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How to Explain Government Energy Programs

During the month of November I was traveling the country meeting with contractors, raters, industry leaders, utilities and government officials. It was a long and difficult journey. All that traveling lead me to a revelation I’ve been seeking for over 20 years. I finally am able to explain the difference between the minimum standards of government energy programs, and the higher level of energy efficiency delivered by top performing HVAC contractors. Here’s how to help your customers differentiate between minimum standards and premium performance.

Government Standards

By their nature, government entities are limited in what they can bring to the marketplace. In fairness, they are required to legislate and offer bare minimum energy efficiency programs. Anyone who gets into business should be able to easily comply with these programs.

Minimum compliance is the government’s charge. To enforce any higher standard than the minimum would be beyond their responsibility and authority. Their job is to move the market. They are not the leaders able to produce top performers in the building industries, especially the HVAC industry.

For over two decades I have not understood this principle. I have wrestled with these minimum standards encouraging governments to move to higher energy efficiency levels. I have left these meetings having found dedicated men and women who lead these programs who are knowledgeable and committed. However, they are unable to move forward and keep up with the cutting edge energy efficiency practices. Understanding that compliance is their ceiling has enabled me to come to peace with these programs.

Advantage to Contractors

So how can this realization benefit the energy efficiency community?

Unfortunately, most of you have made the same assumptions as I did. You assumed that since the government has billions of our energy efficiency tax dollars and that nearly every politician speaks with fervor and passion about our energy crisis, that they can and will bring the highest level of energy efficiency to their citizens.

Embracing the concept that all they’re authorized to deliver is minimum level compliance, can immediately free us to move beyond the minimum and deliver a far higher level of energy efficiency to our clients.

If you can get your arms around this idea, you can immediately break the boundaries of compliance programs and really start delivering the goods.

Same Team

The best part is that the need for contention between premium contractors and compliance government programs is over. We can take advantage of the awareness they are bringing to the marketplace, and move beyond mere compliance. All three parties win; our clients, government and the contractor.

Rebates are the Floor Not the Ceiling

Manufacturers and government have taught consumers that simply installing higher efficiency boxes will save energy. Their job is to sell boxes and encourage efficiency in a way that serves their missions. If we forgot to look beyond their missions and make a higher ideal for our companies, shame on us. Have we no vision of our own?


Unfortunately low bid pricing is the prevailing business practice of the HVAC industry. That’s nobody’s fault but our own. If we choose to build a company based on minimum standards, minimum pricing and minimum profit, that’s clearly our own decision. Many of us have made this choice because it is easy.

Since sales and marketing aren’t generally our strength we have let the government do our marketing through their programs. If we choose to deliver energy efficiency that earns the grade of D- (or code compliant or just barely passing) we agree to the lowest price, which will forever be the value of minimum compliance.

What’s a code compliance house? The worst house we’re legally allowed to build. Offer that to your next customer.

Change the Game

Our opportunity in all this is to rise above minimum compliance game. Our task is to show our clients that there’s far more available beyond minimum compliance.

NCI research shows the typical unimproved HVAC system in the US delivers 57% of equipment rated capacity. The average system meeting government program standards still only operates at 63% of equipment capacity. Top performing contractors have established a minimum standard of delivering 90% of equipment rated capacity into the building. How did your last system perform?

Change the Marketing Language

The government marketers are a pretty sharp group. Unfortunately in order to move the market forward, they have employed our words in their marketing and have made their minimum compliance work look like premium quality. It is not and will never be premium quality. Shame on them.

Comply or Go Away

We hear of many contractors who are having a hard time meeting legitimate code requirements and stepping up to minimum industry standards. We need basic codes and guidelines to assure public safety and meet minimum reasonable expectations that low bid consumers should be able to expect. Contractors and technicians unable to meet code and assure safety should reconsider their chosen profession and find a line of work less demanding or one that requires fewer skills and attention to details.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company with technical and business level membership organizations. You can contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at for free information, articles and downloads.

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