In order to make opportunities for home energy upgrades clear and consistent for the 10 million people living in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Office of Sustainability decided to promote a single, regional residential efficiency program. The State of California had previously developed the statewide Energy Upgrade California program, which Los Angeles and other counties agreed to support through grant funding and adopted in their branding.

Using $30 million in seed funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Better Buildings Neighborhood Program, Los Angeles County and its partner programs sought to develop and test new program models to cultivate their local energy upgrade markets. This partnership effort encompassed 24 pilot projects across several regions in California, which identified, informed, and educated the people most likely to undertake energy upgrades and provided them with incentives and resources to facilitate the process.

Defining Characteristics
Approaches Taken
Key Takeaways
What’s Next?
Additional Resources

Defining Characteristics

By experimenting with pilot programs, Los Angeles County and its partners were able to determine the most effective ways to market and implement energy upgrades in their respective communities. In addition to whole-home performance programs that focused on deeper upgrades, investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in California created whole-home prescriptive programs designed for homeowners who were interested in pursuing basic energy upgrades Los Angeles County offered two paths to home upgrades—the Basic Path and the Advanced Path. The county planned to support the IOU programs through local marketing and outreach. When those programs resulted in slow uptake, Los Angeles County developed the Flex Path pilot, a points-based prescriptive program, and the Matching Incentive program, which matched the IOU incentive to homeowners participating in the Basic and Advanced Paths within Los Angeles County.

Flex Path allowed homeowners and contractors more options for measures to install than the Basic Path, and it was simpler than the Advanced Path, which required energy modeling and pre-installation inspections. Los Angeles County offered rebates for 19 eligible Flex Path measures. Each upgrade measure was assigned a point value based on its potential energy savings, and homeowners received a $1,500 rebate for installing upgrades that equaled 100 or more corresponding points. Learn more about this and other partners’ efforts in the Los Angeles County final report.


(July 2010 to September 2013)

Approaches Taken

Los Angeles County and its partners piloted various program delivery, outreach, financing, and workforce training methods to determine the most effective and replicable approaches.

  • Residential Pilot Program Design: The Whole Neighborhood Approach pilots were designed to test the theory that contractors would be able to reduce costs if they were able to install the same upgrade measures in similar homes. The pilots targeted specific neighborhoods and worked with early adopters to encourage their neighbors to participate. To increase awareness of green labeling, Los Angeles County and Alameda County pilots conducted outreach to homeowners and real estate professionals, offered technical assistance and incentives to help properties earn the label, and advocated to include the label in real estate multiple listing services (MLS). Both pilots provided rebates for projects that achieved GreenPoint Rated certification, the leading residential green building rating system in California, and the Los Angeles County pilot also gave rebates to projects that achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
  • Multifamily Pilot Program Design: The multifamily incentive pilots in Los Angeles County and Alameda County offered technical assistance to multifamily property owners to help them complete energy upgrades of their properties. These services included upgrade recommendations, benchmarking against similar buildings in the region, referrals to energy assessors, and an online technical assistance toolkit. Multifamily property owners in San Francisco could also participate in a pilot that used two existing energy rebate programs as a basis to track pre‐ and post‐upgrade energy usage and to test methodologies for calculating the percentage of building energy savings for each project.
  • Marketing and Outreach: Community-based social marketing pilots in Los Angeles County, San Diego County, Alameda County, and San Francisco City and County tested a variety of different approaches, for example:
    • Los Angeles County tested two main approaches: the Energy Champions Program, which encouraged community organizations such as churches and schools to promote energy upgrades to their members; and the Home Energy Makeover Contest, which raised awareness as homeowners entered to win free home energy upgrades and assessments through Energy Upgrade California.
    • StopWaste in Alameda County leveraged parent-teacher organizations as trusted messengers to promote energy upgrades to homeowners in their community. StopWaste also partnered with Lowe’s, which offered its own comprehensive home energy assessment for $99, as well as an energy efficiency upgrade company to perform the recommended energy upgrades.
    • In San Diego, CCSE’s Hero Alliance program promoted published testimonials and contractor reviews from military members and veterans who completed upgrades. Through the Home Improvement Retail Partnership, CCSE worked with Best Buy stores in San Diego County to provide rebates and a “Geek Squad” assessment service and brought an interactive Energy Roadshow Trailer to community events.
    • The San Francisco program used DOE’s Home Energy Score tool to evaluate homes and encourage upgrades and partnered with a local hardware store that included articles in its newsletter, messages on receipts, and point-of-purchase promotions near energy-efficient products with information about the home energy efficiency program.
  • Financing: Los Angeles County partnered with Matadors Community Credit Union to provide low‐interest financing on certain upgrades to homeowners of single-family, detached properties and created a loan loss reserve fund. For a limited time, Los Angeles County also bought down the interest rate to 2%. In Sonoma County, RCPA designed a self‐sustaining on-bill financing pilot in the town of Windsor for energy- and water-saving measures that required no upfront costs and allowed participants to pay over time through a surcharge on their water bills, with no debt obligation for the customer, no credit checks, and no liens.
  • Workforce Development: Los Angeles County and CCSE in San Diego County tested two different heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) training pilots. Los Angeles County provided training and incentives to contractors performing upgrades to meet the local utility’s Quality Installation (QI) standards, which ensures the proper sizing and installation of HVAC units to maximize a home’s energy savings. In San Diego County, the program initially provided training to help HVAC contractors transition into the whole-home energy upgrade business model, and then expanded to a broader range of contractors and business development topics.
  • Commercial Program Design: In Sacramento, SMUD reached out to multifamily and small commercial markets in the downtown area, East Sacramento, and the Rosemont neighborhood based on average building age, the presence of tract housing, prior program participation, local economic conditions, and levels of community activity.

Key Takeaways

Los Angeles County and its partners found targeting a larger community that encompassed several types of homeowners and building stock was more successful than focusing on smaller neighborhoods with its Whole Neighborhood Approach. Other lessons learned include the following:

  • One size doesn’t fit all for home energy upgrades. The Whole Neighborhood Approach had mixed results; some regions met goals, and others had to expand or reject the geographic areas altogether. Overall, program staff determined this was not an effective model; the standardized upgrade packages still had to be customized and many homeowners wanted to choose their contractor rather than be assigned one.
  • Partner with other sustainable programs. Since water-saving measures also help save energy, it can be helpful to partner with utilities or municipalities that have water efficiency programs. The on-bill-water financing pilot came to fruition due to a partnership with the regional water district.
  • Give homeowners flexibility in the upgrades they undertake. Los Angeles County found homeowners that did not participate in the Advanced or Basic Paths were interested in energy efficiency but were only willing to undertake upgrades through a model that offered more flexibility and was easy to comprehend and use, which is why the county developed the Flex Path.
  • Increase homeowner access to financing. Affordable and accessible financing enabled homeowners to spread upgrade costs over time, lowering a key financial barrier faced by many, thereby increasing the number of program participants.
  • Assess the local efficiency market when developing timelines. The need to foster a trained workforce, develop infrastructure needs, and address building codes and policies can add to a program’s scheduled rollout, so leave plenty of time for these issues.

What's Next?

Of the pilots implemented by Los Angeles County and its partners, 11 will continue with modifications through 2014. The partners will take the lessons learned from these pilot programs to adjust their efforts in the future:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission invited proposals for Regional Energy Networks (RENs) that will use ratepayer funding to independently administer regional energy efficiency programs that complement and supplement existing IOU programs. RENs are comprised of local governments and provide energy efficiency services to residents in their regions.
  • Many of the partners who conducted pilot programs are participating in the RENs and will continue providing energy efficiency programs through them.
  • Los Angeles County is leading the Southern California REN program, through which homeowners and contractors will be able to participate in the HVAC, Energy Champion, multifamily, home upgrade, and energy loan pilot programs.

Additional Resources

Reports & Case Studies



Participating Community Partners

  • Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), consisting of:
    • for Alameda County
    • Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) for Sonoma County
    • SF Environment for the City and County of San Francisco
    • City of San Jose
  • California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) for the San Diego region
  • Sacramento Municipal Utilities District (SMUD)