More Than Just Patching Holes
When I started working ten months ago as a weatherization coordinator for the Community Action Program of Evansville
(CAPE), in southern Indiana, it was just a job, and not a very well-paying one, either.
But when I started learning about what goes on in a home and how to do an audit, it grabbed me. And the more I learned, the hungrier I became. The Indiana Community Action Association (IN-CAA) has a training facility in Indianapolis for weatherization agencies and contractors. IN-CAA offers an auditor’s certification program that takes most people a year to complete. I earned my certification in record time—four months.
When I found I was going into people’s homes and making a difference in their lives, it wasn’t about the money anymore. Doing weatherization gives me the same feeling of satisfaction I felt when I was a teenaged lifeguard. I’m really helping people.They come up to me in public after I’ve weatherized their house and thank me. It gives me butterflies.
The worst home I ever encountered belonged to Miss Polly, 83 years old. You could go into her basement and look up
through the floorboards.The foundation was strong but there was no insulation. The house had been subdivided for a
while into two apartments. It had two furnaces when one could have done the job.The electrical system was old and tangled, with bare copper touching the wall in some places.There were gas leaks all over the place and plywood over the back door. She had CO up to 600 ppm from a bad furnace.We gave her a good weatherization job.Now she’s not as tired as she was before. She feels better because she has a healthier house.
Health and Safety
I need a new word to describe what I do.The word “weatherization” is too academic and technical, and it doesn’t
tell the whole story. People associate weatherization with insulation,weatherstripping, and patching holes. Most
of them don’t grasp that I’m talking about some really life-threatening things, like CO and lead. Protecting people’s health and safety is the most important part of weatherization.
This job caught me on a personal level when I started learning about lead-based paint. As a kid, I grew up in a
typical “Evansville” house in East St. Louis, Illinois. I didn’t know that it—like 98% of the houses built before 1978—was covered in lead. I kept my dog outside and he would drink from puddles of water that had flowed down the exterior walls. He lost control of his back legs—just kind of dragged them around—and he had kidney problems. Finally, we had to put him down. I know I’m a lead-based child. My momma didn’t have any idea.
Evansville is an old town with lots of older houses. Several areas, particularly in the inner city, are almost all pre-1978. I have a lead detector. I can determine if lead is there. It’s expensive to do a proper lead abatement and usually outside
the scope of weatherization. What we need is a massive education program so that people know the risks they’re living with. I think that’s where my passion comes from. People don’t know, so I’m screaming,“Hey! Look out!”
Even if I can’t address every lead risk, weatherization still works, no joke. Typically, I can get a savings of 20%–25%, sometimes higher. In Evansville’s older homes that were built anywhere from 75 to 110 years ago, insulation just wasn’t an issue.A lot of elderly people are freezing and using a lot of gas trying to stay warm.That’s great for the energy providers around here, because they get to sell lots of gas and electricity.
A Typical Job
The first thing I do when I visit a home is a visual check outside. If the house has a bad foundation, it doesn’t make sense even to start the job.Then, with my combustible gas leak detector, I follow the lines from the meter, looking for leaks. Then I go inside and trace the pipes throughout the house. I find in these older houses that 80% are leaking. I mark all these leaks for my contractors. Properly working combustion appliances are crucial to health and safety. I
inspect the furnace using the Indiana Weatherization Safety checklist that pinpoints furnace problems. Next I look
at the hot water tank, then at the stove. A lot of these older homes use copper for their gas lines, which is unsafe. I have those pipes replaced.
After checking all the combustion appliances, I go back to the front door and work on my general audit. I work my way left around the house looking for air bypasses in the conditioned space. Then I grab blower door and pressure pan testing equipment. I figure out how much insulation the house needs in the attic, walls, and basement. I do a follow-up blower door test after all the contractors are out and the job’s supposed to be complete to find out how much air sealing has been done.
An auditor needs to know a little about everything. If I see a major problem, like a fire danger in the electrical system, I fix that. If it’s a safety problem I’ll replace windows. Weatherization is about more than just blowing insulation; it includes, but goes beyond, house maintenance. Like I said before, the word “weatherization” is too simple.
Nevertheless,we need to get the word out.We need to talk about weatherization in a lot of different ways, so that the people who need to know—and that means everybody—can understand what we’re saying. If you ask me, weatherization
is just as important as safe sex, but you don’t see TV commercials advocating insulation or lead testing.
First, Do No Harm
Not every job, though, can follow the standard inspection checklist.The rule is: Don’t disturb lead-based paint. But the book says we have to go into a home, put on a blower door, and turn it on. In one home I did this, and a chunk of the hallway ceiling fell in.
They teach me all this stuff and it looks good on paper, but I go out in the field and find that every house is different. Sometimes I have refused to do a blower door test after using lead-testing equipment.After a day in the field,my boss asked,“Talmon,why didn’t you do a blower door test during this audit? You’re supposed to go by the checklist.”
“Here’s the deal,” I said.“If I had cut this blower door on,we could have had the whole house contaminated. There’re loose paint chips and paint dust.The blower door might just make matters worse.” I couldn’t go by the
checklist because I had to be smart about what I do.
I knew enough about that house to make the client comfortable without possibly moving lead paint dust around.
Working with Contractors
Before I came aboard,CAPE was averaging 150 homes a year. Our pace has slowed a bit since I’ve been here. When I came on, I saw that we needed to get everybody on the same page. I had to retrain my contractors to do what I expected of them.The contractors that we had had been doing this for as long as 15 years.They were doing their job the way they knew how to do it.
It was hard. One contractor left us. We offered the contractors the same classes that we go through up at INCAA. I told them that they have to have the same qualification that we at CAPE need to have—and they need to be certified within a year. I want my contractors to think about weatherization in the same way I do. I call a meeting once a month with all my contractors. I visit every job site and I never ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.
I go out on problem calls sometimes. My contractors know what I want and how I want it.When I first started I was sending them back on jobs all the time, because they hadn’t done what I needed them to do. My contractors know my routine now.
Since I started, I’ve done 96 homes. That’s 96 families that I’ve helped. It makes me feel good. I’ve cut hundreds of dollars off my clients’ annual utility bills and made their homes safer and healthier places to be.
When you’re spreading good news and when you’re doing good things, people tend to talk about it. They want to tell the people they love because it’s good for them, too.They invite people over: “Look what they did to my house.”We get a lot of referrals that way.
Weatherization is the greatest thing I have ever done. I leave a home that I’ve fixed up and the clients are so thankful,
they want to send me Christmas gifts. I say,“No, this is for you.” It feels so good that I can tell you for sure that I’ll be doing weatherization for a long time unless that record deal comes along.
Talmon Haywood is a weatherization coordinator with Community Action Program of Evansville. Home Energy Associate Editor Barry Harris contributed to this article.
For more information:
Community Action Program Evansville (CAPE)
27 Pasco Ave.
Evansville, IN 47713-1927
Web site: www.capeevansville.org
Indiana Community Action Association, Incorporated (IN-CAA)
1845 W 18th St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Web site: www.incap.org
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