reEnergize Program launches new financing through contractors

The cities of Omaha and Lincoln are getting ready to launch a campaign to make their reEnergize program even more attractive to energy contractors and the homeowners who hire them.

This collaborative effort to build energy smart communities was launched with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The cities are implementing a five-stage plan to complete energy evaluations on 180 commercial and nonprofit buildings, and make energy upgrades on 2,100 residences.

The reEnergize Program works with community partners to recruit, train, qualify and increase the number of skilled professional energy evaluators and energy upgrade contractors in the Omaha and Lincoln metropolitan areas. The new campaign aims to engage homeowners and provide reEnergize Qualified Upgrade contractors with access to the GEOSmart Long Term Financing Program. Once enrolled in the GEOSmart program, contractors will be able to offer customers a special 5.99 percent financing promotion for measures that qualify for the reEnergize program. Qualifying measures include:

  • Adding or improving insulation
  • Maintaining or replacing furnace
  • Stopping leaks and drafts
  • Installing efficient lighting
  • Maintaining or replacing large appliances

To provide Omaha and Lincoln area contractors with more information about new opportunities and options, the reEnergize program is holding meetings March 14, 1:00 p.m., at the following central locations:

Omaha City Hall,
7th Floor Conference Room

1819 Farnam Street
Omaha, NE 68183

Lincoln City County Building,
Mayor’s Office Conference Room, Suite 301

555 S. 10th Street
Lincoln, NE 68508

The presentations will cover:

  • reEnergize contracting opportunities & promotional materials
  • Options for screened contractors to list third-party qualifications
  • Opportunities to become a Qualified reEnergize Upgrade Contractor, get pre-screened as an EGIA GEOSmart Authorized Contractor and save the usual $250 annual membership fee (a $500 savings through 2013)
  • Cross-promotion activities leveraging the reEnergize Program with current clients

REGISTER to attend the meeting in person, join the meeting online or request a recording following the meeting.

To learn more about how this program is creating an energy-savvy workforce in Omaha and Lincoln are working together to improve the efficiency of their buildings, contact reEnergize toll free at 877-402-5111. If your utility is interested in contractor training webinars, contact your Energy Services Representative.

Comparison of Utility Energy Efficiency Programs

Larry Zarker and Tiger Adolf, Building Performance Institute

Improving energy efficiency is good for the economy, national security and public health—but only if the retrofits are properly installed and perform as promised. Building Performance Institute (BPI) standards provide a yardstick to programs to determine if local contractors are meeting the customers’ needs and expectations.

Why certify
The United States has an aging housing stock, with one third of houses over 45 years old, and another third between 25 and 45 years old. Upgrading existing homes is a slow process. New York State has had a program for eight years and it has only reached 1 percent of its houses. The rest of the nation is on a “10,000 year plan.” To make the goal even harder to reach, most of the hundreds of thousands of contractors working today don’t understand energy-efficiency retrofitting.

State, city and industry programs throughout the country are adopting BPI standard credentialing. Bringing all the standards together under one label reduces confusion for consumers, contractors and program managers. BPI standards ensure proper use of program funds and minimize the agency’s and the contractor’s risk. It may seem more costly at first, but better training and quality assurance pay off quickly.

BPI has published standard work specifications that the Department of Energy has adopted. The standards are going out for public comment right now. The new standards are producing a whole suite of specifications and desired outcomes, and giving companies a basis for developing proprietary approaches to retrofit projects.   

Over the last couple of years, certification exams have jumped from 30 per month to 1,000 per month.

Contractors who go through BPI accreditation understand that they have a commitment to meet their performance claims. Companies commit to hiring a minimum level of certified workers, offer comprehensive solutions, test in and test out, and follow up with quality assurance.

Recruiting trade allies
To get energy-efficiency gains, programs must help contractors understand what they need to do, help them get certified and help them market to the people who are looking for them.

Home retrofitting programs need solutions-based selling, wrapped up with quality assurance. People who call contractors about home improvements are rarely interested in reducing their carbon footprint. But once trained contractors are in the door, they can start recommending efficiency upgrades.

Unfortunately, the contracting community is very conservative. The cost of accreditation is one barrier, even though it is an excellent investment in building the business. Comparing the training and testing fees to the cost of setting up a business franchise is a good way to put the investment in perspective. The franchise EmbroiderMe, for example, costs $180,000 to buy in, plus required advertising and an annual percentage to the company. In contrast, a BPE quality assurance certification costs the contractor between $3,390 and $5,000 total.

We have to persuade contractors by showing them what is in it for them. Certification differentiates the business, reduces staff down time, retains high quality staff, minimizes call back costs, provides risk management and increases customer satisfaction. BPI also provides marketing materials, door hangers and leave-behind materials tailored to the region that contractors can use to promote their businesses.

How Community Exchange Mentors Contractors

Stephen Michael Self, Sustainable Ideas Consulting

There are 130 million homes in the country that need to be retrofit, but not nearly enough auditors. Auditors get training and buy tools but don’t know what the next step is. Mentoring provides experience with real-world examples that give them confidence to sell energy efficiency.

The Community Energy Exchange (CEE) gets protégés from community colleges and training programs. Nonprofits provide the facilities to be audited. The audit includes the usual tests and helps protégés go through the different challenges they might encounter. There is also some job placement.

At Easter Seal Camp, CEE audited 22 buildings and found gas leaks and venting issues. Phase 2 involved air sealing and insulation. That was followed with a mechanical and electric system evaluation.  The final phase was a renewable evaluation.

 The group also worked with Rebuilding Together Metro Denver to audit 15 low-income homes. Rebuilding Together performed the actual retrofitting.

CEE may have to charge protégés a nominal fee. Nonprofits may provide in-kind materials donations.

Existing home efficiency –covering all the bases

John Phelan, PE, Energy Services Manager, Fort Collins Utilities

The city of Fort Collins municipal utility has a home audit rebate program designed for maximum customer contact.

Residents are eligible for a comprehensive menu of rebates for air sealing, insulation, HVAC systems and more. A standard audit, available for $60, is followed by a report that recommends measures. The recommendations are targeted to the contractors as well as the homeowner.

The retrofits are performed by a list of approved contractors. To get on that list, contractors must sign a legal contract with the city agreeing to meet standards based on best practices and attend specialty trainings. The utility trains the contractors, provides a metric list and holds quarterly meetings contractors must attend.

Contractors must bid and complete the job according to the city’s in order to receive the rebates. The intent is to level the bidding field. Everyone is bidding on doing the job a specific way.

Both the city and the contractor can request a third-party evaluation.  The best practices list provides legal cover for the city having a preferred contractor list.

The program has a stringent quality assurance component. The city does improvement verification on 100 percent of the jobs. Performance testing was done on 100 percent of the first 10 jobs. Fort Collins is making sure that the program really works. We have the building science—use it!

Along the way, the utility had to figure out such things as legal contacts, replication tools and more. This is not a Home Performance program. The auditors work directly for Fort Collins. The training and quality assurance are also under the city, but the contractors work for the customers.

To date, Fort Collins has done 348 audits, and has processed 45 rebate applications. Most are for multiple measures. Insulation has been a popular measure, even though people start out saying they want windows.

The contractor list has 30 participating contractors. The utility has conducted trainings for insulation, HVAC and window installation.