Creates jobs, improves homes, pays like clockwork, and sells itself, job after job after job: a remodeler’s fantasy?

A realistic survival plan is more like it, if you can abide by the 33-year-old rules of the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which provides states with funding to make low-income households more energy-efficient.

WAP is news now because the 2009 Recovery Act expanded it by $4.7 billion. “Funds were slow to come, and the Davis-Bacon situation didn’t help things … [but] many contractors are making a great living doing WAP work,” says Marc French, operations coordinator for CCOA, an Idaho nonprofit that does about 60 WAP jobs per month.

U.S. DOE and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Davis-Bacon, a 1931 law cited in the Recovery Act, mandates that federal contracting jobs over $2,000 pay “prevailing wages” to workers. Unfortunately, weatherization wages had been set for commercial work, not private homes, and in Kansas City, Mo., where Rick Westmoreland runs Liberty Homes, it appeared that those rates would be $56 an hour, with benefits. By fall, most states had revised their weatherization classifications to be “a lot more palatable,” says Matt Golden, CEO of Sustainable Spaces, a home performance retrofitter in San Francisco. “We find them roughly in line with, or even well below, our actual wages.”

Golden’s company is not pursuing WAP work because “we are focused on developing a scalable model for the middle market,” he says. In Kansas City, however, Westmoreland sees WAP as a bridge to the middle market. Between mid-August and mid-October, Liberty Homes had 37 weatherization contracts. “We’re in and out in a day, and paid 10 days later by direct deposit,” he says.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.

More about WAP here:
Remodelers’ questions, our answers, about the federal Weatherization Assistance Program