Homeowners in New York's Hudson Valley and Westchester County completed 550 home energy efficiency projects in 2011—twice as many as the previous year—through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) program. These improvements saved each participating household more than $1,000 annually with many showing much higher projected savings. Energize New York, a community-based program supported by NYSERDA and the Energy Department, has been fundamental to this increase in upgrades. The following are some keys to Energize New York's success.
- Connect with a trusted leader. "People want to know that their local leaders and neighbors have done the work, and it makes sense," says Tom Bregman, Director of Energize New York. The program works hard to win the approval of local government and community leaders because its staff knows that community members view these endorsements as a validation of the program. "If a leader is interested and engaged, it makes our work much easier," adds Bregman.
- Become a part of the community. "Nothing beats focused community and homeowner engagement," says Bregman. To engage with the community, Energize New York staff does tabling and outreach at events like farmers markets and community fairs to help raise awareness of the program. Energize New York favors face-to-face interaction as a means of engaging interested customers. Its commitment to personal interaction notwithstanding, the program has also employed a social media to forge electronic connections with local community and environmental groups.
- Give your audience what they want. Energize New York honed its messaging to focus on what resonates with its audience—the enhanced home comfort and monetary savings that come with improved energy efficiency. While return on investment and cash flow analyses are useful tools for demonstrating that home energy efficiency improvements can pay for themselves in the long run, homeowners also respond to the immediate benefit of having a more comfortable home. Health and safety aspects of home improvements are also important to homeowners. Although the program occasionally touts the environmental benefits of energy efficiency, such as greenhouse gas emission reductions, it is careful to assess the receptiveness of its audience before doing so.
- Offer attractive incentives and financing options. Most home energy assessments are offered free of charge. Cash-back incentives and low-cost financing are available to help homeowners pay for recommended energy upgrades, and on-bill recovery financing enables homeowners to pay for energy efficiency improvements through money saved on utility bills. Once work is completed, homeowners can receive a 10% rebate off the total cost of the work through New York's HPwES.
- Equip customers with tools for success. Once homeowners have expressed interest in efficiency upgrades, Energize New York provides a suite of tools and resources to help them translate that interest into action. The program created an Energize Comfort Corps out of the larger NYSERDA-approved contractor list to facilitate the contractor selection process, and provides free quality assurance evaluations to ensure that improvements have been done according to Building Performance Institute standards. Throughout the whole process, the program features a building science expert, or "energy coach," who is available for on-site consultations and advice on home efficiency improvements.
Using these successful approaches is paying off for Energize New York. The program has already demonstrated its positive impact in Westchester County as evidenced by the sharp increase in the number of upgrades as well as a 200% year-over-year growth in launched communities.