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Photo of a man working on insulation in a building, wearing a hat and a face mask.
A home performance contractor installs additional insulation as part of a home energy upgrade. Image courtesy of Home Energy Score.

More than half of U.S. states have mandatory targets for using energy efficiency as an energy or environmental resource. Because American homes account for 21% of annual U.S. energy consumption, saving energy in the residential sector can contribute significantly to meeting these policy objectives. Unfortunately, both home energy upgrade program administrators, and the home-improvement contractors that participate in these programs, have encountered challenges to achieving consistent growth in the market for home energy improvements at levels commensurate with state energy-saving goals.  Across states and utility service areas, home energy upgrade programs vary in design, implementation, and performance, and these programs often are among the costlier options for acquiring energy savings in the residential sector.  In general, home energy upgrade programs have not coalesced around one program model. However, when administrators understand what program elements consistently and cost-effectively deliver residential energy savings to American homeowners, these programs can contribute significantly to meeting energy policy objectives.

In an effort to address this knowledge gap, BTO and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently completed a comprehensive review and meta-analysis of evaluations from U.S. home energy upgrade programs. In a new brief, Keys to the House: Unlocking Residential Savings with Program Models for Home Energy Upgrades, the authors provide program cost and savings estimates for, and identify a variety of factors that have contributed to the successful implementation of, three common types of residential energy efficiency programs—direct install retrofits; HVAC replacement and early retirement; and comprehensive, whole-home retrofits. This information can serve as a useful guide for states as they consider different strategies for reaching their energy goals.

Numerous groups have completed assessments and developed strategies for achieving comprehensive and enduring improvements in residential efficiency. Few attempts have been made, however, to validate successful residential energy efficiency program design through systematic, rigorous evaluation of multiple energy retrofit programs. One notable exception is the independent evaluation that was completed for the Energy Department’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program.

This new brief summarizes findings from analysis of nearly 30 rate-payer-funded residential energy efficiency programs that had completed rigorous impact evaluations between 2010 and 2014. Some key themes identified by the study team include:

  • Participants and contractors need programs to work for them—quickly, with minimal effort—and be either aligned with their interests or counterbalanced with incentives that reliably sway homeowners and make projects happen.
  • Perceptions about incentives—“getting a good deal”—may matter as much as the actual reduction in customer costs.
  • Bundle measures to improve cost-effectiveness.
  • Quality controls have a cost, yet they protect multiple stakeholder interests and ensure savings.

For more information about home energy upgrade program design, visit the Energy Department’s Better Buildings Residential Program Solution Center.