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The dangers of do-it-yourself gas projects

June 18, 2014 By    

A new industry campaign urges do-it-yourselfers to ‘leave no doubt’ and contact a professional.

Furled eyebrows, frowns and a deep look of concern cross their faces, a blackened house charred to a crisp in the background.

The husband, wife and insurance agent are in the front yard having a disheartening conversation about decisions made and valuable possessions lost.

“You’re lucky no one was inside,” the agent says.

“I begged you not to do this,” the wife lectures the husband, her eyes piercing up at him.

The three individuals are actors in a 51-second commercial, portraying the scene of a house fire, started by the irresponsible work of a do-it-yourselfer who had found tips online for installing gas appliances. In this case, the husband, who, by his look of guilt, knows he has done something very wrong.

PERC Video

An online video shows the risk homeowners are taking when they attempt to work on their own gas appliances.
Photo courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

“It seemed pretty easy when I was reading about it,” the husband tells the agent.

At the end, the camera pans away and a voiceover delivers the intended message: “When you leave it to a pro, you leave no doubt. Gas appliances should only be installed by a qualified professional.”

The commercial, which provides what one industry leader dubs “an emotional hook,” is an integral part of a new safety campaign funded by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) about the dangers that can result from do-it-yourself gas projects. All elements of the program went live in early February.

“Most do-it-yourselfers have skills but not always the type of skills it takes to properly install or test the equipment or appliances in their home,” says Roy Willis, president and CEO of PERC, in a council video about the campaign.

Long-running concern

PERC Video Shoot

A burned-out house serves as the backdrop of the video production.
Photo courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

The notion of do-it-yourselfers and the dangers they pose not only to themselves, their families and neighbors, but also to the gas industries, has been discussed for years within PERC, says Stuart Flatow, vice president of safety and training for the council.

“The genesis came in 2006 when we had an industry consumer safety summit where we brought together propane marketers, PERC, NPGA, as well as propane defense attorneys,” Flatow says. “The idea was for the industry to tell us how PERC should prioritize its expenditures relating to consumer safety. The notion of do-it-yourselfers reached a priority level.”

Flatow says the topic became emotional for many propane marketers who felt they were unfairly litigated and blamed for incidents that weren’t their fault. Market research and focus-group discussions followed. PERC learned three groups of do-it-yourselfers existed: low-risk, moderate-risk and high-risk.

PERC wasn’t worried about the low-risk do-it-yourselfers because they don’t usually attempt serious projects, and the council didn’t feel it could reach the high-risk group because it would probably attempt the projects despite third-party safety messages. Instead, the council focused on the moderate-risk group.

“They probably would install light fixtures, they might do some moderate HVAC work in their home, but they are not likely to install piping, their own tanks, their own stoves and certainly not their own electrical systems,” Flatow says. “But they could be persuaded to do so.”

So PERC found its target group of moderate risk takers whom it thought it could reach, change its behavior and move it into the low-risk group. But how?

“Some folks send out brochures, but who do you send them to? None of that was really appealing,” Flatow says. “This did take a while to culminate. Working with our communications team, Swanson Russell, we decided to make our presence felt at the point of [decision making] – online.”

PERC Video Shoot

A production crew sets up a shot for PERC’s safety video. Photo courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

Walking a fine line
Part of the challenge, Flatow says, was finding the appropriate way to communicate the safety message “without going overboard and people thinking [propane] is not safe.” The program doesn’t single out propane, instead focusing on gas in general.

Through online and search marketing, the campaign hunts do-it-yourselfers who are seeking more information about a project, hoping to deter them before they can begin an installation or repair. This is done through keywords or phrases used online by do-it-yourselfers, like “repair gas water heater” or “install gas line.”

“We thought all along the way to dissuade people is to catch them in the act,” says Scott Brockelmeyer, vice president of corporate communications and marketing for Ferrellgas and chairman of PERC’s Market Outreach and Training Working Group. “You can easily do a keyword search and find somebody who has uploaded a video on how to tackle a very delicate, a very challenging, eventually dangerous project by yourself.”

In Google’s search engine, the program’s most popular traffic driver, a text ad pops up along the side with responses like, “The No. 1 mistake homeowners make. Watch this video now” or “Learn about the risks of installing a gas water heater on your own.” If the do-it-yourselfer clicks on the link, he will reach a landing page at and have the opportunity to watch the house-fire commercial.

“When you look at the video, what we’re trying to get out of that is the emotional hook of how disappointed the wife is in the husband, how disappointed the insurance agent is with what could have happened,” Flatow says. “I’d like to think what comes through is that emotion from those three characters.”

PERC has also placed display ads through Google at several carefully chosen sites do-it-yourselfers are likely to visit, says Gregg Walker, PERC’s communications director.

In addition, PERC has targeted, Haven Home Network, and YouTube for ad placements. These ads, which read, “It seems easy enough … until it isn’t. Hire a professional for gas-related projects,” show a house with significant fire damage and also link to the video.

If the do-it-yourselfer watches the video, he is asked to complete a short online form that provides PERC with information about the planned project.

For example, the council learned that, in April, ovens and clothes dryers were the most popular appliances for do-it-yourselfers to install or repair, and 47 percent of all projects for the month were new installations. In exchange for this type of information, the do-it-yourselfer receives an automated email with tips for finding a qualified technician for the job.

PERC Video Shoot

The PERC-sponsored video targeting do-it-yourselfers was filmed in Omaha, Neb.
Photo courtesy of the Propane Education & Research Council

The automated email tells the do-it-yourselfer he is doing the right thing by seeking a technician. It lists recommendations as well, like first contacting a gas supplier and relaying information about the project to that professional. Helpful tips from HVAC companies, plumbers and gas fitter organizations may also help the consumer find the right technician. The email also provides helpful links (to Yellow Pages, Google Maps and to connect do-it-yourselfers with a technician.

“We’re trying to give somebody good advice without scaring them away from using the product,” says Eric Kuster, loss control manager at Fairmont Specialty Insurance, who worked with PERC on the project. “We’re trying to send a safety message without diminishing the positive things propane has to offer.”

Campaign metrics
PERC says its click-through rate for display ads are at industry averages and its conversions and conversion rate – videos watched and/or forms submitted – are excellent.

In April, the council paid $3.07 for each click of its Google display ads and 90 cents per Google search click – rates it calls efficient. It spent more than $32,000 on ad-performance efforts for the month, which netted more than 4 million website impressions.

DIY safetyThe council approved $300,000 for the campaign last year, funding production of the house-fire commercial and associated advertising, but expenditures didn’t reach that amount, Walker says.

The program will run for several more months as PERC determines its future, Flatow says. The council will hold discussions with its communications team and task force overseeing the project, but Flatow senses the program will move forward, perhaps into a second phase.

One question that begs asking: How does PERC measure success in such a campaign and know the industry’s funds are well spent?

“Can we go back and say unequivocally that we prevented 18 houses from having an incident? No, but it’s all about awareness, and awareness comes with numbers and influencing people,” Kuster says. “PERC has done a good job with the metrics. You can’t tie directly to incidents, but you can’t measure something that doesn’t happen. Hopefully we continue to have things that don’t happen.”

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at or 216-706-3748.

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