Background

NEEA, the Northwestern Energy Efficiency Alliance, is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to accelerate the adoption and implementation of energy-efficiency practices and products. As an alliance of over 140 utilities and energy efficiency organizations in the Pacific Northwest, they represent the power of 13 million consumers. Within the organization, Christopher Dymond, is tasked with discovering technologies and practices that can realize energy savings for NEEA’s constituents.

One of the barriers NEEA faces in encouraging implementation of energy efficiency products and practices is in the final mile: installation. HVAC Installers represent a crucial component in the effort to hit efficiency targets, but anecdotal evidence showed that they rarely consider whether a product is efficient when choosing what to install. While contractor incentives do exist, they do not work nearly as well as desired in large part due to the prohibitive amount of paperwork required to acquire an incentive. In this landscape, NEEA commissioned Sustainabilist to conduct research on what might be done to improve the life and livelihood of HVAC contractors while increasing the quality of their work and the likelihood of successful implementation of efficiency projects.

“In my position, I’m always looking for bright minds with eager interest in what we do on a day to day basis. Sustainabilist did a terrific job coming in with a fresh perspective, digging into the available data, and creating a report that really shined a light on some new discoveries in the HVAC contractor landscape.”
— Christopher Dymond, Senior Product Manager, NEEA

A Process of Discovery in HVAC Quality

In tackling this problem, Sustainabilist took NEEA’s inquiry and organized a multi-pronged approach to data collection. Subject matter researched and examined included current practices in continuous improvement at large and in construction contexts, an overview of contractor certification programs and their effectiveness, and subject matter expert interviews on software tools, incentive program loopholes and pitfalls, the efficacy of consumer education, and how quality could affect the contractor business model.

“Sustainabilist really took a problem I wanted to investigate and ran with it,” says Dymond. “They put in a lot of effort to come up to speed and came at the problem from a lot of different directions.”

After completing the research, a high level 20 page report was generated covering all the key findings as well as a list of eight recommended areas for further study and reporting. From there, NEEA reengaged with Sustainablist to further the research, digging deeper into the effectiveness of existing HVAC install quality programs as well as a study of how existing sensor data can shed light on the installation quality of HVAC systems.

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Outcomes and further work

Sustainabilist’s research validated Dymond’s hypothesis that there was a lot of room for improvement in HVAC installation and maintenance, and highlighted for NEEA a few key strategies that could be further studied for efficacy. “The report helped us discover some new things about this market,” says Dymond. “We got a lot out of the report.”

“In my position, I’m always looking for bright minds with eager interest in what we do on a day to day basis. Sustainabilist did a terrific job coming in with a fresh perspective, digging into the available data, and creating a report that really shined a light on some new discoveries in the HVAC contractor landscape.”

There is further research to be done on the subject of improving the feedback loops between contractors, utilities, and customers. As the discussion evolves, Sustainabilist looks forward to helping NEEA find and improve these feedback loops and to discover what drives quality, and in turn efficiency, in HVAC.


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