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Community Power Works Uses Housing Data to Make the Emerald City Even "Greener"

In Seattle, Washington, owners of oil-heated homes are ineligible for city-sponsored electric and gas utility rebates. But that didn't stop the city's Better Buildings Neighborhood Program partner, Community Power Works, from using housing data to break through to this untapped market. Given the lower efficiency and high cost of heating oil, the program recognized the energy and cost savings potential for these Seattle homeowners and acted to engage them in undertaking home energy upgrades.

In spring 2012, Community Power Works purchased a mailing list from Data Marketing, Inc., that identified all owners of oil-heated homes in Seattle. The program used the data to send letters to 30,000 of these homeowners describing the energy efficiency services available through Community Power Works. The initial mailings were sent in three batches of 10,000 during April and May 2012. To encourage quick responses, the letters included a limited-time $500 rebate available to homeowners after they submitted a receipt for decommissioning their oil tank.

After the letters were sent, Community Power Works tracked the names of recipients who signed up for a home energy assessment. In June 2012, the program sent an additional 10,000 follow-up letters to homeowners who had not yet signed up for an assessment. Although Community Power Works is unable to determine a precise letter-to-upgrade conversion rate, a significant increase in program participation among owners of oil-heated homes indicates the direct mail strategy made a measurable impact.

More than 700 Community Power Works customers who signed up for upgrades from April to August 2012 reported "mailings" as the way they heard about the program. Additionally, in the 11 months prior to the first mailing, only 20% of Community Power Works' upgrade projects involved oil-heated homes. However, during the six months following the mailing, 50% of the homes that started the upgrade process were oil-heated. Among those homes, nearly 75% switched from oil heating to high-efficiency electric heating or high-efficiency electric heat pumps (as of mid-December 2012).

Community Power Works program administrators have seen higher conversion rates among owners of oil-heated homes in the past, but they hope to learn if there is a significant difference in sign-up rates between owners of oil-heated homes and those of gas-heated residences. In January 2013, Community Power Works sent 10,000 mailings to gas-heated homes while continuing its oil-heated home mailings. Staff will track response rates from the two distinct homeowner groups in the coming months and send a follow-up mailing to whichever group is more responsive.

For other programs deciding whether to invest in a targeted direct mail strategy, Community Power Works Coordinator Adam Buick offers some advice:

  • Look for gaps and underserved markets in your community to determine your best localized target.
  • Consider coupling targeted mailings with targeted rebates (e.g., offering a limited-time rebate for decommissioning an oil tank to owners of oil-heated homes).
  • Consider influential branding (e.g., city branding) for the mailing to help achieve a higher open and response rate. For example, as a City of Seattle Office of Sustainability program, Community Power Works designed its mailings to look like a city utility bill. It used a window envelope, city logo, and a "Seattle's energy upgrade program" tagline to encourage homeowners to open the "bill."

Learn more about Community Power Works and the incentives it offers owners of oil-heated homes in Seattle.