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Money Well Spent: A Look at the Recovery Act's WAP Milestones

March 01, 2012
March/April 2012
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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From the beginning, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) was all about the numbers: $5 billion doled out to 50 states, the U.S. territories, and Indian tribes for three years, saving households an average of $437 a year—not to mention the 24 million barrels of oil left unused.

Now that March 31, 2012, the end of the ARRA funding period, is nearly upon us, we’re taking a look back at the fundamental changes (by numbers) that ARRA made to our industry. Following are just a few of the noteworthy milestones reached from coast to coast (Oregon and Massachusetts), with a significant stop near the middle (Illinois). Not only do these states’ successes make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but they also guarantee that their residents will sit nice and cozy inside their homes for many years to come.

multifamilySmall multifamily building that was weatherized in Massachusetts. (WAPTAC)

Oregon — 5,500 Jobs

In October 2010, Oregon’s governor announced that $188 million in federal investments through ARRA had funded approximately 5,500 jobs in the state. The jobs have been in myriad industries, including education, highway reconstruction, weatherization, and many more.

At this point, Oregon’s WAP had also weatherized 2,392 homes with ARRA funding to increase energy efficiency for low-income Oregonians. Just three months after receiving the funding, the program had invested $3.5 million in weatherization programs and funded 95 full-time equivalent jobs.

Along with the thousands of weatherized homes, there are thousands of success stories. One is that of Wallowa County resident Gwendolyn Trice. Trice was always cold in her home and had become used to sleeping with earmuffs on in the winter. In addition, she suffered from severe headaches and low energy.

During the weatherization audit performed on her 1940 house by Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, the auditor discovered that the source of Trice’s headaches was an extremely high level of CO fumes coming from a gas-fired kitchen oven that was less than five years old.

“Thanks to the help of Community Connections of Northeast Oregon, a mechanical contractor came to my house the very next day after the audit and made the necessary repairs to the oven,” says Trice.

Since the repairs were made, Trice feels better and has more energy while at home. “I was so relieved to have the origin of my illness identified. It certainly would have been fatal,” she says.

Now Trice not only feels better, but she’s warmer, too. In addition to taking care of the CO problem, weatherization experts warmed up her house by air sealing; installing sidewall insulation, attic insulation, and under-floor insulation; and tuning the gas furnace. They also replaced some of her windows with new vinyl-clad dual-pane sashes.

“As soon as the outside walls were insulated, I felt the difference immediately and was able to turn my heat down,” says Trice, adding that her house also stays “nice and cool” during the summer.

Table 1. Total Number of Homes Weatherized by State and U.S. Territory
total weatherized homes table

Illinois — Annual Weatherization Doubled

The Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies (IACAA), a membership organization that serves as the network for Illinois not-for-profit corporations and units of local government, announced in July of 2010 that its 35 member agencies had weatherized more than 17,000 Illinois homes in the past year with the help of ARRA funds—double the number of homes they weatherized the previous year without ARRA.

“We are creating green jobs, improving the energy efficiency of homes, and helping low-income families reduce their energy costs because of the Weatherization Assistance Program,” says Dalitso Sulamoyo, president and CEO of IACAA.

IACAA’s members also created and retained more than 500 Illinois jobs according to IACAA’s report “Keeping the Promise: Weatherizing Homes, Creating Green Jobs, Helping Families.” The state and IACAA member agencies added the new jobs to operate the WAP and increase the number of contractors and crews weatherizing homes.
Larry Dawson, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Office of Energy Assistance, reports that his office “has trained more than 1,500 weatherization workers in Illinois weatherization standards and lead-safe work practices.”

Illinois received $240 million from ARRA over a three-year period to expand the WAP.

Massachusetts — 10,000 Homes

In August of 2011, the Patrick-Murray Administration announced that a major milestone had been reached: 10,000 homes weatherized through the ARRA WAP.

“This important milestone means that 10,000 families across the Commonwealth are now saving money on bills, using less energy, and creating a greener future for the next generation,” says Governor Deval Patrick.

The state’s ARRA WAP includes $125 million in funding over three years. The average energy savings per ARRA-weatherized home is 35%, or $700 per home annually for fuel oil, according to DOE.

“The Recovery Act’s Weatherization Assistance Program is getting the Commonwealth back to work and lowering energy costs for Massachusetts families at a time when retaining and supporting jobs has been critical,” says Congressman John Tierney.

As of July 2011, 129 private-sector weatherization contractors and 21 special-purpose electrical and heating contractors were working in the state’s ARRA WAP, with nearly 3,000 individuals receiving an ARRA-funded paycheck.

Among success stories is that of Jeanette Ramirez and her family. When they moved into their home in Dorchester, Jeanette and her husband were both employed and supporting their six children. Jeanette worked for a construction company, and her husband worked for the public-school system as a corrections officer.

Their first winter in the home, the family discovered that their new house was a cold place to be, and they had to use space heaters throughout the season. Their fuel bills were extremely high—as much as $800 some months—and the house was never really comfortable. “I had the thermostat set at 85ºF, but it would always show that it was in the 50s,” says Jeanette.

A bad situation became worse when Jeanette and her husband were laid off in close succession. A friend told her about Action for Boston Community Development (Boston ABCD), an antipoverty agency that serves low-income people in the Greater Boston area. The agency had received $10 million for its weatherization services through ARRA, which enabled it to greatly expand the number of people it could help.

Omar Vasquez, an energy auditor for ABCD, called Jeanette to tell her she qualified for the program. “I cried when Omar called,” she says. Vasquez came to assess the energy needs of her house and quickly discovered that there was no insulation in the walls; many of the doors were letting the cold air in; and water was seeping into the basement. He called a contractor and they went to work.

learn more

For more ARRA success stories, visit www.waptac.org/Recovery-Act/ARRA-Success-Stories.aspx

To view the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies (IACAA)’s report “Keeping the Promise: Weatherizing Homes, Creating Green Jobs, Helping Families,” go to http://iacaanet.org/docs/uploads/2010WeatherizationReport_1.pdf.

Thanks to the WAP, contractors insulated the home, installed new doors in the front of the house and in the basement, and installed a fan in the bathroom to prevent mold. ABCD estimates that the Ramirez family’s bills have been reduced by 40–45%.

“We’ve been here six years and this is the first time the house is warm,” says Jeanette.

Action, Inc., a local nonprofit community action agency that helped with weatherization projects in Massachusetts’ North Shore, notes that ARRA funds will make a lasting difference. “The energy savings for each housing unit will continue for years, long after the Recovery Act WAP program is over,” says the organization’s Executive Director Tim Riley.

Overall Numbers

At the end of the program, it’s still about the numbers—and they’re big ones. As of December 2011, more than 14,000 total jobs had been created from ARRA funds, and more than 600,000 homes had been weatherized (see detailed results in Table 1). ARRA’s WAP can also successfully report that for every $1 invested in the program, weatherization returned $2.51 to the household and society.

Macie Melendez is Home Energy’s assistant editor.

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