Weatherization and Home Performance: Recommendations for Mutual Success and Collaboration

by Kara Saul Rinaldi, Brad Penney, and Brian Castelli

"...a pathway for future collaboration between private contractors and the weatherization program, with the goal of establishing a level of collaboration...could lead to an eventual residential energy efficiency program to assist all income levels."

Executive Summary

The purpose of this report is to identify the opportunities and barriers in creating a more unified set of cost-effective national residential energy efficiency programs for all income levels and to discuss the untapped potential for residential energy efficiency. A unified plan for residential energy efficiency programs would build upon the lessons and strengths of the Low Income Weatherization Assistance Program and the lessons learned from home performance programs that are currently designed for all income levels. The report recommends steps to achieve greater collaboration between Weatherization and home performance programs that will, in addition to saving energy, create jobs, spur new efficiency technologies, and reduce the carbon footprint.

The potential for residential energy efficiency in the United States is huge. About half of the energy used in a typical American home is spent on heating and cooling.1 As such, increasing the energy efficiency of a home’s heating and cooling systems and insulating the envelope are effective means of reducing energy consumption. The largest residential energy program in the United States is the Low Income Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which was created by Congress forty years ago, in 1976. A home performance industry (HPI) that serves all homeowners emerged from WAP, spurred largely by incentives to non-low-income families and increased education about residential energy efficiency. However, both programs have not even begun to reach the potential market for home energy retrofits.2

It is important to first acknowledge the tremendous influence and on-going support the national Weatherization program has on the home performance industry’s policies and programs. From the work to develop standardized work specifications, to contractor training, to educating the public about the benefits of energy efficiency, the Weatherization program has served a critical role in home performance. This report aims not to minimize this contribution but to magnify and target these efforts in a collaborative fashion.

This report recommends a pathway for future collaboration between private contractors and the weatherization program, with the goal of establishing a level of collaboration that could lead to an eventual residential energy efficiency program to assist all income levels. There is much work that needs to be done before there can be a foundation for such type of unified program. Private contractors that are a part of HPI need a better understanding of how the Weatherization program operates – what the parameters are for use of funding, where there is flexibility, and where there are limitations. The state agencies that run WAP benefit from encouraging participation by more private contractors and may help reach more low-income families due to streamlining and cost-saving measures, consistent with current trends at the subcontractor level.

This report will begin with a brief history of energy legislation, the role of energy efficiency, the experience to date with the WAP and HPI, and the opportunities and challenges to synergies between the two program types and the underlying policies that created them. We will discuss recommended strategies for building a foundation for future collaboration. In the report, we will discuss the following issues:

  1. The differences and similarities between WAP and HPI;
  2. The lessons that the two programs can share with each other; and,
  3. How WAP and HPI can work together to maximize the cost-effectiveness of both programs.

The report will present the following recommendations for how to build upon the successes already achieved by Weatherization and HPI programs:

  1. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Residential Building Integration Program, working together with the Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs, should support the adoption and use of the Building Performance Institute’s (BPI) - 2101 Standard Requirements for a Certificate of Completion for Residential Energy Efficiency Upgrades (“Home Performance Certificate”) as a strategy for documenting upgrades (and resulting energy savings) funded by WAP. A BPI-2101-compliant certificate that is issued to homeowners that receive weatherization assistance can be used as reference document by real estate agents, appraisers, and other professionals during the home sale process.
  2. The DOE Residential Building Integration Program, working together with the Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs should promote the use of smart home technologies in weatherization as a way of reducing program costs, streamlining EM&V, and providing real-time feedback on performance to weatherization contractors and program participants. Data from smart home devices can be used to support traditional EM&V, reducing the costs of evaluation and providing real-time or near real-time feedback to contractors, programs, and program participants on performance. Programs can then use this information to target resources to high energy users. Contractors can use this information to better understand the results of their work and communicate to customers the value of weatherization.The DOE Residential Building Integration Program, working together with the Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental Programs and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, should consider establishing a pilot program in FY 2018 and FY 2019 in multiple states to test new models for streamlining and maximizing resources.

    The pilot would aim to test auto-M&V3 and utilize home energy management devices, such as smart thermostats and smart meters that are enabled to provide near real-time data to programs to demonstrate if a project was successfully completed. By utilizing an auto-M&V system, the pilot would test the current 100% quality control currently used by WAP in an effort to reduce both costs to the program and burden on the contractors and homeowners.

  1. The DOE Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental programs should work to ensure that training and technical assistance is offered to all contractors that make a commitment to work in the WAP program. The training should be consistent with industry best practices. In addition, the WAP provider should consider a stipend for private sector contractors to equalize the time-cost of participation in training.

  1. The DOE Residential Building Integration Program, working with Department of Commerce’s Small Business Administration, should work to advance small business loans to states that are focused on energy efficiency contracting and training to complement the WAP programs.
  2. In FY2017 and FY2018, there should be a series of national dialogues among private contractors and members of the Weatherization network for the purpose of developing a better understanding of WAP programs by contractors, and identifying best practices and shared interests between the two groups that can become the foundation to improve the alignment of residential energy efficiency programs. This dialogue should take place in connection with existing national or regional conferences where contractors and members of the WAP network will be in attendance (to avoid unnecessary costs).
  3. The DOE Office of Weatherization and Intergovernmental programs should be authorized to streamline the process for approving energy efficiency measures for inclusion in the Weatherization Assistance Program to advance innovative pilot programs and quickly approve adoption of new technologies for the benefit of low income clients.

1 U.S. DOE
2 While both the Weatherization Assistance Programs and the home performance programs that provide home energy upgrades to non-low-income families are “home performance” programs and a part of the same industry, for the purposes of this paper we refer to them as WAP and HPI to better distinguish the unique characteristics of each.

3 “Automated M&V” or “auto-M&V” is a process that utilizes analytic tools and services that provide automated, ongoing analysis of energy consumption data in order to monitor and measure the energy savings in a home. By understanding how the home used energy before and after a retrofit on a near real-time basis, a program can better understand if energy savings are being realized and if the project was installed properly. With the investments in the smart grid, interval meters, home energy monitoring systems, and equipment with embedded communications technology, there is growing discussion about using these data analytic tools to complement and/or replace expensive and intrusive EM&V. It is also referred to as, or as a part of, “EM&V 2.0”.