After the ARRA funding runs out at the end of March, 2012, what do we do? That was the big question on the minds of attendees today at the 2011 National Association for State Community Services Program (NASCSP) Training Conference in Seattle. At the same time everyone felt the need to recognize the huge success achieved by WAP in the three years covered by the ARRA finding, especially because of recent criticism of the WAP program in Congress: WAP is on track to weatherize up to 700,000 homes by next April; more than 15,000 direct jobs were created, and by a conservative estimate 30,000 were created indirectly, including the jobs of manufacturers of audit equipment, weatherization materials like insulation, and equipment such as insulation blowers; more than $5 billion worth of energy savings is being achieved over the life of all the home retrofits; and there have been great strides in weatherizing multifamily buildings, a previously neglected housing sector. In fact, more than 90% of the homes weatherized in the last three years in Alaska have been multifamily buildings. In New York it's more than 70%.

John Davies, Director, Building Performance Center, Opportunity Council, Bellingham, Washington, outlined the challenges:

  • lack of state and federal funding in the near future
  • maintaining the infrastructure of equipment, space, and trained staff
  • how to market to a whole new group of potential homeowners/clients
  • overcoming the non-profit mentality in the minds of staff who may not know the real market value of their work in homes and the public perception that they can get weatherization services for free

Jennifer Somers, Team Lead for Training and Technical Assistance/Policy Advisor, Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program, U.S. DOE offered, if not cut and dry answers, at least some directions to go in. DOE has helped create 39 training centers in 29 states. Those centers are being used already to train technicians to perform more than weatherization—Weatherization Plus Health. A pilot program in New Hampshire is developing a "One Touch" audit approach, where auditors assess a home's safety, air quality, and other health factors in the initial visit. DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is developing a Healthy Home Assessment Audit Tool, as well as a Multifamily Home Energy Assessment Tool.

Somers also mentioned a $5 billion backlog of retrofit needed for HUD housing. DOE's Bob Adams says "It took us a long time to figure out how to partner with organizations like HUD, but we have and it is working. The best thing is that now we have greater advocacy for our work in Congress. HUD too wants us to get the money to do the work they need done." Collaborations with NIH, the CDC and other organizations in the area of healthy housing hold great potential for the future of weatherization. There is much evidence piling up in academic journals and elsewhere that shows that children in clean, dry homes with good air quality do better in school and have to visit the emergency room much less often with asthma attacks. Weatherization Pus Health is a natural fit.

Davie's added to the list of directions the WAP community can go in, and thrive. Just as we are beginning to understand the need for healthy housing the kids, as the nation gets older there will be a greater need to provide healthy housing for seniors. Weatherization agencies can combine grant funds with private company investment and offer whole house retrofits to middle and high income families. New energy codes in Washington State (and elsewhere) require duct testing when a furnace is changed out. Some states are investigating the idea of requiring a home energy audit be preformed before an existing home is sold. And weatherization agencies and contractors can offer environmental services such as lead, asbestos, Radon, and mold abatement. And the many training programs around the nation can keep training people to do all kinds of home performance work.

It's not a happy time now. Joel Eisenberg of Oak Ridge says about the pending end of ARRA funding, "It was a lot more fun on the way up." But people are not too discouraged. When one door closes, new ones open. At the NASCSP Training Conference in 2016, I'll bet we'll be saying things like, "No one expected this. Who knew we would be thriving the way we are thriving now?" Retrofitting homes on Mars may be a stretch, but a thriving home performance market nationwide—with guidance and regulation from the government, but not a whole lot of money—sure isn't.

 

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