With a goal of "energy efficiency or bust," the California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) recently completed a statewide tour of its ongoing Energy Upgrade California Roadshow. The mobile exhibit made 11 stops in nine cities across California during November 2012 to educate more than 1,000 homeowners on how to increase home energy efficiency, achieve cost savings, and improve home comfort. In coordination with partners across the state, the Roadshow stopped at local farmers' markets, community centers, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Although this is CCSE's first statewide tour, the 24-foot trailer has been hitting the road to drive demand for home energy upgrades since the exhibit launched in August 2011. Between that time and January 2013, the Roadshow—which includes contractors at every stop—visited more than 100 events and welcomed nearly 20,000 visitors. Of those visitors, more than 2,500 requested to speak with a participating Energy Upgrade California contractor at the Roadshow.

"We learned early on that the Roadshow primes visitors for an informed conversation with an onsite contractor who can then schedule a home energy assessment on the spot," said CCSE's Better Buildings Program Manager Jeremy Hutman.

In addition to contractor face time, Hutman said, homeowners are drawn to the trailer's interior, which mimics the look and feel of an upgraded home. Visitors explore the trailer on a self-guided tour by interacting with custom-designed computer applications, learning about the home energy upgrade experiences of "neighbors" represented by life-sized cutouts, signing up for CCSE's mailing list on touch-screen iPads, and exploring educational case studies.

"Our case studies have generated the most interest, because they are tangible, real-life examples of how the whole-home approach can be applied to a home like theirs," Hutman said.

Not only does CCSE create community events specifically for the Roadshow, but the exhibit travels to regional home improvement shows. CCSE promotes the exhibit's stops through a combination of direct mail, program newsletters, road signs, and cross-promotional efforts among CCSE's utility and local business partnerships.

"The community is becoming more aware of the Roadshow, and each event creates a snowball effect where people want the exhibit at their own event," Hutman said.

The Roadshow will continue touring through 2014 using funding from the Better Buildings Neighborhood Program and the San Diego Regional Energy Partnership. Beyond the $180,000 start-up budget for the trailer, design, and exhibit software development, costs of the Roadshow include employing two staff members to set up and break down the exhibit. CCSE's fuel costs have been minimal due to its propane-powered truck and commercial fuel rates.

For program administrators considering taking their outreach efforts on the road, Hutman offered the following advice:

  • Visiting a trailer alone does not close the deal. Offer homeowners multiple options for steps they can take once the tour is over.
  • Keep the message simple and think about the consumer's point of view. Talk about what they want to know, not what you want to tell them.
  • Every event offers a new set of challenges. Create a road show that is easy to set up and break down, and make sure that the team running it is comprised of creative problem-solvers.
  • Invite contractors to set up a table near the road show exit. This allows them to schedule assessments on the spot, or at least exchange contact information with homeowners.
  • Provide a referral system through which homeowners can request that qualified contractors contact them.
  • Encourage homeowners to sign up for future communications (e.g., program newsletters) by providing a promotional giveaway item at the point of sign-up.
  • When creating a mobile educational exhibit like the Energy Upgrade California Roadshow, consider selecting a vendor that specializes in designing convention exhibits.