Energy-assistance cuts hit home, galvanize action
Sharp reductions in LIHEAP, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, are playing out painfully this winter in poorly insulated homes whose owners can't afford energy-efficient upgrades. An article in the February 3rd New York Times garnered national attention by highlighting a hard-hit retired couple in Maine, Robert and Wilma Hartford, who were struggling to pay for sufficient heating oil for their leaky, wood-framed house.
The good news is that the story galvanized an improvised team within Maine's home-performance industry to help -- notably Peter Troast, of Energy Circle Pro; DeWitt Kimball, an energy auditor; and Upright Frameworks, a weatherization contractor. In this terrific report, Troast described gathering the team that Sunday for a spur-of-the-moment audit of the Hartfords' home, followed by complete weatherization and retrofit -- all provided at or below cost. Said Troast: "Really leaky houses mean generally easy fixes that result in significant, and very cost effective, energy savings." In the broader context, "Only by addressing the underlying issue --buildings that use energy wastefully-- can we bring under control a government expense that has no end in sight. Those of us who work in the home performance field, or have had energy retrofit work done on our own homes, know the extraordinary economics and benefits of efficiency." Read Troast's story.
WAP ranks second in Recovery Act job creation
Just days before the Hartford story broke, new reports showed that the U.S. Department of Energy's low-income Weatherization Assistance Program created or retained more than 13,000 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2011, ranking second out of 200 federal programs funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). Get the scoop here.
EPA releases indoor air-quality protocols for energy retrofits
In case you missed it, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released Healthy Indoor Environment Protocols for Home Energy Upgrades, a first-of-its-kind document outlining best practices for home performance contractors and others working on residential energy upgrade efforts. The voluntary guidelines include assessment protocols, and critical as well as recommended "actions" that home-performance workers can take to protect occupant health during and after the upgrades are performed.
An introduction to thermal imaging
You know the basics of infrared cameras, but did you know that the first such devices cost more than $25,000? More importantly, did you know why early morning is best,very windy days are problematic and low-sloping roofs must be dry for useful inspections? Learn that and much more in Martin Holladay's introduction to thermal imaging on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com
Should they insulate their pipes? Should you?
It makes a lot of sense to insulate your hot water pipes. However, according to Pablo Paster at Treehugger, paying a professional several hundred dollars to do it for you "rarely makes economic sense in most homes." Interesting read on the economics of DIY insulation.
Home-performance success in 11 easy steps
Okay, they're not as easy as they look, but the 11 essential steps to busines success are clearly articulated in this blog post by Energy Vanguard's Allison Bailes. Doing good work (#8) is essential, of course, but so are passion, continuing education and networking.
Is your website a glorified brochure in digital form? Or is it an efficient lead capturing tool that funnels visitors towards a place where they can sign up?
One of the most critical tools in your arsenal for accomplishing that funnel is the Call to Action.
What is a Call to Action (CTA)?
A Call to Action is defined as "the part of a marketing message that attempts to persuade a person to perform a desired action," or "any text or button that advertises an offer and takes you to a page with a signup form."
Picture a sign on a door leading into a public building that says "PULL." It's a simple direction, but a useful one, as it's intended to help make your progress as efficient and painless as possible. Your Call to Action should serve the same purpose -- help your potential customers get a hold of you as swiftly and painlessly as possible. "CALL NOW," "CLICK HERE," "SCHEDULE AN ENERGY AUDIT," "PULL," etc. The idea is that if you make your potential customers stand around wondering what to do next -- for example, whether they should call you, look for your email address and send you an email, find your street address and stop by the office, etc. -- you run the risk of losing business.
Basically, you want to make it as easy as possible for people to get in contact with you and, hopefully, hire you for a job. A Call to Action is the best way to accomplish this.
What Makes a Good CTA?
An effective CTA is clear, prominent, "above the fold" (meaning, visitors to your website don't have to scroll down in order to see it), actionable (use a verb), and relevant to the visitors who are most likely viewing it. It's highly likely that the majority of the visitors to your website got there by looking for a service, so make it as easy as possible for them to hire you for that service.
In terms of language, we recommend using a three-step approach to an effective CTA. Try to use action-oriented language ("Call," "Schedule," "Register," "Act Now," or "Sign Up") timing-oriented language ("Now," "Today," "Limited Time," "Get Started"), and value-oriented language ("Free Consultation," "No Obligation," "$800 in Rebates," etc.).
Beyond the messaging of the words, good calls to action aren't visually subtle. Use colors and good design to make sure the CTA is one of the most prominent parts of your page. Stand back and squint your eyes. Does your CTA stand out visually? If you don't have a designer handy, consider using a free online service like dabuttonfactory.com. Silly as the name may be, this is a pretty cool website that allows you to create customized buttons that you can use anywhere on your website. You'll also want to create a "landing page," (if you don't know how to do this, talk to your web guy) and make the CTA button a link to that page. Your landing page should have minimal text, a value proposition that relates to the text on the CTA, and -- most importantly -- a contact form that visitors can use to get a hold of you. If you can't create a custom landing page, use the generic "contact" page on your website until you find a prettier solution.
My view is that you'll want to first decide on your primary call to action--the one that appears consistently across all pages, most likely in the top right column. Think about what message will cut across all your audience segments. Think about what will make the phone ring and the email light up. Keep in mind that most homeowners remain largely uneducated about home performance so be careful not to jump the gun. They may not be ready to "Schedule Your Energy Audit Now!", but will readily respond to "Sign Up for a Free Phone Consultation about your Home."
Once your primary CTA is in place, repeat it throughout your site in different formats. Text links in your page copy also make great CTAs. If someone read to the bottom of your Indoor Air Quality page, invite them to "Click Here to Learn More About How We Test the Air Quality of Your House." And don't think of CTAs as only for your website. You can also use it in email newsletters, in your email signature, in your advertising, in your videos -- the sky is the limit.
Remember: one of the most important functions of your website is to create leads. Think of your site as a funnel, lead your visitors with compelling CTA's, and measure your conversion--how many visitors signup as leads.
Oh, and for more info about web marketing for Home Performance pros, be sure to
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You get it. Probably your spouse understands it too. But do your parents/your friends/your neighbors really get that making a home more energy efficient and comfortable should increase its market value? But things don't always work out that way, at least for right now. A national movement called Green MLS is progressing rapidly to help home buyers and sellers, real estate professionals and financial lenders accurately assess the value that energy efficiency upgrades add to a home. Green MLS is the practice of introducing fields for green or efficiency features on real estate listings in a multiple listing service (MLS). The vision for Green MLS is that it drives demand for energy efficient homes - and for the services of home performance contractors that make them that way.
The first MLS to go green was Portland, Oregon, in 2006. Since then, approximately twenty percent of the 850 MLS's in the United States have introduced green fields. Since each MLS is independently owned and operated, there is no consistent standard for Green MLS design, and it usually takes a grassroots effort among local real estate agents to get a project started.
Several recent efforts have improved the quality of Green MLS design. For example, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) released the Green MLS Toolkit with case studies, best practices and sample fields and forms. The Association of Energy and Environmental Real Estate Professionals (AEEREP, the sponsors of the EcoBroker designation) and the National Home Performance Council (NHPC) released a white paper at the 2011 ACI Conference documenting options to create a statewide Green MLS standard (as accomplished in Colorado). My client CNT Energy released a report in December which outlines the progression that MLS and their associated real estate markets can follow toward market value for efficient homes.
The report's Continuum for Green Market Progress (illustrated below) is important because it equips markets to pass over common hurdles in Green MLS design to date.
The continuum recognizes that the vision for good Green MLS is that it drives interest and demand for efficient homes, much like an upgraded kitchen commands higher resale value.
For the most part, Green MLS efforts have been limited to date on putting green fields out so that efficient homes can be searched more easily in the MLS. But the continuum looks beyond fields to what is really needed to drive demand - conclusive confirmation of market trends and any premium trends – such as shorter market time or higher resale values for efficient homes.
The MLS platform itself will only move the market so far. To show a market impact, an integrated technology system is needed first. Envision coordinated systems where modeling software or a certification report gets automatically pinged and attached to a for-sale listing. That data attracts a buyer. And then an appraiser can route the same calculations into her valuation report. Finally an underwriter can view the initial report from his own desktop to confirm the appraiser's assignment of value.
Green MLS itself is no silver bullet for value.
The good news is that there are lots of supply chain examples in other industries that demonstrate how vendors in the same industry can mutually serve the client and share and enhance each other's data. In the efficiency world the key is to use technology to communicate building performance in a secure and error-free method.
More good news is that we're starting to see strong examples of collaboration underway that will eventually lead to integrated technology design.
Examples include the Boulder, Colorado area, where IRES-Net is considered the first MLS in the country to require document attachments in order to use green fields. This is consistent with a statewide Green MLS design standard facilitated by the Governor's Energy Office in Colorado. This protects the data quality in green fields.
Chicago and Austin were early adopters of Green MLS. Both Midwest Real Estate Data LLC (MRED) in Chicago and Austin/Central Texas Realty Information Services in Austin launched improvement projects in 2011.
In Chicago a certificate has been adopted as one of MRED's newly implemented supporting documents field. In Austin, members from the Austin Board of Realtors teamed with Austin Energy to introduce an Energy Conservation Audit and Disclosure report as a searchable field. Both Chicago and Austin are introducing a document upload requirement to ensure better data quality.
In Vermont, the Vermont Green Home Alliance is working with the Northern New England Real Estate Network (NNEREN) to make efficiency information more accessible to real estate and appraisal members. The alliance jointly designed a process with NNEREN so that NNEREN will receive a monthly report on homes in the state that have received a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR certificate or a HERS Index Score. This will help members more easily find comparable homes when pricing or appraising a home. In Charlottesville, Virginia, the Local Energy Alliance Program has developed relationships at the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors to jointly evaluate HES as a method to simplify the process of communicating energy efficiency to the real estate market. Outreach has started with the association's Green Change Agent Network and recently evolved into a green seminar for the membership.
If you are interested in learning more about Green MLS in your market – or encouraging one to begin, it's best to start with MLS members in your area who have a green designation or experience. Both NAR Green and EcoBroker offer member directories. The Green MLS toolkit, the AEEREP/NHPC white paper and USGBC's Green MLS advocacy campaign all offer resources for engaging a multi-industry team to design or upgrade Green MLS that leads to an integrated solution.
There is still work to be done. But we are starting to see the early signs of an infrastructure that communicates building performance across all the players that are involved in a real estate transaction. If we can communicate performance more easily through better technology integration we'll accelerate market value – and demand for efficient homes.
This Month's Stumper:
Homeowners of a two story balloon frame home located in Watertown, NY wanted to eliminate ice damming on their roof. An insulation company was called in during the summer for recommendations and possibly to provide retrofit work. While there, the company discovered the entire home was un-insulated. The company proposed a comprehensive work scope, but the homeowners wouldn't bite – they agreed to pay for just one measure. This was to air seal and insulate the attic floor (the cavity between the 2nd floor ceiling and attic floor) with dense pack cellulose. During the next winter, the ice damming continued on the roof as with previous winters with equal snow fall. Both floors of the home were heated and had a semi-conditioned full basement.
Question: Why were ice dams continuing to form on the roof after air sealing and insulating the attic floor?
Think you know what the problem is, as well as the solution? Send it to us at email@example.com.
NEW FEATURE – JOIN THE DISCUSSION! Each month's Stump the Chump challenge will be featured as a topic on BPI's discussion page on Home Energy Pros, the home performance industry's very own social networking site. To send your answer there, and discuss with other Stump the Chump fans, simply visit BPI's discussion page and click on the right-hand 'Sign Up' box to create a profile, then add your comment. Don't forget to ALSO send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org to enter to win the contest, and be featured in the next issue of Performance Matters!