Name Your Own Rebate for Water Savings


The concept for the “Name Your Own Rebate for Water Savings” originated from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) reverse auction method, which determined what incentives helped communities recruit homeowners to install rain barrels and rain gardens for stormwater management.  Reverse auctions, also called procurement auctions, have traditionally been used to allocate funding for agricultural conservation practices.  Unlike standard auctions, in a reverse auction there are multiple sellers competing for an award from a single buyer.  Once bids are submitted, the awards go the lowest bidders.  If the bid includes a rebate or compensation amount, using a competitive bidding system helps to reveal the minimum compensation a participant would need to be offered as an incentive to adopt, say, an agricultural management practice which has some larger environmental benefit.  Since the process is competitive, participants are aware that bidding for a high compensation amount would lower their chances of being selected.  The Rahway rebate auction works in a similar fashion, with the management practice that is “sold” being the installation of new water fixtures and appliances, the “sellers” being the Rahway residents, and the “buyer” being Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE). 

The “Name Your Own Rebate for Water Savings” program was piloted in February 2010 in the City of Rahway, an urban community in northeastern New Jersey.  The City of Rahway has mostly single family homes on ¼ acre lots and is densely populated with 28,998 residents (7, 269 people/square mile).  This community was selected because 80% of the water use is indoors with an average of indoor consumption of 86 gallons per capita per day.  Additionally, older homes are common in Rahway, with 76% of homes being built before 1970 (2010 Census). 

Rahway residents were encouraged to bid on rebates for up to ten water efficient products.  Then they indicated the compensation they needed as an incentive to purchase the product.  Rebates were awarded to the lowest bidders.  Once the products were purchased and installed, the water use data was collected to determine the water savings. 


All products were water efficient, with many carrying the EPA WaterSense™ label guaranteeing they use at least 20 percent less water than average products in the same category.  American Standard and W.A. Birdsall & Co., a local plumbing distributor, helped cost-share the rebate with RCE.    

Program Eligibility

This program was offered to Rahway residents who lived in single family homes.  These residents were targeted because they were more likely to own their property and had a greater ability to upgrade to newer technologies.  There were 6,300 homes that were eligible for this study.  Residents were not given any restrictions on the amount that they could bid, however they were encouraged to bid a low rebate amount to increase their chances of winning.



  • Purchase top-of-the line appliances at a reduced rate.

  • Save money on your water, sewer, and electric bills by installing water saving appliances and fixtures in your home.

  • Conserve New Jersey water resources and promote environmental protection.

Rahway residents were directed to bid online at the program website.  Promotion efforts included:

  • Direct mail brochure and application was the most successful method

  • Local newspapers

  • Rahway’s website

  • An automated phone call through the local water purveyor’s Rapid Alert system

Application Instructions

Step 1. Fill out the Name Your Rebate application online or print it out for mail in.

Step 2. Select your products and rebate bids.

Step 3. Submit your application either online or by mail by April 9, 2010.

Step 4. Rutgers will notify you by April 30, 2010 whether your bids were accepted.

Step 5. Once your bids have been accepted, purchase your products and install them at home. Products will be available at W.A. Birdsall & Co. in Linden, or the Home Depot in Colonia. Make sure to hold on to your receipt to submit to us for reimbursement. (See list of available products for which items have an instant rebate, and which will have a mail-in rebate.)

Selection Process

Bids were accepted from most of the households that participated.  Rebate bids ranged from 10-50% of the product price.  The average rebate bid was 30%.

Lessons Learned

To our knowledge this was the first time that an indoor water conservation reverse auction was offered to a densely populated urban community. 

  • Test marketing language with targeted communities before the program begins. 

  • Keep the program simple including rebates awarded, coordination with product vendors, and the variety of products that are offered.

  • Solidify the product price throughout the length of the program with the product vendors.

  • Use a focused marketing approach.  A focused approach could employ repeated mailings as well as door to door efforts to further explain the details.  Community support is vital to the success of these types of programs.



The Partners