Q&A with Erik Anderson on REAC, Lutron’s Residential Energy Accredited Contractor Program
Since Hot Topic #4 is Training Trades to Execute High Performance, and we know many manufacturers are taking the initiative in this area, we thought it would be a good idea to start with our Alliance sponsors, and find out what strategies they’ve found successful. Every month, we’ll cover what one of our sponsors is doing to train trades to execute high performance construction practices. That way, our builders will know what they can offer their trades, and best practices will emerge that builders can implement as well. At the end of the series, we’ll boil up the best insights and share them as a Top 10 list.
To kick off the series, we sat down with Erik Anderson, National Sales Manager of Residential Construction at Lutron Electronics, and talk to him about Lutron’s new training program for contractors on high performance lighting. Created in June 2011, REAC, the Residential Energy Accredited Contractor program, has trained between 1,100-1,200 contractors already.
In high performance homes, the lighting portion is beginning to catch up. Now it’s got to be efficient AND look good. Up until recently, builders in new construction weren’t used to thinking about light color, Kelvins, bulbs, and we were seeing a lot of builders who were running into problems with unhappy customers because of this.
For example, the light output of some CFLs (compact fluorescents) is “blueish” in color. Customers would select their countertops in the design showroom under a warmer “yellowish” incandescent light. When installed into the house and lit with the CFLs, the counters looked different and they were unhappy with the results. We were getting phone calls from consumers about their lights.
One of the most important missions we have is to educate consumers about lighting, and our website is designed to do that. But even though electrical contractors are supposed to be the mouthpiece for what high performance lighting to install, they’re in the same boat as consumers: they need education in choosing bulbs, what fixtures to consider, how to dim CFLs and LEDs. These things weren’t in their training. They’re struggling to find resources. They buy from supply houses, and they can go to those websites, but most are consumer-facing like Lutron’s. We saw that there’s a lack of resources for trades.
We knew we had to educate the trades, so they could educate the builders. Subcontractors need to be the ones who catch things, who say, “You need to re-think this.” In the electrical industry, that wasn’t there.
We worked with distributor partners and electrical contractors to get their input, so it’s their program. Even the sheets that detail our products in our reference guide, that we already had—we made new ones that were exactly what the contractors wanted, with info in a specific order. It’s in their language.
Distributors bring groups of their contractors together, and we take them through a formal 3-hour class, total immersion. At the end, they can decide whether they want to go on and become members of REAC on an ongoing basis.
Although the majority of REAC sessions are at distributors, we have trained onsite at contractors if they have a large organization.
Registration is set by the distributors, not Lutron, but trades pay about $300. They walk out of the class with $600-700 worth of stuff in their contractor sales kits, so it’s kind of a no-brainer for them. They’ll make the registration fee back right away.
The classes go from the basics of multi-location dimming, to dimming CFLs and LEDs (light emitting diodes), to covering the control aspects, and sensors. We also train them how to explain, to a builder or end-user, what the advantages are of these products, and give them tools to show that picture, show how CFLs and LEDs dim, how sensors work.
The program is ever-changing. We’re already on the third version of the presentation, as new technologies emerge.
We provide them with over $550 worth of saleable product, demo equipment. We supply them with sales tools—how all these things work. Through email, they get legislative updates, new product announcements, new technology. They get ongoing education for technology that is too complex for a simple update. They get a binder that they can use as a reference manual. Contractors from earlier classes receive mailings to update their binder of info, keeping their reference guide up to date at all times, so everyone’s on the same page.
Equipment included in Lutron’s REAC Contractor Sales Kit.
We’ve gotten immediate feedback; people are immediately engaged, even during the training. You can see it. When they enter the session, they’re dreading high efficiency lighting. It’s an unknown to them. They’re not sure how to install it. Once the mystery is taken away, they’re gung-ho. It’s been a long time since electricians have been at the forefront of new technologies!
We’ve even had some remodelers go through the class—the ones who focus on making homes more energy efficient—and they were immediately engaged.
New construction builders are not attracted to sitting through the class, but they want their trade partners to attend. We take this off the builder’s plate. I’ve had builders tell their contractors to take the course, even tell me to sign their contractors up. “Here’s his contact info—tell him I want him to attend it.” Builders generally won’t pay, as they see this as the price of the contractor keeping up to date, but they want their contractors to get this info.
Thanks to Erik Anderson of Lutron Electronics for talking to us about Hot Topic #4, Training Trades to Execute High Performance. Look for more Q&As in this series, and remember that these best practices can be effective for builders, too.