Hi Everyone,

 

Just caught this from one of my RSS feeds.  Not sure how old the story is:

http://www.thermalimagingscan.com/energy-audit-weatherization-failu...

 

Here's a direct link to the video you'll find embedded on the above page:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0buwmY6-eRc

 

Posting it here, though, to see if anyone has more to this.  We all know how the media can be sometimes and I wanted to check if we're getting the whole story.  Anyone from the Nashville area or has connections to the program there care to comment? 

 

Thank you.

 

Matt Schwoegler

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I hope to stay away from any government sponsored weatherization projects. Over the years, I as well as friends of mine have dealt with government (and monolithic corporate entity) projects and I know that any inflexible bureaucracy leads to high cost over runs, poor accountability-and very often-public slander of honest hard working professions.* I can usually see these guys coming a mile away if they are in the private sector, and do my best to price myself out of contention for the job.

Although the story does slam auditors, it seems to me that the government program came out just as bad if not worse. They do (sort of) mention that the auditors provided test-out numbers and reported them to the state. I plan to respond to this story-if it spreads- by using it to reinforce my chosen business model as an independent auditor. Test in, verify during the project, and test out. Have no product sales agenda. Provide the client with a list of projects with projected ROI's. Tell the customer what to look for before and during projects and to withold payment until done correctly-with contractor knowledge of said policy before any agreements are signed.

{* I have a friend who performed work as a highway engineer-with the company doing the work, warned the state engineers against their bridge specification & proposed an alternative; but was ordered to proceed as specified. My friend's company was slammed in the press by the state engineers for months because the spec failed and caused many delays. What never showed up on the nightly news is that the state was forced to reimburse the evil "contractor" millions of dollars to correct the problem-the bridge was re-worked according to my friend's recommendation, and worked.}

   

Bruce, you do test in and test out, but I don't think that addresses Mark's link.  Mark's link is about track before and track after.  Mark is pointing out that the right question is not being asked.  The right question is ARE WE SAVING WHAT WE ARE PROJECTING TO SAVE? 

How do we know ALL programs aren't failures?  Where is results transparency in ANY program?  

I ask nearly everyone I meet if they track.  Very very very few people track, and even fewer analyse results of what they track.  If nobody is tracking, nobody is analyzing.  If nobody is analyzing, nobody knows how well or poorly they or their program is doing.  Without the answer, how are we to know how we are doing and how to improve? 

We run numbers on software provided us, tell homeowners what they will save, then nobody tracks?  Shouldn't it be a due diligence requirement of the program to track our results to promise and share them with us so we know how we are doing?  How are we to improve without this critical information?

When I got into this I saw this gaping hole of accountability and it made me nervous, so I tracked client results.  It is incredibly onerous with no additional compensation.  To have confidence that if there was failure, it was the software's fault, I took extra effort to make sure implementation quality was high (hence pictures of me sweating my butt off in attics and crawling under mobile homes).  

If anyone has an easy way to track before, track promise, go back a year later and surgically extract following energy history from people, then perform analysis AND represent the results you see, please contact me.  I want it to take a LOT less time and effort so I can do more of it.

So I have a very high level of confidence that TREAT can deliver on saving promise.  

Of course that assumes you've trued it to actual consumption, and don't game/inflate results to meet some required "investment return" metric imposed by program guidelines.  There will be no hiding when transparency of results occurs, and attempts to point fingers at the contractor will fail because the problem is program wide, and therefore a program design issue.  


You can't blame the contractor for savings they didn't have any idea was or was not occurring.  I can't be responsible for a failure I don't know about.  I didn't come up with the process that makes promises, the program did.  

Last year the Governor removed law suit protection from so called "Public Benefit" Corporations.  With this new accountability and a fair number of new people in place, I suspect we will see change.  I think the program is run by good people who are beginning to see the picture, and will eventually see how to course correct.  If they don't, they are setting themselves on a path towards very embarrassing collapse that could potentially look like a giant fraud perpetrated upon state residents.  

Holy Crap,I thought that it only happened here in Va.

I think the term "Fraud" (even followed by a question mark) is an unfortunate choice of words here.  Let's please not conflate issues with workmanship with deliberate fraud. 


Cherry Picking?

It's easy to cherry-pick problems and stand them up as generalized straw men.  Anyone who was among the 3000+ attendees at the the recent National Weatherization Training Conference last month witnessed first-hand how many dedicated Program providers are out there, and the Program's new initiatives on quality assurance.

I don't personally deem public vs. private or large vs. small as predictors of inefficiency or project quality.  The issue is more subtle, and has deeper roots than that. We've all seen many "inflexible bureaucracies" in the form of contractors working well outside any federal or local program whose skills are sorely lacking and minds closed tight....  And, unlike the Weatherization Program, many of these entities do not test-in/out or have independent inspection of their workmanship or other consumer protections in place.

If it Bleeds it Leads

Commercial news channels don't exactly have the cred's to "evaluate" an energy efficiency program.  If it bleeds it leads.  Sounds like they found one person (out of 1000?) whose energy bills went up.... The reporters glossed over the fact that the program was policing itself and identifying the issues in workmanship -- isn't this what we want to see?  That said, the program manager got sandbagged by the reporter.  There is of course evaluation that's done, even though he didn't have that info.  

It's Challenging to Scale-up

The overnight 10-fold growth in projects that the named weatherization agency had to deliver under the stimulus would be daunting even under the best of conditions.  Building workforce capacity to keep up with growing demand--and verifying performance--are clearly challenges we all need to stay focused on.

I applaud your defence of the programs.Unfortunatly congress didnt think very highly.. they defunded it by 63%.Much like the farmers loan program of 80's the feds threw money at the wall like spigetti."No 10k is to little,we can give you 110k".My exsperiance has been that people with 10 yrs WAP employment should know how to use the equipment...they dont...like they say in the movies"follow the money" 

"I think the term "Fraud" (even followed by a question mark) is an unfortunate choice of words here.  Let's please not conflate issues with workmanship with deliberate fraud."

Hi Evan,

You may think it is an unfortunate choice of words, however, I do not.   As both a taxpayer and practitioner in this industry where the actions of others reflect not only on my work, but the noble efforts of thousands of others who are doing great things in the weatherization program, it is absolutely the right question to ask.   I was simply inquiring about if there was "another other side to this particular story" which you seemed to have missed in my original comments. I too know how sensationalistic the media can be and was looking for additional information, not a confrontation.

This is not the first I have heard of this and is my understanding from a number of conversations I have had with others in this industry that this is not an isolated incident. Not saying it is rampant, never did, but what some of these contractors did do is no different than a doctor who is practicing without a license.  They were not qualified to do the work, but were hired and did it anyway and took the money.  That's called fraud.  Let's not sugarcoat it.

In the "effort to scale up", as you say, it unfortunately appears there were issues with the quality and qualifications of the workmanship in some areas.  Not terribly shocking in my opinion, but I never expected perfection.  However, as a taxpayer and a practitioner, I demand accountability and transparency regarding where my money is going.  Additionally, as an industry, our reputation will most certainly precede us in the future so it is absolutely in our best interest to question and examine all aspects of how the program unfolded to ensure the same mistakes are not made again and that we remain in good standing with the tax paying public who most certainly have influence over these programs.

Seems we agree on most of this--accountability and skill are essential; good work happens in WAP, etc--and I certainly didn't intend a confrontation. Sorry if you took it that way.  In any case, my post was actually more in response to Bruce's comment and Ted's note, and should have been indented there. I don't have more insight for you on the Nashville case, but perhaps others will chime in.

I think most people try to do good work.  The point about scaling up is definitely true.  But "conflating" posts are necessary to attract eyeballs and create discourse so Evan, I think your title is to be applauded.  Without a good title people would have simply scrolled past.  

Keep On Conflating buddy!  

Hi Evan,

No foul, I just wanted to stress in my reply that I wasn't using the term loosely as some sensationalistic thread title to generate controversy or in any way to malign the whole weatherization program.  My question was specific to Nashville and what's happening there.  From what I saw in the video, I don't know what else to call it.

As a personal example, the whole issue of skills and "qualification" is something that I deal with regularly when it comes to thermal imaging for building systems.  There are many qualified thermographers out there who are doing fantastic work.  There are also, however, a lot of "certified" thermographers who, quite frankly,I'm not sure what they're doing.  Unfortunately, the distinction between the two is more than a bit blurred in my industry and they are often lumped in with those that are truly qualified to use an infrared camera.

in the spirit of"citzens united"and another movie line"show me the money"

I gotta say, this endless garbage really gets to me. I WILL get in peoples' faces a little about this.

 

Everything you government-program-bashers do was developed by federally-funded weatherization workers and was field-tested by weatherization crews. Without three decades of what is constantly bashed as "inflexible bureaucracy" doing some of the most innovative and imaginative work in the world of housing construction, you'd all likely all still be hanging plastic on windows and caulking siding.

 

And don't get me started about the private contractors that accept bids to work for weatherization agencies and don't have a clue how to do quality work. Furnace installers that have been in business for decades, and ONLY bought their first combustion analyzer because those "inflexible bureaucrats" required it?? I could tell you stories -- AND I could back them up with formal reports and inspection letters.

 

Weatherization as a field (and as a government program) has also been fearless in evaluating the program and learning from mistakes. Five nationwide evaluations have been done and are available to anyone that wants them. E-mail me -- I'll send you the links. The sixth is in progress now. If you want facts, they are readily available. But it's always easier just to voice your prejudice.

 

Lastly, here's an example of the rigorous, fact-based, objective evaluation that weatherization programs do all the time. This evaluation is based on before-and-after bill analyses,  looking at Wisconsin's weatherization work three or four years ago. (http://homeenergyplus.wi.gov/category.asp?linkcatid=494&linkid=...)  The website layout is not ideal; scroll about 2/3rds of the way down the page and look up the "2007-2009 WI Weatherization Program Savings Report - Full Report (10/24/2011)".

 

Home Performance as a profession has always prided itself on objective evaluation of measureable data. That STARTED with the low-income weatherization program. The facts are out there. Go get 'em before you trash my profession and the great people I work with. They crawl attics every day so low-income residents aren't eaten alive by their utility bills. They deserve better than this.

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