The City of Greensboro, North Carolina, sought to reach a diverse community with energy efficiency improvements through the BetterBuildings for Greensboro Program. While all residential and commercial property owners in the city were eligible to participate, the program especially targeted households with low to moderate incomes by offering tailored financing options.
Using $5 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, BetterBuildings for Greensboro provided multiple program offerings that were modified as needed to increase participation. In addition to decreasing energy use across the city, the program also sought to increase the number of energy upgrade jobs by providing training opportunities to contractors and creating demand for energy upgrades.
BetterBuildings for Greensboro tested its initial program design through a pilot program, then created two separate program designs based on household income. One program offered participants grants to fund energy upgrades, and the other offered rebate incentives; both financing options required the upgrade measures chosen to achieve a projected energy savings of at least 15%. BetterBuildings for Greensboro was also a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® (HPwES) Sponsor.
To help drive participation, BetterBuilding for Greensboro promoted the program through neighborhood-focused outreach that included door-to-door canvassing, or “sweeps.” Program staff determined applicants’ eligibility for either the Grant Program or the Incentive Program, then assigned a Home Energy Response Officer (HERO), who provided program information and assisted participants throughout the energy assessment, contractor selection, and upgrade process. Upon successful evaluation of installed upgrades, homeowners were issued HPwES certificates. Read more in the BetterBuildings for Greensboro final report.
By tailoring its program to different income levels and providing HERO support, BetterBuildings for Greensboro was able to bring energy efficiency improvements to a diverse community.
- Residential Program Design: BetterBuildings for Greensboro created three distinct offerings.
- Early Adopters Pilot Program: From March through June 2011, the Early Adopters program targeted homeowners prepared to implement energy efficiency measures. The pilot program provided participants with rebates for energy assessments and installed upgrades. When the pilot ended, BetterBuildings for Greensboro created the following two separate program offerings based on homeowner income.
- Grant Program: Homeowners with an annual household income at or below 250% of the federal poverty level could participate in the Grant Program. Program staff recommended specific energy upgrades the participating contractors should install in the homes to save the most energy at the lowest cost, with a focus on air sealing, duct sealing, and insulation.
- Incentive Program: All other homeowners were eligible to participate in the Incentive Program. Beyond the income eligibility requirements, this program differed in that participants were able to choose which upgrades contractors would install, as long as they were projected to achieve at least 15% energy savings.
- Marketing and Outreach: In addition to reaching out to residents through direct mail and testimonial ads on local television channels, BetterBuildings for Greensboro partnered with neighborhood associations to spread the word through community meetings. Volunteers were trained to lead door-to-door sweeps of neighborhoods, and contractors promoted the program to their clients and displayed yard signs when they conducted upgrades.
- Financing: Through the Grant Program, qualified homeowners were eligible for grants up to $3,000. Eventually, the Incentive Program offered rebates up to $3,000; the Incentive Program also subsidized the cost of home energy assessments so homeowners paid only $50. Through partnerships with three local lenders (i.e., Carolina Bank, Greensboro Municipal Federal Credit Union, and Self-Help Credit Union), BetterBuildings for Greensboro used grant funds to create a loan loss reserve and buy down interest rates. Secured and unsecured loans were available to any participants to implement upgrades beyond the grant or rebate amounts.
- Workforce Development: Contractors on the program’s Pre-Qualified Contractors List had to be certified through the Building Performance Institute or Residential Energy Services Network and successfully complete training related to HPwES. To remain on the list, contractors’ work had to meet the program’s standards. The program offered a number of trainings, including a BPI certification course, sales training, building science, and housing code enforcement.
- Commercial Program Design: Commercial property owners were also eligible to participate in the Incentive Program, as long as the building was located within the city and had a certificate of occupancy prior to 2010. Incentives included rebates—which ranged from $1,500 to $200,000—for energy assessments and upgrades designed to achieve 15% energy savings.
By piloting and modifying program offerings over time, BetterBuildings for Greensboro program staff learned important lessons about program design, including:
- Adjust program incentives to respond to market demand. Because the media coverage generally emphasized the Grant Program, it was initially difficult to get some applicants to pursue upgrades through the Incentive Program when they discovered they were not eligible for the Grant Program. To further incentivize participation, the program chose to increase the maximum rebate homeowners could receive and decrease the cost of the energy assessment. “Last chance” and “flash” sales also encouraged homeowners to take advantage of the rebates before the program ended.
- Make it personal. After initially mailing applicants contracts with recommended measures for their selected contractors to install, but finding that there was not a great return rate, the program had HEROs hand-deliver and retrieve the contracts. In addition to reducing the response time, this gave applicants an opportunity to ask their HERO any remaining questions before contractors came to complete the approved scope of work.
- Allow other home improvements. Because some homes were not in good enough condition for energy upgrades to be effective, BetterBuildings for Greensboro created a Minor Repair Program to offer furnace and heat pump repair and replacement, vapor barrier installation, and other repairs before implementing upgrades, which greatly increased program participation.
- Conduct quality control. The program employed quality assurance contractors to evaluate upgrades. Homes where the upgrade work passed the evaluation received an HPwES certificate, which could be valuable for potential home resale. Homes that did not pass the evaluation received corrective actions to fix the problems, and this process helped keep contractors accountable.
- Relay important information to the outreach team. After receiving a number of incomplete applications, program staff briefed outreach volunteers on what made an application complete. The community outreach liaisons began collecting and submitting more complete applications, helping to streamline the process so program staff would not have to request additional information.
When the program ended in 2014, there were a number of applicants who had not yet initiated upgrades, so BetterBuildings for Greensboro met with the state-funded Weatherization Assistance Program and Duke Energy’s Residential Neighborhood Program to follow up on these leads:
- In March 2014, Duke Energy targeted remaining applicants in its service area with an energy efficiency program that provided upgrades to more than 1,400 households.
- The City Housing Rehabilitation Program sent remaining applicants information on homeowner and landlord repair programs and received a significant response.
- The program’s pre-approved contractors were given access to contact information for housing rehabilitation applicants as future potential customers.
- Two of the program’s three local lenders continue to offer energy upgrade loans through their websites and direct mail promotions.