staging, and customer communication) become part of the training. In addition, the contractor earns revenue during the project. In-field training can be time-intensive for trainers, and as a result can be expensive relative to classroom training.
A Focus on Mentoring at Kansas City’s Metropolitan Energy Center
EnergyWorks Kansas City’s partner, the Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC) instituted a mentored practicum experience that follows its training courses in residential and commercial energy assessment, healthy homes, and deconstruction. Each candidate must complete a full complement of one-on-one diagnostics with an instructor in a dummy house. The MEC also devised a merit-based point system for seasoned contractors who agree to mentor newer contractors. EnergyWorks Kansas City has trained 686 home performance professionals, certified 279 home performance professionals, and completed 1,327 residential energy upgrades as of June 2013.
With the exception of lab training, these formats also apply to business skills training, including marketing, and sales. Effective business training generally requires more than a single event. Many of the skills needed in customer service and sales, for example, require regular practice and reinforcement. Event-based trainings, such as multi-day marketing and sales boot camps, can be well received because contractors can quickly apply the skills they learn to boost lead generation and rates of conversions to sales and installation of energy savings measures. Examples of business skills training approaches include:
- Energy Upgrade California provides two-day boot camps on a variety of marketing, sales, service, and management concepts, with exercises and role-playing activities that contractors can take back to their offices. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and other programs have taken this further with ongoing webinar series to reinforce key topics and provide deeper skills.
- Michigan Saves, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) in South Carolina, and other programs have extended this support to provide an initial level of business coaching; they’ve found contractors are more open and willing to ask critical questions without their competitors in the rooms.
- Michigan Saves provided mentoring and comprehensive sales training to help contractors learn how to address individual homeowners’ needs, including describing the benefits of upgrades, and calculating financial returns. This business mentoring provided contractors with critical skills to grow their businesses into the future.
- SEEA trains contractors in regional marketing skills and campaigns. The program has trained more than 200 contractors in marketing materials and campaigns, professional networking, and business development.
Community colleges, trade schools, and other training facilities can offer certain types of training curricula, such as training to BPI requirements. Programs have also contracted with specialized training providers for topics such as sales and business training. When considering partnerships with training providers, make sure that the training courses are designed to be consistent with and support the technical work standards and requirements for contractors you established for your program.
Different contractors and individual technicians will have different needs. Contractors participating in your program will need to orient work crews to your program, but may have varying needs for business and sales skills development and continuing technical education on energy assessments and installations.
- Identify baseline expectations for training and certifications to include in contractor participation requirements, the program orientation, and any periodic specialized training or assistance with certifications that may be needed to further develop the workforce and respond to contractor needs.
- Consider building in ways to reinforce training to ensure that concepts are retrained, through strategies such as refresher classes and combining classroom or lab training with mentoring programs.
New or aspiring home performance professionals may need more extensive training and mentoring support on building sciences, energy upgrade work, and sales. To support this need, consider working with contractor to design and support opportunities for on-the-job learning and mentoring, particularly for newly minted professionals. Forums for interactions among contractors and with the program, such as regular contractor breakfast meetings, also provide opportunities for contractors and program administrators to learn from each other.
Advancing the Workforce on Bainbridge Island, Washington
When designing its program, RePower Bainbridge understood that establishing standards for contractor participation was important; however, it did not want workforce requirements to prevent contractors from getting involved. To tackle this issue, RePower Bainbridge interviewed contractors that had shown interest in the program and gauged the level of training each company’s employees had received. Based on these interviews, program administrators determined that requiring certification from the beginning would create undesired barriers to contractor participation. RePower Bainbridge also held follow-up meetings with contractors before program launch, during which contractors voiced their concern that requiring BPI certification would prohibit them from participating in the program in the near term.
RePower Bainbridge decided that contractors could enter the program without BPI certification but would be required to become BPI-certified by a specific date. Contractors that fail to receive the certification by that date are removed from the program but can participate again if and when they are certified. To ensure that non-certified contractors’ work still met program standards and customer needs, the program established a team of advisors whose role is to provide support, quality assurance, and feedback to those contractors. RePower Bainbridge also holds a series of technical trainings for these non-certified contractors to address specific energy upgrade skill needs. Following the trainings, the advisors provide job-site assistance for a three- to five-week period.
From December 2009 to June 2013, the program trained 114 technicians and certified 14 professionals.
Outline workforce development activities
Your workforce development activities will flow from the needs you identified in the local contractor market (e.g., do contractors need to build specific skills and qualifications among their staff) and any goals you may have for workforce development and employment for your program. If there are not enough qualified home performance professionals in your community to meet existing demand, consider a four-pronged approach for building your workforce and addressing key barriers to entry related to job access, training, and business capacity:
- Consider adding flexibility to program requirements. Evaluate whether you might need to adjust the requirements and incentives in your program to better encourage contractor participation.
- Develop contractor business capacity. After you have decided on the content and approach for business skills training, explore other ways to build contractor business capacity. Other strategies include connecting your contractors with organizations such as small business assistance centers, which in turn can help them develop skills to be successful. There may also be nonprofit organizations or small-business incubators you can reach out to that are interested in developing contractor capacity in your local home energy upgrade market, such as EnergyWorks KC in Kansas City, Missouri’s business incubator that offers training and support.
- Increase awareness of and access to jobs. Based on your workforce development goals and objectives, you may wish to target your recruitment efforts at certain types of contractors, such as local, small, women-owned, or minority-owned businesses, or specific trades, such as HVAC or weatherization. Take advantage of networking and community outreach events, which are useful for getting the word out about your program and building connections between energy professionals. You can also recruit contractors by contacting trade associations and hosting recruitment breakfasts or seminars.
- Offer additional education and training. By working with training partners, your program can offer incentives, subsidies, or opportunities for training, certification, and mentorship to new professionals entering the home performance market.
Toolkit for Residential Energy Efficiency Programs with Resources for Supporting Contractors and Building Contractor Capacity
Green For All, a non-profit that works with business, government, and labor communities to increase quality jobs and opportunities in the green industry, developed a toolkit to help both new and established residential energy efficiency programs design effective programs and scale their initiatives. It features downloadable templates and resources from energy efficiency programs nationwide. The toolkit offers examples, best practices, tools, and templates that program managers can deploy to:
- Generate sustained program demand
- Establish innovative finance mechanisms to reach the largest consumer market possible
- Build work standards and contractor support into programs that result in family-supporting jobs and community economic development.
The toolkit includes resources on building contractor capacity and on workforce development and education. It provides best practice briefs and summary documents and examples of requests for proposals (RFPs), contracts, and other templates that communities have used to create their own efficiency programs. Workforce development tools include:
- Program design recommendations and best practices (e.g. how to incorporate workforce development principles into projects)
- Examples of how to design workforce development initiatives to draw good workers to the industry
- Charts that show how to design a workforce development career competency framework
- Resources for certification and education pathways for energy efficiency careers, and sample program RFPs.
Source: Green for All Energy Efficiency Toolkit, Green for All, 2012.
As you did with contractor support activities, it is useful at this stage to review lessons and feedback on how other communities, either locally or nationally, have approached the workforce development components of their programs. The case studies in this Solution Center are one source for this information.
Collaborate with contractors and workforce development partners to develop program design
As you outline the major components that will help make your program design successful, reach out to solicit input on all of the elements of your program’s contractor engagement and workforce development activities, including quality standards, contractor participation requirements, contractor interaction guidelines, training plans, and contractor support and workforce development activities. You should also gather feedback on your program’s service delivery model for energy assessments and upgrades, the financial products your program will offer, and the incentives and marketing plans for your program.
This makes it a good time to solicit input from contractors and workforce development partners on the program. Make sure to not just ask for feedback but also internalize that feedback and make adjustments before you structure all the elements of your workforce and contractor activities into an implementation plan. This outreach will also help you gauge interest in your program.
When you identified what organizations to partner with, you also planned how to engage with contractors and other workforce development partners on an ongoing basis. Consulting with contractors and workforce development partners on your program design choices will be part of those ongoing interactions.
- For example, Enhabit hosts regular meetings every two weeks to allow contractors to share feedback on the program.
For your program design consultation meetings, identify what organizations you will solicit feedback from and the venues or format, such as one-on-one discussions or group meetings. Develop a brief summary of the initial program design to present or discuss and specific questions or areas that you would like to explore. Be attentive to the time of your potential partners, and spend as much time as you can listening rather than talking.
As a general principle, focus on contractor outreach first, and let what you have learned from the contractor discussions inform your discussions with training providers or other workforce development partners (e.g., you may learn about specific training needs, you may learn that your contractors need a trainer with a specific expertise, a trainer that is available to teach in the evenings or in a lab environment).
After you’ve collected input from potential contractor and training provider partners, review the requirements for contractor participation and other planned activities in light of contractor input, workforce development needs, and your overall program goals. Consider what aspects of your program need to be adjusted to allow for higher contractor participation, improve the quality of work and energy savings achieved, and support other related program and partner goals.
Tips for Success
Maintain a sufficient workforce from program launch into program maturity
Your program will rely on its contractor base in order to succeed, so take steps to ensure that the capacity of the workforce is sufficient to launch your program and to maintain it as it grows. An evaluation of over 140 programs found that successful programs fostered and maintained relationships with a large pool of contractors. Many Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners took the time to learn about contractors’ businesses and align program promotions with those needs. Focus on expanding contractors’ businesses and avoid interrupting or complicating a sale. Also, remember that it is important not to take contractors’ leads to their competitors, as can occur when programs pool all leads and distribute them on a rotating basis. Contractors are protective of leads they generated themselves, so this can become a disincentive for contractors to participate in your program.
If you understand contractors’ business processes and align promotions during contractors’ periods of greater availability, you can help ensure that your program will retain a reliable workforce into the future. One way that you can attract the contractors you need is to design your program in a way that will benefit contractors. Take steps to ensure that contractors want to work with your program, and to reduce barriers to their ability to do so.
- Enhabit, formerly Clean Energy Works Oregon, created a system to help ensure that the program did not interfere with competition among contractors, or cause contractors’ leads to be given to their competitors. Initially, the program pooled all leads and referred them to contractors on a rotating basis, assigning them to the next contractor in line. This led to some contractors’ leads being given to other contractors. The program later improved that process by assigning a code to each contractor, and when a contractor generated a lead, the customer would use the appropriate code. In that way, Enhabit would be able to assign the work to the appropriate contractor.
- Seattle’s Community Power Works coordinated with contractors before launching marketing initiatives that were going to drive a spike in demand. Contractors could then prepare in advance for the increase in customer interest, and the program was able to establish required timelines for contractors to follow, to ensure that new customers received an evaluation in a timely manner.
Design a program that provides value for contractors and considers their seasonal business cycles
Many residential energy efficiency programs run into challenges maintaining an appropriately sized, well-trained workforce from program launch through maturity, as well as through the fluctuating demand of the seasons of the year. Some programs found that their contractors preferred a smooth annual workload in order to avoid layoffs during the slow off-season months, while others found that they benefited from seasonal fluctuations in demand. By understanding your contractors’ schedules and capacity, you can schedule campaigns to generate demand for their services when they want it and pursue innovative strategies to help them manage their workload accordingly. Coordinate with your contractors to identify their needs and preferences and explore ways that you can help drive demand or increase the number of available professionals.
- Austin Energy acquired an extensive understanding of the existing contractor workforce and gathered key insights into local contractors’ schedules and capacity. Austin’s hot weather keeps contractors busy dealing with home cooling issues during the warm months of the year. Austin Energy purposely launched its Best Offer Ever promotion in fall 2010 to take advantage of contractor availability and provide more work during otherwise slow contracting months. This approach increased the likelihood that upgrades would be completed in a timely manner, while also helping Austin-area contractors avoid seasonal layoffs.
- NeighborWorks of Western Vermont realized that fluctuating seasonal demand for home energy efficiency upgrades posed challenges for contractors. Contractors were reluctant to hire additional technicians during peak season because they knew that demand would ebb in the spring and summer. The result was a backlog of projects. The program created a pool of temporary employees to help contractors in need of home performance professionals, including small contractors. This approached helped participating contractors weather the changing demand for home performance upgrades by offering them the flexibility to grow and shrink their workforce as needed. Many contractors expressed enthusiasm for the temporary employee pool, and the extra staffing helped reduce the number of backlogged projects throughout the community.
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.
Contractors are your sales team – educate and empower them with the skills to sell home energy upgrades
Many home performance programs have confronted the challenge of how to reach out to more customers and to improve conversion rates of customer interest into completed upgrades. Realizing that the contractor is a primary face-to-face link between customers and the program, some Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners took steps to empower contractors to market program services through co-marketing and sales training. A comprehensive evaluation of over 140 programs across the United States found that successful programs have contractors who are skilled at helping customers understand the benefits of home energy improvements. Because contractors are often the main point of contact with participants, contractors must be trained to persuade homeowners to move forward with potentially costly projects.
Some programs were able to empower contractors by co-marketing and co-branding with them to reach new homeowners. Co-marketing can help both contractors and programs; a cooperative advertising model allows programs to share the costs to develop and distribute marketing materials. Co-marketing helps programs leverage contractor resources to increase their market presence, and extends contractors’ ability to market themselves even if they have limited resources.
Source: In Their Own Words: Empower Contractors by Building Sales and Business Skills, U.S. Department of Energy, 2012.
Programs have found that offering sales training to home performance professionals can significantly boost sales and improve customer experience and conversion rates. During sales training, technicians can learn about the program’s upgrade process, how to sell it using non-technical communications with customers, and other techniques for transforming assessments into upgrades. Programs saw benefits from offering free or reduced-cost sales training as a partnership benefit for contractors. Taking the resources to offer this training to contractor staff helped programs ensure that technicians understood and could promote program benefits, rebates, and other incentives available to customers. For many programs, contractor sales training resulted in more effective sales approaches, increased rates of conversion from assessment to upgrade, and increased revenues for contractor businesses.
- Efficiency Maine boosted conversion rates with sales training, which helped contractors communicate with customers more effectively. Through monthly webinars and professional development courses, the program has helped contractors improve their skills in targeted communication and selling program options, thereby increasing home energy upgrade conversions. After conducting a two-day sales training course for contractors, coinciding with additional homeowner incentives and a filing deadline, Efficiency Maine’s average monthly rate of energy upgrade conversions increased from 10% before the training to 60% a few months afterward.
- Energy Upgrade California in Los Angeles County provided marketing materials and sales training to contractors. Having learned that contractors often do not have the time or experience to create marketing tools, the program developed an online resource center with customizable marketing kits for contractors. Frequent networking events for contractors also provided training on specific aspects of marketing. Because contractors had limited budgets, Energy Upgrade California established an online, on-demand print center that contractors can use to print and deliver program marketing materials. The marketing materials raised the visibility of home performance professionals, helped homeowners find qualified contractors, and ensured a consistent message about the program.
- Connecticut’s Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge found that contractors frequently have limited marketing capabilities to sell upgrades. The program hired energy advisers to help contractors move customers through the process from assessment to upgrade. Analysis showed that contractors valued the energy advisers and other program staff who provided small business support and development assistance. This support and assistance included sales training, sales process development, data management, and data analyses. These analyses included a scorecard and online dashboard showing how leads had progressed through the pipeline, contractors’ rates for assessment completion and their upgrade rate, and contractors’ marketing activity. Contractors benefited from the marketing tools to support home energy upgrades. The program also found value in requiring participating contractors to agree to a whole home performance orientation and well-defined sales process, as conditions to their participation in the program. The Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge found that their upgrade rates improved after implementing these tools and tactics.
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.
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.
Connect home performance professionals to trainings focused on the skills that employers want and the community needs
Effective home performance contractors require many types of skills and expertise. To help individuals develop those skills, programs can target training on the specific topics and skills needed for successful home performance work. Many Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners found that they could cost-effectively increase their contractors’ access to training by engaging with expert partners to provide training, mentoring, and apprenticeship opportunities. A comprehensive evaluation of over 140 programs across the United States found that the more successful programs offered multiple training opportunities to contractors, either by delivering training or engaging partners to deliver training. By providing access to training, programs saw enhanced assessment quality, more effective sales approaches, increased rates of conversion from assessment to upgrade, more comprehensive upgrades, more effective and efficient installation processes, improved quality control, and increased revenues for contractors.
Training alone does not create jobs in the community, but you can increase the relevance of your training by using contractor input to select training topics. Several Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partners found that asking contractors what topics would be valuable also helped the program build an engaged and capable workforce. By providing access to the specific training that contractors want, programs can increase their chances of success by ensuring that they have a strong pool of contractors with a deep understanding of building sciences and the ability to install or subcontract a variety of energy-saving measures.
Some programs found success in working with education and training providers, such as community colleges, universities, and weatherization training centers, to offer valuable and appropriate training to their contractors. Apprenticeships, which can be a bridge between classroom training and being hired by contractors, helped some programs ensure that students acquired the skills that employers want. These programs also found that accredited, on-the-job training can be a relevant, less expensive, and more motivating supplement to classroom training.
- Community Power Works in Seattle piloted a new training approach to meet contractor needs and the requirements of the city’s high-road workforce agreement. The program’s original training programs relied on an outdated model of training, failed to prepare technicians properly to be hired, and lacked adequate mentorship and job-finding support for training graduates. The new approach included partnering with South Seattle Community College and the nonprofit Northwest EcoBuilding Guild, which offered classes and workshops, as well as participation by contractors to gather their feedback on training options. Training was available to both entry-level and experienced home performance professionals, and contractors were given the flexibility to hire first and train second (e.g., hire a technician who is not fully trained or certified but can begin or is in the process of completing certifications). In this way, the contractor could select from a wider pool of candidates and then provide supplemental training to those who need it. The training was fully subsidized by the program. By establishing these ongoing collaborative partnerships with contractors, Community Power Works helped to ensure that it has a robust workforce of trained professionals for the future. As a result of these partnerships, about 40 training graduates have worked around 23,000 hours on Community Power Works projects between April 2011 and December 2013.
- Philadelphia’s Energy Coordinating Agency collaborated with the Community College of Philadelphia to design an apprenticeship program for energy efficiency and building science. Two one-year programs—“Building Energy Analyst” and “Weatherization Installer and Technician”—led to journeyman credentials and BPI certification. These programs trained home performance professionals with the technical building science skills they needed, while also providing hands-on experience with energy efficiency analysis and installation of energy efficiency measures. Program trainees helped residents save an average of 20% to 30% on utility bills through weatherization and energy conservation services.
- Austin Energy emphasized making its contractor training locally relevant. The program encouraged trainers to highlight issues that were particularly applicable to the local climate and housing stock, and to focus on regionally-appropriate amendments to energy code. For example, basements are uncommon in Austin houses, so training should avoid seeming out of touch and refrain from discussing basement upgrades. The program also learned that trainers should allow time for participating contractors to raise issues and questions that are specific to their geographic area and most pertinent to the local community in which they work.
- EnergyWorks Kansas City’s program implementer, Metropolitan Energy Center (MEC), provided training and mentoring for home energy professionals, including training for BPI certification. Training courses included residential and commercial energy assessment, healthy homes, and deconstruction. One training session focused specifically on small and women-owned businesses. To follow up on the training, MEC instituted a mentored practicum experience in which each student was required to complete a full complement of diagnostic tests with the instructor in a dummy house. EnergyWorks Kansas City and MEC also worked with seasoned contractors to provide mentoring to newer contractors in the program. From 2011 to 2014, 90 individuals participated in MEC’s introductory home performance training program. The training and mentoring program allowed new technicians to enter the home performance market: from 2009 to 2014, the number of certified residential auditors in Kansas City increased from six to over fifty, almost all of whom have received training from MEC.
Last Updated: 01/05/2018