Energy Answers: Weatherization Assistance Program

Comprenhensive approach needed despite expanded access.

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The federal government's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has been helping low-income households improve energy performance and reduce utility bills since 1976. While weatherization programs come in all shapes and sizes, a majority of the energy retrofit work performed today has assistance from the federal government, through the WAP.

Plain and simple, the WAP exists to reduce energy consumption in homes. Leaky ducts, missing insulation and poor air sealing create uncomfortable living spaces. As a result, occupants crank up the heat or the air conditioning to compensate, increasing energy use and utility bills.

In 2009 the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) expanded the WAP program significantly to stimulate the economy, create jobs and reduce energy consumption.

The goals of weatherization through ARRA funding include:

  • Increase the number of homes that qualify for the WAP. The maximum income level of families increased to 200 percent of poverty level under ARRA funding guidelines.
  • Increase the amount of money available for each home. Under ARRA guidelines, homes eligible for the program could see up to $6,500 worth of energy retrofit work.
  • Provide new job and training opportunities.

Although the WAP has greatly expanded, the process of improving home energy efficiency, comfort and healthfulness has remained the same. An energy audit, performed before weatherizing a home, includes an inspection of existing insulation, equipment, health and safety factors, and air sealing. Auditors can employ a wide assortment of tools during home energy audits.
Once the home energy audit is complete, a work order directs the weatherization contractors. After the work is completed, the auditor returns to verify improvements. This series of checks and balances helps ensure the right energy efficiency measures are taken and that the work is performed properly.

What are the benefits of the WAP to families? Monthly utility bill savings is the number one benefit to families. Home energy use drops, on average, more than 30 percent after weatherization. That means an average annual utility bill of about $30 a month — a significant savings to families who are below the poverty level.
On top of the financial benefits, weatherization improves the safety of homes. The WAP program installs smoke and carbon monoxide detectors — critical in ensuring the safety of the home's occupants. In addition to this, homes are tested for electrical and combustion appliance safety.

What are the additional benefits of the WAP? The WAP has a significant impact on the environment, energy security and our economy. The WAP:

  • Reduces energy consumption on a national scale, reducing our country's dependence on foreign oil.
  • Reduces energy consumption on a local scale, decreasing air pollution from power plants.
  • Reduces the environmental impact of homes by reducing carbon dioxide output by nearly a metric ton for each weatherized home.
  • Increases the number of jobs in communities — according to WAP, each million dollars spent on the WAP creates 52 jobs. Weatherizing homes provides jobs for contractors and an opportunity to learn a skilled trade.
  • Increases money spent in local communities through the purchase of goods and services to support weatherization efforts.

What improvements does the WAP make to homes? Every home is different and so are the strategies to improve energy performance. Weatherization includes insulation and air sealing for the attic, floor and sidewalls, vapor barrier installation in crawlspaces, installation of compact fluorescent bulbs, weather-stripping for doors and windows, and roof repairs. Other measures address home safety and include the installation of carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. With increased funds available, some homes may also qualify for items such as a new water heater, furnace or windows.

Who qualifies for WAP? The following matrix shows maximum income requirements for the WAP — approximately 200 percent of poverty level. ARRA radically increased this maximum income level. States may issue different guidelines for eligibility, so check with your state weatherization program to see if you're eligible. The home itself must also qualify — most older homes that have had few (if any) energy upgrades qualify for the program.

How much money is spent on each house? A maximum of $6,500 for each home, depending on qualifications.

What is the application process? The application process varies, depending on your local weatherization agency. In most cases, a local housing authority or community development agency is the weatherization program provider. To learn more about how to apply, find your local agency here.

How can contractors get involved? Each local agency handles weatherization work differently. Some utilize internal resources to conduct the work and some hire outside contractors. To find out more about opportunities to provide weatherization contracting under WAP and to see whether local agencies are looking for contractors,  find your local agency here.

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