This article was originally published in the May/June 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



| Back to Contents Page | Home Energy Index | About Home Energy |
| Home Energy Home Page | Back Issues of Home Energy |



Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1994


Ten Highly Effective Weatherization Programs


by Marilyn Brown and Linda Berry

Marilyn Brown and Linda Berry are researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

There is no one recipe for success when it comes to running a weatherization program, but the more successful agencies share a number of traits.

There is no single formula for success in running a weatherization program. That is the conclusion of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Evaluation of ten exemplary weatherization agencies. Each agency employs a unique combination of useful and innovative approaches. Nevertheless, common features and trends do emerge when the ten high performers are compared to the national network of weatherization agencies.

Selecting high-performing agencies was part of the Single-Family Study, conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory for DOE. The study focused on single-family dwellings weatherized during program year 1989 and involved analysis of a massive database collected from 368 local weatherization agencies and 543 electric and gas utilities (see Weatherization Assistance: The Single-Family Study, HE Sept/Oct '93, p.11, and The Reach of Low-Income Weatherization Assistance, HE May/June '93, p.21). The analysis resulted in energy savings and cost-effectiveness estimates for the Weatherization Assistance Program as a whole. We also identified ten high-performing agencies. These agencies include large, medium, and small weatherization programs located in cold, moderate, and hot climates. Since energy savings are highest in cold regions, somewhat lower in the moderate region and much lower in the hot region, high performance was judged relative to average savings within each region, during the 1989 program year. As a group, the ten high performers spent an average amount ($1,523) per dwelling, but they generated outstanding levels of annual energy savings (344 therms of natural gas) per gas-heated weatherized dwelling. These savings represent a 34% reduction in gas use for space heat (and a 24% reduction in total gas use) over pre-weatherization consumption levels.

The ten high-performing agencies were


  • Tucson Urban League, Arizona


  • Energy Conservation Association, Denver, Colorado


  • Clayton County Community Service Authority, Georgia


  • Ottawa County Community Action Agency, Michigan (CAA)


  • Goldenrod Hills Community Action Council, Nebraska


  • North Buffalo Community Development Corporation, Buffalo, New York (CDC)


  • Community Action Agency of Columbiana County, Ohio (CAA)


  • Scranton/Lackawanna Human Development Agency, Scranton, Pennsylvania (HDA)


  • CAP Services, Incorporated, Stevens Point, Wisconsin


  • Opportunities Industrialization Center of Greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin (OIC).


We compiled a great deal of information on the practices and accomplishments of these agencies from their records, interviews with agency personnel, on-site visits to weatherized dwellings, and collection of gas consumption data from utility companies. Then we compared this information with more-limited baseline data on the practices of a national sample of 166 weatherization agencies.

Keys to Success

The practices that distinguish the ten high-performing agencies from other agencies across the country are described below.

Weatherization Staff and Training

In the high-performing agencies, leaders have an outstanding base of management and weatherization-related experience, and an ability to organize and motivate staff and coordinate and leverage resources. Staff and contractors tend to exhibit low employee turnover rates, and they tend to have a great deal of experience in weatherization, construction, heating systems, and related building trades. In addition, several agencies make use of computer-assisted administrative and management tools. Computerized client tracking systems are used at CAP Services, Milwaukee OIC, and Scranton/Lackawanna HDA, while electronic bulletin boards are used by the two Wisconsin agencies. Three programs operate entirely with in-house crews; five use a combination of in-house crews and contractors; and two operate entirely through subcontractors.

Client Recruitment and Selection

The high performers focus on clients with high levels of energy consumption. Since they generally have a greater potential for conservation, six of the agencies recruit primarily or entirely from Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) participants, while several others receive referrals from utilities of high arrearage or high consumption customers. In most of these cases, the weatherization agency also operates LIHEAP, which facilitates coordination.

Three of the agencies use computerized energy audits to calculate investment levels, based on past levels of energy consumption. For instance, the North Buffalo CDC's Targeted Investment Protocol System determines an investment level for each house, based on energy use (see New York's `Targeted Investment Protocol System,' p.30). Similarly, the Wisconsin agencies use the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation (WECC) audit, which calls for higher investments in households with higher consumption (see The Wisconsin Audit System, p.32).

Diagnostics and Audit Procedures

Most high performers employ advanced diagnostics and use them effectively. Because most tend to conduct more furnace and boiler work than the program at large, they use a wide array of furnace diagnostic equipment, including combustion gas detectors, heat exchanger leak detectors, furnace efficiency tests and carbon monoxide analyzers. They also frequently use blower doors to quantify and identify leakage, and are expanding blower-door usage throughout various weatherization steps (for instance in monitoring the progress of air sealing and in the inspection process).

CAP Services crews deal with large infiltration holes and do insulation work before performing a blower-door test. Then they carry out whatever air-sealing work the blower door indicates is needed to bring the structure down to 1,200 cubic feet per minute (at 50 Pascals of pressure), or to the point where it is no longer cost-effective to continue.

Measure Installation

Although there is great diversity in the types of measures installed by the ten agencies, there are several measures that high performers install more frequently than other agencies: first-time attic insulation and wall insulation; furnace retrofits and replacements; and water-heater measures.

Six of these agencies install furnace measures at rates that greatly exceed their climate region averages. North Buffalo CDC cleans and tunes all heating systems that test below 75% efficiency. CAP Services replaces more than one-third of gas furnaces with high-efficiency condensing gas furnaces. In contrast, two agencies perform no furnace work because they lack the required licensed personnel and view hiring a mechanical contractor as prohibitively expensive.

Only two of the high performers install storm windows at rates that greatly exceed their regional averages. Scranton/Lackawanna's cost-effective program has a strong emphasis on storm windows, which are bulk purchased at 20% less than the local wholesale price.

High-density wall insulation is a new feature in four agencies, and duct sealing is undertaken by several agencies.

Client Education

Most of the agencies provide clients with educational materials and three agencies go beyond more-typical education efforts:

  • Ottawa County CAA provides clients two personal counseling sessions, one at the intake interview and one at the post-weatherization inspection.

  • Columbiana County CAA has a formal client education component provided on-site by the estimator. Applicants for weatherization are asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their energy-behavior habits and from this, the estimator suggests low-cost and no-cost ways to increase energy savings. Applicants are asked to sign a partnership plan to carry out the suggestions, and a follow-up is carried out six months later.

  • Milwaukee OIC initiated a pilot in which it will compare the impacts of weatherization with in-home energy education versus weatherization without an education component.


Leveraging Resources

Most high performers leverage funds from federal, state, and local sources and from utilities. This allows the agencies to serve more clients and to conduct a more complete weatherization effort. Two agencies use LIHEAP weatherization funds to supplement the Weatherization Assistance Program; three receive direct utility funding; and three receive in-kind utility leveraging such as donated portable heaters and domestic water heaters.

Three agencies use housing repair and rehabilitation funds from state and local programs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other sources in combination with DOE weatherization funds, so that more complete renovation can be implemented. In four other agencies, houses needing substantial repair are referred to housing programs. CAP Services requires building owners to pay 25% of the cost of all rental units it weatherizes.

Cost Controls

Bulk purchasing of insulation, storm windows, and high-efficiency furnaces offers substantial discounts to at least five of the high performers. For example, CAP Services installs high-efficiency condensing furnaces for $1,400, including materials, labor, and overhead. Materials fabrication by staff can also cut costs. The Tucson Urban League makes its own sun and bug screens, air-conditioner covers, and interior storms at half the local retail price. CAP Services makes its own sheet-metal ducting and air returns, and Scranton/Lackawanna HDA fabricates its own attic domes, both to reduce costs and to produce a precise fit.

Looking Ahead

We conclude that the challenge for federal, regional, and state managers of the Weatherization Assistance Program is to encourage and assist less-successful local agencies in adopting the procedures used by the more-effective agencies while recognizing that some procedures may not be advantageous for all local weatherization agencies.

The publication of this article in Home Energy was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. For copies of the report Keys to Success: Ten Case Studies of Effective Weatherization Programs contact: Marilyn Brown, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, P.O. Box 2009, Oak Ridge, TN 37831-6206. Tel: (615)574-5939. Thanks to Jim Kolb and Dennis White (ORNL), and Larry Kinney and Tom Wilson (Synertech Systems Corp) for their assistance in conducting the case studies.



Related Articles

Keeping a Running Score on Weatherization (Hill)
Measuring the Performance of the National Energy Audit (Sharp)
Moisture and Mobile Home Weatherization (Tsongas)
Profiles of Multifamily Weatherization Projects: A Tale of Five Cities (Kinney, Wilson, and MacDonald)
'Read Me Your Thermostat': Short-Term Evaluation Tools (Kinney)
Selecting an Infrared Imaging System (Snell)
Weatherization Assistance: The Fuel Oil Study (Ternes and Levins)
Weatherization Assistance: The Single-Family Study (Brown and Berry)

| Back to Contents Page | Home Energy Index | About Home Energy |
| Home Energy Home Page | Back Issues of Home Energy |


Home Energy can be reached at:
Home Energy magazine -- Please read our Copyright Notice


  • 1
  • NEXT
  • LAST
SPONSORED CONTENT What is Home Performance? Learn about the largest association dedicated to home performance and weatherization contractors. Learn more! Watch Video