Highlights from Four Weatherization Programs in Washington State

A closer look into the challenges, successes, and lessons learned

September 03, 2014
September/October 2014
A version of this article appears in the September/October 2014 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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I have received many responses from tribal and nontribal entities in several states to the article “Taking Weatherization to Native Americans in Washington State” (HE Jan/Feb ’13, p. 40). These readers asked about the challenges and successes the tribes experienced in developing their weatherization programs. I want to let the tribal programs answer those questions in their own words.

The Washington State Low-Income Weatherization program administers federal and state funds to provide weatherization services to low-income residents throughout the state of Washington. These services are provided through contracts with local community agencies, such as community action and housing authorities. In 2006, the Washington State Low-Income Weatherization program began the Tribal Weatherization Project. This project provides direct outreach to tribes that have not received adequate services through the established agencies. Criteria for contracting directly with a tribe include a remote location that makes it difficult for local agencies to serve the tribe; the number of housing units needing services; the capacity of the tribe to administer the program; and lack of service from the local weatherization provider.

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Front, from left to right: Mel Cordova, Native American weatherization contractor, Cordova Construction; Alan Schein, audit/inspection contractor, South Puget Intertribal Planning Agency (SPIPA); and Debbie Gardipee-Reyes, weatherization program coordinator, SPIPA. Back, left to right: Tribal members Wilma and Calvin Two-Bears Lee. (Eunice Herren)

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Makah Tribal Housing's Deputy Director Tinker Lucas and Louis Dalos, Tribal Weatherization program auditor inspector. (Eunice Herren)

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Stephen Tsoodle, Spokane Indian Housing Authority's weatherization manager, with a map of the reservation. (Eunice Herren)

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Makah Tribal Housing's weatherization crew. (Eunice Herren)

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Wade Porter, Yakama Nation Housing Authority’s weatherization program manager, on the reservation. (Eunice Herren)

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Wade Porter, Yakama Nation Housing Authority’s weatherization program manager, conducting pressure pan testing. (Eunice Herren)

I visited four tribal weatherization programs to get their input and encourage them to write their own story. All four programs described in this article have been established since 2006.

Here are their stories.

Makah Tribal Housing Department
Neah Bay, Washington
Tinker Lucas, MTHD Deputy Director

Makah Tribal Housing Department (MTHD) is blazing new trails by adding the weatherization program to its other two programs. MTHD now has three crews:

  • The General Maintenance program crew maintains the tribe’s managed housing. It consists of three permanent employees and one temporary employee.
  • The Affordable Housing Assistance program (AHAP) crew performs repairs on privately owned housing. It consists of three permanent employees.
  • The Weatherization program crew consists of one auditor/inspector and two weatherization technicians.

The Weatherization program also has up to six summer interns at a time. These are high school or college students who learn maintenance and weatherization skills, and how to apply those skills on the job.

AHAP and Weatherization are two separate programs. They used to work independently, but now they coordinate their services, providing both repair and weatherization. They also cross-train with the General Maintenance program.

In the beginning, the Weatherization program had a lot of callbacks on the homes we had weatherized. We had to get used to installing weatherization the way it was supposed to be installed, instead of how we had been doing it. Alan Schein, from the Washington State Department of Commerce, helped us learn the needed skills on our own housing stock. Commerce’s consistent presence was helpful. We’ve set a standard for performing weatherization. Now we have to keep up the skills it takes to meet that standard. Handling community expectations can be challenging. Applicants say, “My neighbor got a certain weatherization measure, and I want it too,” or, “Give me a list of everything. I’ll pick what I want.” The weatherization grant is not an entitlement. We do a lot of community education about the programs. We start by saying, “Write down your concerns with the house.” Then we let the applicants know what can or cannot be done within the available funding. This clears up a lot of misconceptions in advance. We educate the community to understand that the Weatherization program is based on the home energy audit. After the audit is completed, we explain what we’re doing and why. When the work is complete, we tell them what we did and explain how to maintain it. We’ve received a lot of praise from residents thanking us for explaining it to them.

Weatherization is a piece of a much bigger picture. Our community is pushing wellness of our bodies, but also wellness of our homes. We educate people about mold and “weird crawl space smells.”

It’s challenging to get all the training for our crew. There is a lot of turnover and training of new crew members. Fishing in season pays more than weatherization work, so crew members leave to fish. We’ve been sending temporary employees to training to get prequalified, because it takes a while to hire permanent employees.

What has gone well? We’ve had AHAP to do repairs, so deferrals didn’t have to remain deferrals. The transition from Alan Schein to Andy Etue as our Department of Commerce monitor went really well. And including Commerce monitors Donn Falconer and Michael Luke in the tribal work brought diversity to our training. They both taught the same thing, but in different ways. This gave us some Aha! moments and showed us another way to approach the issues.

What advice would we give other people who are thinking about starting a weatherization program? Have one solid person to coordinate the program and the office. That person must know the program and must have the authority to hold the program staff and crew accountable.

Network! Understand and reach out to find other programs that have funding you can leverage. We couldn’t do everything people wanted, but we could plug them into some of the other programs in MTHD, and external programs, such as those offered by their utility.

MTHD is incorporating the weatherization sciences into new construction. Louis Dalos, on our staff, is the Certified Building Analyst for weatherization as well as the Certified Building Inspector for new construction. We have a lot of cross-training between new construction, the General Maintenance program, and the Weatherization program.

We have about 1,800 people on the reservation. More than 44 homes have been served with the Weatherization program. The program has provided three permanent jobs.

There are high reporting requirements for the amount of funding, but just because it’s hard to administer, that shouldn’t be a deciding factor. The Weatherization program provides great benefits to our tribal members.

Getting sufficient funding is a challenge. But we know that even if the Weatherization program funding is cut, we will keep what we’ve learned about weatherization and energy efficiency in our General Maintenance program.

Spokane Indian Housing Authority
Wellpinit, Washington
Stephen Tsoodle, Weatherization Program Manager

The Spokane Indian Housing Authority (SIHA) Weatherization program is crew based.

The initial startup and training for the program started at one of the SIHA-owned low-income housing developments, New House Lane, which has 25 homes. The first goal was to weatherize 10 homes at that development.

The person who really helped us a lot was Ron Whiteside at the Okanogan County Community Action Council (OCCAC). Ron provided samples of weatherization program documents and subcontractor contracts for weatherization. That’s how our Weatherization program really got started, since we were missing those pieces of the program. OCCAC contracted with us to have their lead weatherization auditor, John Baker, train Stephen Tsoodle while doing audits and inspections for us the first year. OCCAC sent a crew to train our crew. OCCAC performed the weatherization installations on the units, and our crew shadowed them. Having our crews shadow the OCCAC really helped us out with training our crews.

John Baker did the first ten audits and inspections. Working on managed housing really helped our program in the beginning. It gave us a degree of control because the floor plans were all alike, the maintenance was already done, and there were no weatherization-related repairs. Now we’re performing weatherization in private homes, and everything is different. The first of these homes was a log house. None of the weatherization upgrades I’d learned in the managed-housing units worked. SIHA Weatherization Auditor/Inspector Dave Novak has construction experience, and that made the difference.

Performing weatherization on trailers was a new experience for our program. We asked the other weatherization programs for guidance. Their main message was “Don’t go on the roof. Once you do, you own it.”

What advice would I give anyone who wanted to develop a low-income weatherization program? Oh, gosh—have lots of patience.

Stephen acquired his auditor certification the first year by studying, training, and shadowing John on the job. He then became manager of the Weatherization program. He does a super job because he follows the Washington State Department of Commerce weatherization plan, specifications, and guidelines—which is a road already paved. We balked at a few things in the program requirements, but if we had gone in any other direction, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Practice makes for a better product in the long run. Good employees make a good program.

The Weatherization program creates needed jobs and provides benefits to our residents on the reservation, where we have at least 60% unemployment.

The Tribal TANF (Temporary Assistance to Native Families) federal funding goes directly to the tribe to run their own TANF program. The 477 (Public Law 102-477) training funds provided supportive funding to place four employees into the Weatherization program.

Planning our outreach helps with managing community expectations. We can’t serve everyone in the community at once, so we plan based on priorities. We started with the New House Lane development because it’s managed housing. The repair and maintenance on managed housing allowed us to begin applying weatherization skills right away. Privately owned housing usually needs repairs that aren’t funded in the Weatherization program. We are developing our outreach plan in stages. We are coordinating with the local community action agency weatherization program to provide more-efficient services to the low-income residents in the area.

SIHA is renovating 20 low-income rental units within the reservation with tax credit funding and using the Weatherization program to improve energy efficiency. These upgrades are extending the useful life of the rental units; they will probably be good for another 40 years. The SIHA Development Director, Clyde Abrahamson, is very enthusiastic about better heat sources and other technology. We’re exploring structural insulated panel (SIP) construction in a tribal and SIHA partnership, as well as a grant for a geothermally conditioned model home.

On the reservation, we’re doing radon mitigation in coordination with the Weatherization program.

Continual changes in the Washington State Low-Income Weatherization program add to the challenge of developing and maintaining our SIHA program.

Consumer conservation education has been a challenge—some homeowners don’t come to the training. I’m not sure the homeowners see the benefit of changing their habits, or how one person in a household can make an impact by turning off lights and reminding others to conserve energy.

Steady and adequate funding is needed. The low-income weatherization program is subsidized by other SIHA funds. The Bureau of Indian Affairs Housing Improvement program weatherization-repair funding serves one or two households. More is needed.

South Puget Intertribal Planning Agency
Shelton, Washington
Debbie Gardipee-Reyes, Weatherization Program Coordinator

The South Puget Intertribal Planning Agency (SPIPA) was formed in 1976 as a 501(c)(3), tribally chartered intergovernmental agency. Today this consortium includes the Chehalis, Nisqually, Shoalwater Bay, Skokomish, and Squaxin Island tribes. SPIPA provides planning, direct services, and technical assistance to these tribes, as well as direct services to eligible Native Americans residing within the SPIPA service area.

The SPIPA Weatherization program does not have a crew. Audits, inspections, and installation of weatherization measures are provided by contractors. Program Coordinator Debbie Gardipee-Reyes oversees all aspects of the program, from application intake to final inspections. SPIPA coordinates with the Tribal Housing Authority of each tribe as appropriate for weatherization-related repairs.

SPIPA had challenges coordinating weatherization services with the local community action agency, so we took the program on ourselves. The SPIPA Weatherization program is contractor based.

It took a year and a half to develop the program and begin providing weatherization services. It was difficult to find employees with experience in weatherization. We had to wait for training to become available, and that delayed our start-up. Employees had different expectations about what weatherization meant before they got sufficient training. Some wanted to begin contracting with installers before we had the program ready.

It was difficult getting applicants to apply for weatherization. People were leery that it wouldn’t be SPIPA providing the service, that non-Natives would be doing the work. We hired and trained a staff member to do audits and inspections and follow up with applications, which helped develop trust in the program. Due to staff cutbacks, we now contract the audits and inspections. With help from the weatherization network, we were able to find a Native American weatherization contractor. Clients welcome Mel Cordova; they call SPIPA to say how much they love having him in their home. He includes the homeowner in the process, describing and explaining what will be done.

The paperwork went well. Developing forms was easy because we collaborated with the local community action agency. They provided examples of their forms, and we were able to adapt their forms to fit our Weatherization program. Yakama Nation Housing Authority Weatherization program also shared their forms with us. It has been easy to work with the Washington State Department of Commerce to get the equipment we need, and to get our Weatherization program up and in place.

The program calls for a lot of coordination. In addition to the organizations cited above, we work closely with the five SPIPA tribes and the tribal housing authorities. We keep the SPIPA’s board of directors aware of our work. We also coordinate with the Low-Income Energy Assistance program and the Snohomish County Public Utility District.

The SPIPA tribes are using the building sciences taught through the low-income weatherization program. We are also coordinating with the Chehalis tribe. The SPIPA tribes are now asking for energy audits for their housing programs. We’re sharing education on stoves and energy conservation with the Skokomish tribe. The program is still too new to have had much effect on jobs and career planning.

Cooperation is a key aspect of the Weatherization program, as is sustainability. The centerpieces of the program are communication and cooperation within the organization as a whole.

What advice would I give anyone who wanted to develop a low-income weatherization program? Oh, gosh—have lots of patience. Start on step 1 and know the program. Then be prepared for step 2 and the challenges of getting experienced contractors to install the weatherization measures.

Yakama Nation Housing Authority
Wapato, Washington
Wade Porter, Weatherization Program Manager

Yakama Nation Housing Authority (YNHA) has more than a hundred employees in its Building, Maintenance, and Weatherization departments. These departments all report to one overall supervisor. Each department has a manager and crew.

One challenge was getting three departments, three managers, and three crews together to grasp the concept of conservation. Seal tight, ventilate right. This has become a success. All three departments coordinate to discuss and cross-train. We’re establishing the same practices across departments to use the right fans and do the same duct sealing using weatherization practices.

The YNHA Weatherization program started with managed housing. This was helpful, since many of the units in the managed-housing developments have the same weatherization issues, and we figured out how to handle them. We’re moving into weatherizing privately owned homes that are in the renovation program. We use renovation funds for repairs and weatherization funds for the weatherization measures.

Yakama Nation is on the cutting edge in many areas. Our understanding of Native sustainability through a holistic approach has led us to use green and recyclable building technology. It’s great that our Weatherization program has evolved with the new sustainable technology. YNHA is on the forefront in housing. It’s important to have experienced staff with certifications, equipment, warehouse, and administration supporting the program. YNHA has certified electricians, plumbers, and HVAC professionals on staff, which has contributed to the success of the Weatherization program.

learn more

Makah Tribal Housing Department (MTHD); Tinker Lucas, Deputy Director
Tel: (360)645-2160
E-mail: mthdtinker@centurytel.net

South Puget Intertribal Planning Agency (SPIPA);
Debbie Gardipee-Reyes, Weatherization Program Coordinator
Tel: (360)426-3227
E-mail: gardipee@spipa.org

Spokane Indian Housing Authority (SIHA)
Stephen Tsoodle, Weatherization Program Manager
Tel: (509)258-4523
E-mail: stephen@spokaneiha.com

Yakama Nation Housing Authority (YNHA)
Wade Porter, Weatherization Program Manager
Tel: (509)877-6171, Ext 1101
E-mail: wade@ynha.com

Eunice Herren
E-mail: tribalwolf@comcast.net

Construction codes are not up to weatherization standards for air sealing, insulation, fans, and vents, to provide safe and healthy homes. State building codes and building practices do not include weatherization sciences. It’s been a learning curve to add new skills and technology.

Cooperation is a key aspect of the Weatherization program, as is sustainability. The centerpieces of the program are communication and cooperation within the organization as a whole. We must know what we need and want when we come to the table to negotiate with the state and other funders.

We would advise anyone wanting to start a weatherization program to do it right the first time so you don’t have to do it over. A major challenge and frustration has been when weatherization is completed and then maintenance activities disturb the weatherization upgrades. Then we have to go back and do it over. Coordinating repair work with weatherization upgrades is critical.

Behind-the-scenes staff need to be knowledgeable about documentation and paperwork. The file tells the story.

Seek out stronger funding levels. The funding cuts have been a major challenge. We began production within one year. It takes three years to get the program sustainable. Don’t give up.

Applicants are afraid that there will be a charge for the weatherization upgrades. The applicants don’t always want to do the consumer conservation education or follow-up. You have to talk them into it, let them know it’s required in the grant. Landlords don’t want to put money into their housing. The grant helps us serve more households.

We measure success by the tenants’ appreciation. Not a week goes by that we don’t get people coming by to tell us how much they appreciate our services. People say they’re not so tired and aren’t having headaches from gas after we apply combustion safety and ventilation sciences. Doing weatherization, health, and safety makes the tenants happy. It gives them a better life.

Our biggest goals are to increase energy efficiency, lower utility bills, and help tribal members make it through the winter.

There is joy at the end of a project when someone says it really helped.

Eunice Herren retired October 2012 as the weatherization tribal liaison for the Washington State Department of Commerce.

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