Weatherization heats up in 2010
By John W. Edwards, Jr.
President Barack Obama certainly is walking the walk when it comes to weatherizing Americaâ€™s homes.
Five billion dollars was included in the economic stimulus legislation for the Weatherization Assistance Program, the federal program started in 1976 to help low-income families.
And more recently the president has proposed a â€ścash for caulkersâ€ť incentive program for homeowners modeled on the successful â€ścash for clunkersâ€ť autos program earlier this year.
He has called weatherization a â€śsmart thing to do.â€ť I couldnâ€™t agree more.
Community action agencies have been operating the Weatherization Assistance Program locally since its inception, and we are geared up for a busy 2010 when the president expects half a million homes to be retrofitted with proper insulation, new windows, modernized heating and the like to make them more energy efficient.
Since it was started, the Weatherization Assistance Program has provided services to 6.2 million low-income families who cannot afford the cost of the repairs.
What I like most about the program is that it is diagnostically driven, using a blower door that demonstrates how much air is infiltrating the home. With this information, we can determine how best to make the fixes necessary to reduce a familyâ€™s energy use â€“ and utility bills.
The government estimates low-income families save an average of $350 or more each year after their homes are weatherized.
The program also tests for carbon monoxide levels in homes with gas appliances, so that when the house is tightened it does not create a health issue for residents.
But the benefits of the program extend beyond those that go directly to the homeowner.
It creates employment â€“ 52 direct jobs and 23 indirect ones for every million dollars invested, according to federal estimates. That gives people the opportunity to work for a decent wage and, in some cases, the ability to move to higher-paying jobs within the building trades.
With the national employment rate at 10 percent, that is no small thing.
The program also reduces national energy demand by the equivalent of 18 million barrels of oil per year, and it helps the environment by reducing harmful emissions.
Overall, the Department of Energy estimates that for every dollar invested, weatherization returns $1.65 in energy-related benefits and $1.07 in other benefits like reducing pollution and unemployment.
Statistics like these are important, but whatâ€™s more important to me is what President Obamaâ€™s $5 billion belief in the Weatherization Assistance Program will mean on the ground.
With weatherized homes, families no longer are too cold in the winter, and they can spend their energy savings on food, medicine and other necessities of life.
Contractors can avoid layoffs and actually add to their workforce. Once-jobless workers will be trained and employed retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient. Thanks to the greatly increased funds for weatherization in the stimulus bill, there will be more stories like these.
Community action agencies have been involved in this work for a long time, and 2010 promises to be our busiest year ever. But our experience tells us with certainty that more weatherized homes are good for the country both economically and environmentally. Itâ€™s time to get to work.
John W. Edwards, Jr. is board chair of Community Action Partnership, which represents more than 1,000 community action agencies that work to fight poverty at the local level. He is also executive director of the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency.
(Photo shows U.S. President Barack Obama visits a Northern Virginia Home Depot to discuss home improvements and energy savings in Alexandria, Virginia December 15, 2009. REUTERS/Larry Downing)