This article was originally published in the July/August 1997 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online July/August 1997


Weatherization Program Rallies in Virginia

by Fred Gross

Fred Gross is vice president of AECP and weatherization coordinator for People Inc. of Southwest Virginia, a community action organization. 

Weatherization professionals tell it like it is during filming of the Virginia Weatherization Story.
As political climates have changed in this country, low-income weatherization programs are receiving far less federal support. This has created new challenges for weatherization agencies and is causing them to find ways to adapt to their new environment (see Constructive Restructuring--Weatherization Gets into the Act, HE Nov/Dec '96, p.14).

In Virginia, our weatherization program saw its program budget dramatically reduced and its administration transferred from the State Department of Social Services to the Department of Housing and Community Development. Staff levels at the administrative offices dropped from 12 individuals to just 1, while the size of crew teams were reduced from 2 or 3 to 1 or 2 individuals.

In response to these changes, a group of weatherization coordinators, representing the state's 26 weatherization agencies, held a meeting to identify the needs of the program and determine how best to address them.

From this early meeting, the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals (AECP) was born. The association's mission is to promote and advocate energy conservation and serve as a central organization for the state's weatherization professionals. The organization is self-supported and funded entirely through dues paid by its individual members and training fees.

In 1994, AECP was instrumental in encouraging the state legislature to allocate $250,000 for the weatherization program, which helped to offset U.S. Department of Energy funding reductions. AECP also worked closely with the legislators to develop and pass a bill that automatically gives the weatherization program 7.5% of any Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) allocation, instead of it being used as a fuel allotment. This bill was unanimously passed in both houses.

We also convinced the legislature to reinstate the LIHEAP Emergency Heating System Repair and Replacement Program. This program had been curtailed in July 1996.

AECP's success rested largely on its educational campaign. Since 1993, AECP has been diligently working to educate legislators, other housing professionals, utilities, and the private sector as to the nature, purpose, and success of the weatherization program in achieving energy conservation.

Among the resources that AECP relied upon to convince these groups was a six-month evaluation by Virginia Tech of the state's weatherization program. The study showed that energy use was reduced by 39% at homes that had been serviced by the program (also see A Warm Wind Blows South: Virginia's Weatherization Evaluation, HE Jan/ Feb 1992, p. 15).

AECP also produced and directed The Virginia Weatherization Story, an 18-minute video targeted at audiences who had no prior knowledge of the weatherization assistance program. The video covered the benefits of the program, the techniques used, and the dedication of weatherization staff.

Crew members stretch out a flexible duct to be installed during weatherization training.
Training and Networking In addition to educating our representatives, we also focused on providing training to our membership. New state weatherization standards, based on Department of Energy guidelines, had been implemented in 1991. These standards required dense-pack sidewall insulation, advanced blower door air leakage/bypass sealing, and heating systems inspections. Although all the weatherization agencies had been trained, when the new standards were introduced, employee turnover had left some crews without adequately trained staff. We also needed more uniformity in the quality of energy conservation work from agency to agency, and we wanted to stay on the cutting edge of technology.

But we did not want to just train new staff as they entered the program; HVAC contractors, utility staff, rehab specialists and contractors also needed training. To be successful, we needed to reach these other professionals as well. As in other states, our future would include working with utilities and other state-administered rehab programs. We needed to increase our networking with other energy professionals to develop new cooperative relationships.

Some weatherization agencies had already been subcontracting heating system repairs and replacements, but HVAC contractors in the state were not familiar with our testing requirements and standards for weatherization work. Rehab agencies without weatherization programs were also having difficulty finding and training contractors to meet weatherization standards.

Cyndia Crawford, a Virginia field monitor who is now with the North Carolina Alternative Energy Corporation (NCAEP), conducted four regional training sessions in the state, each lasting ten days. Crews developed skills in pressure testing, duct repairs, and the use of the duct blaster. Many agencies incorporated pressure testing techniques as part of everyday weatherization activities. The HVAC contractors who attended the training began to show interest in the technique.

AECP has since sponsored ten additional statewide training programs. Most recently, it sponsored the first annual Weatherization Works Conference, held in Petersburg, Virginia on May 5-9.

What's Next AECP is now incorporated as a 501 C-6, tax-exempt corporation. The organization has a strong foundation that has been built on volunteer effort and dedication. Membership includes private contractors, HVAC contractors, and home inspectors as well as weatherization staff. With state funds allocated to weatherization for 1997-98, AECP is again focusing on renewing its educational efforts for the following year.

Effective energy conservation can play a key role in saving resources and in reducing environmental impacts. It can also help those who cannot afford to pay high utility costs to live in housing that is safe and comfortable. Through our networking with others, sharing energy conservation technology and skills, and improving the overall quality of the weatherization program, AECP continues to work toward these goals.


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