Local energy efficiency programs are more likely to be successful when residential contractors are actively involved with them, according to a new DOE report.

“Contractors, more than any other party, are the people sitting across the kitchen table making the final sales pitch to a homeowner,” the study says. “Many programs that succeed in performing a significant number of energy upgrades use contractors as the program’s main sales force.

The study focused on how government entities and industry can spark homeowners to seek out home energy improvements such as adding insulation, sealing air ducts, installing high-efficiency lighting, enhancing or replacing windows and doors, and replacing furnaces, heat pumps, water heaters, and air conditioners.

DOE researchers analyzed 14 residential energy efficiency programs such as Boston’s Energy Smackdown, the Bonneville Power Administration Pacific Northwest program, and the New London Resource Project in New London, Wis. They surveyed contractors and interviewed industry experts to find what makes certain programs successful.

The study, “Driving Demand for Home Energy Improvements,” recommends that programs tout more than energy efficiency as homeowners are also greatly interested in health, comfort, and security issues and financial savings. In addition, program designers should tailor their marketing language, avoiding words such as "retrofit" and "audit," which carry little meaning or even negative connotations for homeowners.

Surveyed contractors said minimal paperwork, packaged incentives, and quick contractor payments make  programs more enticing to them. In addition, training sessions should focus less on the technical side of energy-efficient home building and more on how to use the program to gain business.

As “ambassadors” for these government and utility company initiatives, contractors should continue to advocate for energy-efficient building even after public funding runs dry, concludes the study.

Evelyn Royer is Assistant Editor for Building Products magazine.