Weatherization Assistance Program
This program is not a new endeavor. It has been a part of the government’s home improvement arsenal for almost 30 years and historically has received about $250 million annually. “With the Recovery Act, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) received $5 billion, of which $1 billion was set aside for training and technical assistance,” says Jennifer Somers, team lead, Training and Technical Assistance/policy adviser, Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, DOE. “We increased the amount of training and technical assistance from our historic level of 10% up to 20%; based on the provisions allowed in the Recovery Act,” she says. “Approximately $850 million was distributed to the 58 grantees, and DOE retained about $150 million to fund the WAP National Weatherization Training and Technical Assistance Plan. The major purpose of this plan is to help the WAP network during Recovery Act ramp-up and to lay the foundation for a sustainable national residential retrofit industry.”
A community action program (CAP) administers WAP on the local level and acts as liaison between contractors and the families seeking assistance. The CAP also vets contractors based on various standards from state licenses and certifications to experience and even financial stability.
Benjamin Goldstein, project lead, Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades, DOE, says that the contractor base is diverse with room for many types of contractors as long as they know the mechanics of a home’s envelope and mechanical systems. “I would not be surprised if some of those are remodeling firms who have reoriented themselves during the housing downturn to focus on weatherization and energy efficiency,” he says.
A $500 million grant program to develop innovative approaches to retrofit homes on a large scale, BetterBuildings has a goal of 120,000 homes upgraded by the program’s end in 2012. “We know what needs to be done to perform energy-efficient retrofits that can save 10, 15, 20% on energy savings,” says David Lee, supervisor, Residential Integration Program, Building Technologies Program, DOE. “Where we’ve had difficulty is in promoting home energy retrofits to homeowners and making it enticing for them.” Funds have been disbursed to 41 grantees across the nation — states, cities, counties, regions, and even utilities — that are exploring state-of-the-art methods to reach the general public and to encourage homeowners to retrofit their homes.
Lee hopes that the program will continue to thrive long after the ARRA funds are gone by using a different, self-sufficient model. “Ultimately, we want people to recognize the importance of energy efficiency to improve the quality of their lives as well as to reduce their energy bills,” he says. One of the ideas [from the BetterBuildings grant program] is for a grantee to provide energy-efficiency ambassadors to assist the homeowner through the retrofit process. Another model involves construction professionals “pay[ing] a fee in return for marketing materials, recognition, or referrals,” he says.
This is the DOE’s research program to bring innovative and experimental building technology to market by working with retrofitters, contractors, and building science professionals. Already a part of the annual DOE budget, it is not funded by ARRA. “It’s a research program working with builders, contractors, and remodelers to bring technologies to market,” Lee says. “This year we have a $20 million budget and about 60% of that is going into retrofit research on existing homes. We’re also asking the teams to look at innovative deployment models to highlight the retrofit techniques that are more efficient, less costly, and less burdensome to the contractor.”
It should be noted that the Building America projects require a certain amount of “buy in” on the part of the remodeler, as noted in the Better Building Performance case study. Despite that cash layout up front, these projects have the potential to benefit a remodeler in many ways, from letting his company get experience in the energy-efficient retrofit world to having access to the measurements and data the DOE sends out at the conclusion of each project.
Home Performance with Energy Star
More than 75,000 families have had their homes improved through Home Performance with Energy Star (HPWES). The program uses a whole-house, “house-as-a-system” approach to improving the home’s energy efficiency and comfort, while helping to protect the environment. According to Hogan, the program’s goal is to give “homeowners the confidence they need that high-quality work is going to be done in their homes.”
After a retrofit, homeowners enjoy fewer drafts, consistent temperatures across rooms, better ventilation and humidity control, and lower utility bills. Through the program, a local sponsor (state energy office, utility, or nonprofit energy-efficiency organization) is responsible for ensuring that participating contractors maintain high standards for quality. This typically includes providing specialized training for contractors and conducting quality assurance inspections to verify that HPWES projects are performed correctly.
Contractors who don’t have that training can get it via the same training programs that the government has set up for WAP, according to Somers. “The building science, whether you’re working on weatherization or home performance, is the same,” she explains. “The WAP funded the Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades and greater workforce development efforts to codify the quality that has been inherent in the Weatherization Assistance Program. Our efforts now allow for professional guidelines not just for weatherization but for every residential energy market.”
This is a longer version of an article that appeared in the June 2011 issue of REMODELING.