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Q&A: The Weatherization Assistance Program

October 29, 2013 - 1:29pm

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David Poindexter installs moisture barrier and insulation into the crawl space of a Lakewood, Colorado home. | Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

David Poindexter installs moisture barrier and insulation into the crawl space of a Lakewood, Colorado home. | Photo by Dennis Schroeder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Q: What are weatherization services?

A: Weatherization services are cost-effective, energy efficiency measures for existing residential and multifamily housing with income-eligible residents. These services are derived by using a diagnostic energy audit and building assessment that determines the necessary energy efficiency measures for each unique home.

Q: How does the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) work?

A: The Department awards grants to state governments, which then contract with local agencies to deliver weatherization services to eligible, low-income residents. State and local agencies typically leverage Energy Department funding with other federal, state, utility, and private resources to increase the number of homes that can be weatherized in a region and provide additional weatherization services. Once a home or multifamily building is selected for weatherization, the following step-by-step process occurs:

  1. Weatherization crews use home energy audits and diagnostic equipment such as blower doors and infrared cameras to determine the most cost-effective measures for that particular home. Typical measures include installing insulation, reducing air infiltration and pressure imbalances, sealing and repairing ducts, and tuning and repairing heating and cooling units. 
  2. Weatherization crews install energy-efficiency measures that meet a savings-to-investment ratio of 1:1 and higher.
  3. During the installation, crews can address energy-related health and safety problems or perform incidental repairs. This approach ensures the program’s cost-effectiveness.

Q:  What role does weatherization play in promoting residential health and safety?

A: Weatherization service providers check major energy systems to ensure occupant safety, such as looking at the house as a system under the concept of "whole-house weatherization." Under the program, measures are taken to improve indoor air quality of the home being weatherized. Also, weatherization providers in many states have combined resources from other programs to address additional needs of their clients through Weatherization Plus Health, which helps communities connect resources so that residents can access comprehensive solutions to their housing problem

These services may include:

  • Testing heating systems and appliances for combustion safety
  • Testing for carbon monoxide and gas leaks
  • Monitoring for possible moisture damage or mold infestations
  • Checking electrical panels and wiring for safety
  • Replacing and/or providing tune-ups for unsafe heating and cooling systems
  • Installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Q: What are the eligibility requirements for weatherization assistance?

A:   More than 30 million U.S. families may be eligible for weatherization services nationwide. Energy services are provided by the states’ local weatherization agencies, and each state has slightly different eligibility requirements. If you receive Supplemental Security Income, you are automatically eligible to receive weatherization services.

DOE guidelines mandate that states must give priority eligibility to the elderly, persons with disabilities, families with children, and families with high energy burden or high energy use.  Each state sets how these priority factors will be applied. One of the primary factors affecting eligibility is income. Depending on what state you live in, you are eligible for weatherization if your income falls below the "200% poverty level" as defined in these guidelines.  

Q: If a family doesn't qualify as low-income, are there other options for financial assistance?

A: Weatherization services pay for themselves in energy bill savings over the long or short term, depending on the cost of energy in the given region. Apart from economic benefits of energy savings, families that do not qualify as low-income have a number of options for financial assistance.

States and local utilities offer several financial incentives including grants, rebates, and tax breaks. Search the Department’s Database for State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency for incentives in your state. The ENERGY STAR program also provides a comprehensive list of rebates and tax credits for buying energy-efficient products.

Q: What type of testing is done during a home energy audit?

A: Home energy auditors use advanced diagnostic equipment, such as a blower door, manometer, or infrared camera to determine the most cost-effective measures appropriate for each home.  For instance, technician uses a blower door to depressurize the house to determine how tight it is and check for air leaks; diagnostic tools such as infrared cameras help detect heat losses, leaky ducts, and poor insulation. Additionally, testing is done to apply safe, effective insulation; high efficiency furnaces; low energy use refrigerators; programmable thermostats; compact fluorescent lighting — the list goes on as new technologies become available and cost effective.

Q: What is one of the best ways to weatherize a home at a low cost?

A: All homes are different, but on average, air sealing and insulation represent the greatest opportunity for energy savings at the lowest cost.  Simple improvements in heating and cooling equipment efficiency such as duct sealing, filter replacement and tuning of equipment is also a highly effective way to increase your home's efficiency affordably.

Q: How do you apply for weatherization assistance?

A:  To locate the provider that provides weatherization services in your area, you should contact the state agency.  The application process varies from state to state, but typically can be completed quickly.

If the local provider determines you are eligible for weatherization services, an energy audit will be conducted, which could include any of the following: an analysis of energy bills, testing of the infiltration of outside air with a blower door, and inspection of various home appliances such as heating and air conditioning units for health and safety. The most cost-effective recommendations are based on the energy audit.

Q: Where can I find additional information on the Weatherization Assistance Program?

A:  For technical information on WAP, visit WAP’s website.  For information on do-it-yourself home energy audits, tips for sealing your air ducts, insulation for optimal energy efficiency, and other ways to save energy and energy costs in your home, follow the Energy Department’s Energy Savers blog.

 

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