A blower door test is one of the many diagnostic features employed by our program to ensure the highest energy savings possible for those we serve.

Friday, April 9, 2010

NASCSP Response to AP article by Ms. Garance Burke

Since the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), there has been much negative press concerning the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and its ability to deliver on the promise of the Act to put people back to work quickly while significantly reducing home energy costs for vulnerable low-income households. Many news articles, including the recent “Stimulus Watch: Weatherization Program falling short” by AP reporter Garance Burke, reiterate that the anticipated number of jobs and weatherized units have not yet materialized. For those who read beyond the pessimistic headlines and gloomy opening paragraphs, the stories also acknowledge some of the significant obstacles that confronted the Weatherization Program network. These obstacles have largely been overcome and those knowledgeable about the program expect the network to reach full production in the next 60-90 days and fulfill the goals set by the Obama Administration.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to a timely start to program expansion was the directive to pay and administer Davis-Bacon prevailing wages for all Recovery Act funds; the WAP has had a waiver of those requirements for the past 30 years. This meant a delay while the Department of Labor decided whether a new wage should be determined, and further delays as they obtained wage determinations in every county in the U.S. for a previously non-existent “Weatherization Worker” job classification. The wage determinations were not finalized until September 2010, several months after the start-up of the Recovery Act.

Since a large percentage of low-income households live in older housing stock, in many states historic preservation rules slowed the start up of ARRA weatherization due to requirements for State Historic Preservation Offices to review work on houses older than 45 years. A Prototype Programmatic Agreement, developed by the Department of Energy (DOE), in coordination with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), appears to address the concerns in a workable manner and is a major step to help enable work to move forward on these older units.

Perhaps the most disturbing characterization of WAP in the news is the perception that it is a very simple retrofit program performing isolated energy efficiency measures, a “$5 billion program to install weather-tight windows and doors” as Ms. Burke writes. Actually, windows and doors are rarely installed because they typically do not have the energy paybacks of other measures, and are often too expensive for the cost limitations of the program. Weatherization professionals use a whole house approach, where they address a home as a single energy-consuming system, rather than a loose collection of unrelated systems. Using this technique, the best combination of measures for reducing total energy consumption is tailored to each home. The process involves an energy audit, selection of measures based on energy paybacks and cost-effectiveness, installation of measures, and a post-work inspection.

This is a comprehensive approach that is considered state-of-the-art by energy efficiency experts, but misunderstood by most of the public, who have been conditioned to believe that the most heat loss in a home is through the windows and that spending $15,000 for replacements will reduce their energy bills enough to pay for the expense quickly. WAP uses energy audits that are required to account for the interaction of all proposed measures. WAP also utilizes sophisticated diagnostic equipment, such as blower doors to measure and detect air leakage, digital combustion analyzers to measure steady state efficiency and carbon monoxide, duct leakage diagnostic tools, and infrared cameras.

Along with using advanced energy audits and diagnostic equipment, the WAP has integrated many high-tech installation practices into the program, including advanced techniques for dense pack sidewall insulation, mobile home insulation, blower door guided air sealing, and electric baseload measures. There have also been major advancements addressing indoor air quality and other health and safety concerns. Taken together, the advanced diagnostic and installation procedures give taxpayers the greatest “bang for their buck” in every home weatherized through the program.

The Weatherization Assistance Program has been arguably the single major contributor to residential energy efficiency technology by developing and practicing the state-of-the-art methods that the newly emerging green retrofit industry is adopting. In many areas, utility companies have recognized this and partnered with both State and local WAP managers to enhance existing weatherization programs for the utility’s customers.

WAP has evolved to incorporate sophisticated analysis of the energy needs of a home, high tech diagnostic tools and installation techniques, and extensive training of workers to be a program with effective results and real energy savings. As the Weatherization network overcomes the barriers of ARRA implementation there are positive indications that the Obama administration goals for WAP will be met. All evidence points toward rapidly increasing expenditures and production since the last official reports from DOE in December 2009. The network is already weatherizing homes at a greater rate than any time in the history of the program, with projected production rapidly growing to a projected level of 25,000 homes per month by late spring. All levels of the WAP, from the Department of Energy to the State Grantees to the local agencies, are committed to working together to accomplish the goals of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As originally projected in WAP State Plans, we believe that 600,000 homes will be weatherized using ARRA funds by March 2012.

The National Association for State Community Services Programs is a professional membership organization for the state and territorial administrators of the Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Department of Health and Human Services Community Services Block Grant (CSBG).