Weatherization Opportunities

Weatherization has become a catch-all term that includes things like installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, upgrading water heaters or anything that reduces energy consumption. Forget that for a sec, because at its core weatherization is really about two proven time-honored practices: stopping air infiltration and insulating a building.

How essential is weatherization, in any sense of the word? Very much so, and its benefits are widely cited in three categories: comfort, societal benefits and energy savings.

Comfort. No one likes living in a drafty house. It feels bad; it’s unhealthy.

Societal. Think of how much you spend on heating and cooling your home and what percent of your income that represents. For low-income people, those energy costs can be 20 percent or more of their entire household income.

Energy savings. Weatherization is undeniably a great investment. Estimates vary but your clients can easily return 150 percent to 300 percent on their weatherization investment in the first year; those savings compound in future years. What’s more, weatherization creates jobs that “pay forward” the overall benefits.

In 2009, the Federal Department of Energy put in place a Weatherization Assistance Program that boosted funding from $447 million to $5 billion with the goal of increasing the number of households weatherized each year from 140,000 to 1 million.

Hungry for some work? Check out programs at Recovery.gov or at Recovery.org, a private effort that some say have more information than the .gov site.)

But wait, as they say on TV, there’s more. In later 2009, President Obama proposed the Home Star program, a.k.a. “cash for caulkers.” There may be as much as $23 billion for homeowners in every income group to benefit from rebates for energy-efficient appliances. Though this program is still in development, consumers would likely be eligible for a 50 percent rebate on the price of the equipment and the contractor services to install it, up to $12,000 in rebates.

Weatherization basics

With or without federal stimulus and rebates, what specifically is weatherization? Well, it’s way beyond caulking up a few windows. Systematic approaches to weatherization suggest before-and-after analysis with: a) a blower-door test to determine air infiltration (find a certified RESNET tester at Natresnet.org/directory/raters.aspx); b) duct blasters to determine duct leakage; and c) infrared (thermal imaging) cameras to show where a structure is bleeding heat.

When auditing, check out the National Energy Audit Tool (NEAT), a computerized energy audit developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (http://weatherization.ornl.gov/national_energy_audit.htm). NEAT can determine the most cost-effective energy efficiency measures for single-family homes, and it produces a prioritized list of cost-effective measures customized for each dwelling based on building characteristics and type of heating and cooling systems. The output also includes an estimated dollar value for the projected energy savings, savings-to-investment ratios, and a list of materials necessary to perform the recommended retrofit.

The application of weatherization practices can be something as simple as jacketing water heaters and insulating ducts or pipes or as involved as sealing duct seams and retrofitting air infiltration systems in attics and crawl spaces.

There is no high-tech trick to weatherization. It’s largely old-school best practices, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

Caulks and sealants. When sealing for air infiltration, note that many weatherization information sites universally — and often wrongly — refer to “caulk” when recommending first steps. There is a difference between adhesives, caulks and sealants. For example, if you use caulk or adhesive to seal a fiberglass window into a brick wall, the seal will fail. You need a siliconized sealant there. See “Match the Tube to the Task”: www.Lbmjournal.com/article/448.

Windows. Not all Energy Star windows are eligible for the federal tax credits widely advertised by manufacturers. Windows must have U-factor rating of 0.30 or less and a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of 0.30 or less. Keep copies of records for your clients.

HVAC and water heaters. As with windows, not all HVAC units and water heaters qualify for the federal tax credit. See the requirements at this link: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index.

Roofs. As unsexy as roofs may seem in the world of energy efficiency, many roofs — including some three-tab and architectural shingles — can qualify for the federal tax credit. They achieve Energy Star ratings because they reflect and/or shed the sun’s heat, thereby reducing cooling loads. Use the Energy Star link above.

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