Why Many HVAC Efficiency Programs Aren’t Working — Part Two

The last Hotmail Newsletter article generated lots of discussion about the apparent lack of success of government and utility HVAC efficiency programs, but also generated some optimism for what they could be someday. Let’s eavesdrop into a few more industry discussions to gain insight into upcoming changes.

Why Aren’t Contractor’s Participating in Energy Efficiency Programs? This question was posed by an energy rater with a suffering business and it was answered by several mechanical contractors and a home performance contractor.

To some contractors the incentive payment isn’t worth the steps required to complete the program. “It’s just not worth it anymore,” was the response from a prominent East Coast contractor. As he looked at the cost to comply with these programs, he realized the cost of maintaining a department to shuffle the paperwork was greater than the incentives he was receiving. Couple the low incentive money with having to wait up to 6 months until he received his payments, and the decision was easy.

Others find the marketing benefits and the increase in business worth the effort and have built companies based on utility incentives. One company has grown his business over $2 million dollars in the past year.

One contractor, suffering from a steep decline in business since the loss of federal equipment incentives that expired at the end of last year said “Use the programs to bolster your current customer base, but always understand that as soon as the program expires, that piece of your business will disappear.”

What Do Consumers Want? Contractors were asked this question by an Arizona utility program employee and answered by a successful HVAC contractor.

Consumers will spend their money if they’re sure it’s being spent wisely. Consumers are no longer willing to believe hollow promises about energy savings. Many have been burned up by well meaning contractors and programs that just can’t deliver. The 50% savings promised by solar and window salesmen also killed this approach. Consumers demand to be fully educated and to be able to make their own decision on energy efficiency based on what they’ve learned.

Some of this learning is happening on the internet. But some of it’s happening by interactive HVAC system testing where consumers are educated by hands on testing and evaluation of the test data gathered. Consumers are inquisitive and want to know for themselves and be enabled to make decisions on their own.

Should Incentives Be Higher? This question was asked of an HVAC contractor as they pulled out of a utility program where they had completed nearly 1000 projects the year before.

If the programs would incentivize for real and actual energy savings, the incentive could become large enough to make a difference. Currently incentives are paid for improvements that anyone could and should do, that save little energy.

Provide big rewards for big savings far and above the typical job. Make us prove what we’re saving by testing before and testing after with test methods that document actual savings on every job. The parting words were “When you come up with that kind of program, give me a call.”

When Will We Know That Programs are Delivering Real Savings? This question was asked by an equipment manufacturer. The question was answered by a contractor that currently chooses not to participate in efficiency programs.

“Today’s programs reward the low performers that meet minimum standards,” was the comment that started to answer this question. This discussion continued, “Programs are built for low-end contractors that can’t market themselves and who can barely meet minimum standards.”

These guys were looking for programs built for the high achievers. They want to be accountable and be equally rewarded for delivering the goods. The discussion was long and interesting as the ideas formed around a group of highly trained high profile contractors that could receive the training and tools needed to test, diagnose, sell, design, and deliver what their high-end clients were asking for.

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Think they’ll need air conditioning there?

So, there’s a peek into the future of energy efficiency programs. What will it be like? We’re not sure now, but it looks like the winds of change are beginning to blow. Whatever we end up with will hopefully be a substantial improvement over what we have today. It’ll be different, that’s for sure. It appears that today the entry bar to these programs is set too low.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company with technical and business level membership organizations. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in a free procedure to test the temperature loss in a duct system, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, articles and downloads.

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