Focus your customers on efficiency to get desired cost savings
Expect natural gas public utilities to become increasingly aggressive in switching homeowners from propane to natural gas for the primary energy source for their homes. Abundant supplies of natural gas and low pricing have forced natural gas companies to look for the most profitable way to sell the increased production from shale sources. Natural gas utilities will be placing extra emphasis on the residential and commercial uses of natural gas instead of watching all the new gas production go to fuel new or retrofit power plants. It’s all about margin, something the propane industry knows very well.
The combination of low home energy efficiency and volatile propane pricing can make switching to natural gas an easy decision for the average home owner. Propane homeowners looking for a quick fix for their high energy bills will be tempted to switch to natural gas, but doing so will not save energy. The owner of an older home built to an earlier, less aggressive building code, and with an original heating system that has probably been de-rated to 60% or less efficiency due to age and neglect, will not save energy by switching to natural gas. Using natural gas instead of propane will still send 40% or more of the produced heat up the vent pipe and leak more through the envelope of the home. All that is not even considering the energy expended in propane service disconnect and piping of natural gas to the homesite that energy switching will cause.
If you see energy switching as a challenge in your marketplace, now is the time to engage your customers in a conversation about increasing the efficiency of their homes, including the envelope, heating equipment and appliances, so they can pocket the savings on their overall energy bills and not be misled by energy switching claims. Homeowners can gain even more efficiency and energy cost savings beyond space heating by diverting home energy usage from electricity to propane for other applications in the home such as water heating, cooking, clothes drying, and fireplaces. Your average residential customer will end up with greatly increased home efficiency, lower total energy bills (propane and electricity), and a more comfortable home. There are dozens of National, State, and local programs to help homeowners pay for home efficiency and weatherization improvements. Energy not used is always the cheapest, and energy not used is always the cleanest.
A next step for you as propane marketers can include partnering with a certified home energy auditor or starting a home energy auditing division of your own company. Home performance auditors use equipment to perform tests such as Blower Door (whole-house infiltration), Duct Blaster (duct leakage test), and Infrared Scanning ((identifies invisible trouble spots in insulation). Home energy auditors use a recognized performance standard such as the REZNET (Residential Energy Services Network) -HERS (Home Energy Rating System) index, a nationally recognized system for inspecting and calculating a home’s energy performance. Many new home builders are using the HERS index to efficiency rate their new homes to differentiate them from the used home market. Find out more about home energy performance by going to the PERC builder web site, http://www.buildwithpropane.com, and look for training courses and training tools such as the Energy Cost & Carbon Calculator. This tool and several others can also be housed on your website to help make your company the local energy expert.
Your local networking should always start with builders, but don’t stop there. Great networking opportunities also exist with HVAC contractors, plumbers, home energy auditors, home improvement contractors, and others. For example, home energy auditors may know a lot about the efficiency of a home, but they may not know the important role that propane and related applications can play in raising home efficiency and saving energy. You can bring them business, and they can help you preserve and grow your customer base.
PERC has available important research results, training courses, and a wide array of other up-to-date energy related materials for residential and commercial building and remodeling that propane marketers should be using to reach out to construction and energy professionals. PERC also has an integrated national outreach program that reaches residential and commercial builders and architects, and to a lesser degree, HVAC and plumbing contractors and other influencers. Builders and architects can be reached by PERC with such an integrated program in a cost efficient and highly effective manner, but propane marketers need to be engaged with builders to help them close the sale for propane. The further down the influencer chain that PERC gets from marketing to builders and architects, the more important it is for local propane marketers to be involved. The HVAC and plumbing industry is not as easily reached in national or regional marketing campaigns because of less influential national trade organizations and less media opportunities. This means the most cost efficient and effective outreach to them is local. Local means propane marketers face to face, networking with builders, trade allies, and energy professionals.
Don’t allow your customers to be misled by energy switching. Get local with your efficiency networking and allow your customers to have choices that will save energy, lower their overall energy bills, preserve the environment, and give them a more comfortable home. Increasing efficiency is where it all starts.
Tom Jaenicke is the owner and principal advisor at ATomiK Creative Solutions, LLC, a company that provides marketing services, technical advice, continuing education solutions, and business development assistance to energy companies and support organizations. He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or firstname.lastname@example.org.