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Growing GRU program needs more contractors


Master plumber Cyle Dunaway of Fletcher Plumbing, Inc. has installed 150 hot water heaters for GRU’s LEEPplus . Photo credit: Suzette Cook

Press release from City of Gainesville

BY SUZETTE COOK

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Master plumber Cyle Dunaway refers to Gainesville Regional Utilities’ Low-Income Energy Efficiency Programplusas a blessing.

The program, known as LEEPplus, assists qualifying low- and moderate-income customers with home improvements that can reduce energy use and lower their electric bills. 

After moving to the area from South Florida, Dunaway was hired by Fletcher Plumbing, Inc., and put to work installing hot water heaters in the homes of GRU customers who were eligible for LEEPplus upgrades. 

“I’ve installed at least 150 hot water heaters under the LEEP program,” said Dunaway during a recent installation at a home in Northwest Gainesville. 

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“It used to be one or two days a week,” he added about the frequency of water heater installations. “But now it’s five days a week.”

For Dunaway and other local installers – including HVAC, electricians, insulators, plumbers, and mechanical contractors – aligning with LEEPplus and officially becoming a partnering contractor has a lasting impact on their businesses.

“This is by far one of our biggest accounts”

King’s Heating & Air Office Manager Brittney Kenney says GRU’s LEEPplus customers are the company’s biggest clients. The Gainesville-based business got involved two years ago by answering the request for licensed contractors to partner with the program, which started in 2007 and has since serviced more than 1,800 homes in Gainesville.

“This is by far one of our biggest accounts,” Kenney said. “And we’ve gotten extra work from customers who were happy with our work. It’s forming lifelong customers for us, and we’re very thankful for the opportunity.”

According to GRU’s Residential Efficiency Program Coordinator Scott Downie, partnering contractors are on schedule to complete energy-efficient upgrades for 130 homes this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

Program was recently expanded with ARPA funds

 And with the recent expansion of the program, which increased the amount of money allotted to each home, included renters as potential recipients, and received $1.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds over the next three years, LEEPplus is on a trajectory to help 150 residences or more, next year and beyond. The only thing that may hold them back is a shortage of contractors to complete the work.   

When Downie, a licensed HVAC contractor, joined GRU more than a year ago, LEEPplus had been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented him from going into homes for inspections and approving projects.

“When the lockdown hit, there were 77 customers in the pipeline,” Downie said, adding that only 10 homes benefited from the program in 2021. But when things opened up in January 2022, “It swung in the other direction.”

In May, GRU made improvements to LEEPplus by increasing the amount of money spent per home on energy upgrades from $4,250 to $10,000, raising the program’s income threshold so more customers are eligible to receive home upgrades, and making the program available to renters. 

Once determined to be eligible, LEEPplusparticipants work with GRU to decide the improvements that best suit their homes. These may include replacing or servicing central air conditioning and heating systems, repairing and sealing duct systems, installing additional insulation, replacing the water heater, upgrading electrical service panels, installing a programmable thermostat, weather stripping and caulking of doors and windows, and providing up to 10 LEDs.

150 projects ready for approved contractors

There are more than 150 efficiency upgrade projects currently ready to be taken on by approved partnering contractors, including the installation of dozens of hot water heaters and air conditioning units. 

Downie breaks down the need for more contractors by category. Of those 150 approved projects, 90 percent involve HVAC, 80 percent involve water heater installation and plumbers, 30 percent will require a licensed electrician, and 80 percent are going to need insulation.

“A/C usually gets there pretty quickly and gets up and running, then sometimes we wait months for insulators,” Downie said about the shortage of contractors.

Currently, the LEEPplus Partnering Contractors list at GRU.com has 11 HVAC installers, three insulators, three water heaters, one air sealing, and two electrical contractors.

Current partnering contractors recommend the program for reasons ranging from helping community members to guaranteed payment.

 Virgil Dixon, sales rep for Newberry-based Suncoast Insulators & Specialties, is a current partnering contractor with the LEEPplus program. 

“It’s pretty easy to get the proposals out, and everything is smooth-running. It’s probably one of the easiest accounts I deal with. We do five to 10 LEEP jobs a month. It’s steady work–because of the amount of work that comes through, it’s worth doing.”

Downie continues to meet LEEPplus-approved applicants in their residences, where he explains that each project requires three estimates from the list of partnering contractors before the installation can move forward.

His message to contractors interested in signing up is that it’s a win-win for both newly established and longtime local contractors.

“LEEP work is consistent year-round, which is a benefit,” he said. “LEEP’s going to be there in the middle of January when you don’t have all that work. Partnering contractors will still be doing business, and that keeps you in the community.” 

Being part of LEEPplus is “not a one-and-done” for contractors, Downie added.

“Once you install an air conditioner, you have that customer for at least 10 years if they sign a maintenance contract. If Fletcher Plumbing installs a water heater and two years later they need toilets replaced, who are they likely to call? The company they have already dealt with. Work begets work.”

Contractors interested in participating in LEEPpluscan call 352-393-1460, email partnerwithleep@gru.com or visit gru.com/leep for more information. Click here for more information about the Partnering Contract Programs.

To learn more about who qualifies to receive LEEP Plus upgrades click here

  • Of course he’s ecstatic, he’s getting gov revenue without worrying if he’ll get paid. Too bad the city commission has forced GRU to pay millions per year for bloated city mandates, goofy wasteful ideas nobody wants, the hiring of 100+ employees the last few years, deteriorating bond ratings, and such a financial mess they can’t close last fiscal year’s books days before this year’s books supposed to close! Instead of using GRU profits to pay off debt or lower rates for all, the city continues requiring a ridiculous “transfer” to city general fund for commissioner payoffs to stupid ideas with friendly contractors. They are effectively stealing GRU funds from the ratepayers, including the poorest citizens. Get rid of all city commissioners and start over. Nobody else could be this corrupt!

    • Now we know where King’s Heating and Air has been. Do not sign a service contract with this company or hire them for any work. They will push you off for months and never show up for work when they promise you they’ll be there. I’ve been waiting for months for a new AC system to be installed and my old system to be serviced in the meantime. They obviously have too much work taking gov money to take care of their existing clients.

    • Great comments and insight Christine. You are spot on.

      This current city commission needs to be removed. Audits never happen and lethargic locals continue to let it happen.

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