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Efficiency Maine's Attack on Rural Contractors and Independents
Efficiency Maine is controlling the flow of business to contractors by using a mileage default setting when homeowners are searching for a contractor. How this works is a customer that wants services enters their zip code on the Efficiency Maine website “Find an Energy Advisor” tab and businesses that are within 25 miles of the that zip code pop up. If the homeowner wants to search outside the 25 mile zone they need to manually scroll to a greater distance. As web designers and users know people rarely make adjustments with internet search sites. This also occurs when people call Efficiency Maine and ask about contractors. Efficiency Maine asks for their zip code and then gives them names of contractors within the 25 mile range.
With this search listing method the contractors who are not within 25 miles of populated areas don’t stand a chance in getting work. Efficiency Maine’s position is that companies that are within 25 miles of an address will be more likely to respond promptly to the home owner and provide better service. I routinely travel over 50 miles one way to perform audits and my quality of service does not change with distance. Dana Fischer, the manger of the residential funding program at Efficiency Maine, actually told a contractor that he did not think listing a greater radius would make a difference in business for contractors.
To get around this mileage obstacle Efficiency Maine has actually encouraged companies to list their services in locations that the company does not use as a home base. Companies are listing addresses of their employees so that their company shows up within the 25 mile range of more areas. When I brought this to the attention of Dana Fischer I was told that he has no problem with this action. He actually told a contractor friend of mine to list his home address in Portland as well as his business address in Wilton to expand his zone. It seems like fraudulent marketing to me.
Several contractors have recommended to Efficiency Maine that they implement the use of a reverse zip code search tool. Contractors would enter in all of the zip codes that they will cover so when someone does a search on the Efficiency Maine site, or calls Efficiency Maine, all the business that are listed for the homeowner’s zip code will pop up. This would eliminate the 25 mile filtering system. Contractors that are outside the 25 mile limit of urban areas are severely impacted by this mileage default.
My second concern is that Efficiency Maine is not promoting all business in the efficiency industry equally. From day one they have not listed all of the audits that an independent audit company performs. Independent audit companies do not do any installation work and are hired because their independence is valuable to the homeowner. Even though the audit is the first part of the Efficiency Maine funding process, there is recognition of the audits performed by a company unless they lead to completed work. This does not honestly show the experience that independent audit companies have with the Efficiency Maine auditing process. My clients hire me because I am independent and will not try to sell them any further services.
Efficiency Maine acknowledges that people use their site to find the most experienced people in the efficiency realm. When seeking a heating company a homeowner can see how many jobs each heating contractor has done with the Efficiency Maine program. This goes for the solar companies and all others with the exception of independent audit companies. When they search for an audit company they do not see how many audits the company has done. They only see how many audits resulted in work being done on the house. Since independent audit companies do not do the installation work the number of audits listed on the Efficiency Maine website does not reflect the true number of audits completed. In discussions with my clients they want to know what the experience of the audit company is with Efficiency Maine auditing, not how many of the audits lead to work being completed.
Michael Stoddard, the Director of Efficiency Maine, has publicly stated that there is no way to keep track of how many audits are done and only counting finished houses can be accurate. This is incorrect because every Efficiency Maine audit is entered on their RHA site. A contractor can go directly to the Efficiency Maine data base and count the number of audits they have completed. Shouldn’t he know this?
Although Efficiency Maine claims they do not want to affect the free market in Maine, they are controlling the industry by directly steering potential clients to contractors. The vast majority of people use the Efficiency Maine website to find contractors. Efficiency Maine should accurately display information so that homeowners can maximize their opportunity in finding contractors that will provide the services that they are looking for. The way it is now the rural companies are at an extreme disadvantage and the homeowners of Maine are not receiving complete information.