Weatherization Show and Tell

The proven benefits of weatherization remain, frustratingly, not well known. Some states are reaching out to politicians and communities, spreading the good word by demonstrating exactly what weatherization looks like.

January 01, 2002
January/February 2002
A version of this article appears in the January/February 2002 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Program Design

        In 2001, the federal Department of Energy (DOE) celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), a nationwide project that upgrades low-income homes.Weatherization provides insulation for attics,walls, and floor areas; major air sealing, including repairs of windows and doors; and a health and safety inspection of combustible appliances.Over the years the program has reached a high level of technical sophistication, resulting in significant energy savings for the inhabitants of lowincome homes.Yet many people are still unaware of its benefits.To address this gap, several states have initiated a new promotional effort called the Weatherization Demonstration House as an on-site, hands-on way to show federal, state, and local elected officials,community leaders and partners, the media, and even community action agency board members and staff exactly what happens when a home is “weatherized.”
        Despite celebrating the weatherization of its five millionth low-income home at the National DOE Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2001, the WAP has been on a roller coaster ride in the congressional funding process. In 1995, funds were cut almost in half. In ensuing years, increases have been small. Despite the 1997 publication of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s extensive research showing energy savings of 18%–30% for each weatherized home, Congress did not seem motivated to provide a higher level of funding.The Weatherization Demonstration House project is one strategy created to increase WAP’s recognition among policy makers, practitioners, and potential beneficiaries. In October 2001,Congress granted a 50% increase for weatherization funding, possibly indicating that the effort involved in presenting a demonstration house may be paying off. Funding nationwide for weatherization for 2002–2003 will be $230 million.

The State Level
        Across the United States, about 900 community action agencies provide WAP services as one of many assistance programs available to low-income, senior, and disabled citizens. Each state has an office that administers the overall program. In 1996, the West Virginia State Weatherization Office developed the idea of a Weatherization Demonstration House.Briefly, a home is selected within a targeted geographic area and weatherized. Then a tour is conducted through the house to show stakeholders the benefits of weatherization.The owner of that house must put up with an onslaught of technicians, builders, andtourists for a couple days, but in the end they have a weatherized home and lower energy bills.
        At the demonstration,weatherization personnel from the local agency set up information stations throughout the newly-weatherized house showing the energy saving components that have been installed.Then they guide guests through, stopping briefly at each station for an explanation of the work performed.This gives weatherization workers an opportunity to show policy makers and community leaders firsthand the high level of technology used, and to emphasize the improved health and safety of each home. In past demonstrations, many guests have admitted to thinking that weatherization just meant a little weatherstripping and some caulk. On a tour of a Weatherization Demonstration House, they discover that it can be much,much more.
        State elected officials, county commissioners, and members of Congress who have attended site demonstrations expressed surprise at the sophistication of the WAP program and the technical advances in energy efficiency that have been made over the years.They have been particularly impressed with the diagnostic approach, the attention to health and safety, and the proven cost-effectiveness of the program. Weatherization demonstrations have also proved to be a morale booster for weatherization workers.
        Seeing the success of the West Virginia project,weatherization program officials in neighboring Ohio adopted the idea in March 1998.The process grew and Ohio created an excellent step-by-step manual and training program to encourage other weatherization agencies to hold their own demonstrations and spread the word about the permanent long-term energy-saving benefits of weatherization for low-income populations.A delegation of weatherization directors and a state weatherization grants manager from Michigan attended a training session in Ohio in early 2000. Michigan WAP entered the arena, and in return added a new dimension to the process—a team approach.

Team Michigan Is Born

        The Michigan delegates took the demonstration house idea back to their home state and presented it to local weatherization operators (LWO) from the 33 Michigan community action agencies.A group of interested LWOs agreed to pursue the project and one of its first actions was to invite Diane Howard from the Ohio program for an in-house training.Howard led the group step-by-step through the manual, emphasizing the best ways to approach policy makers to ensure their participation in a demonstration event.
        The group then set out on its own to create a Michigan plan of action. Because many of Michigan’s WAP agencies are small and lack an extensive support staff, few of them have the personnel and resources necessary to orchestrate a demonstration house on their own.To address this problem, the original group of weatherization directors who had attended the Ohio training agreed to work as a team to provide any host agency with the staff they would need to conduct the actual demonstration.

Orchestrating a Demonstration

        When planning a demonstration, start by identifying your objectives.This will determine which key guests you should invite. Be clear about your goals—seeking additional funding, encouraging support from state legislators, increasing community awareness and involvement, widening the client application base, or simply spotlighting energy-saving measures.
        The next step is choosing a client home to serve as a demonstration model.Again, your objectives play a vital role.Worthy choices include the home of a mother raising her children on her own, a senior couple on a fixed income, or a low-income working family struggling to stay off welfare. Ideally, the house should be one that will benefit from as many weatherization components as possible.
        After the house has been selected, the next step is setting up the demonstration itself.The host agency carefully reviews the client’s house and plans education stations and the tour logistics.Typical stations include attic insulation,wall insulation, air sealing with blower door, furnace inspection, and sometimes foundation insulation.The health and safety benefits of the installed components should be emphasized at each stop.Team members are responsible for preparing a script, gathering props, and staffing the station.The entire tour through the house should be designed to last no more than one hour, so the guests do not feel that their time is being wasted.
        During the demonstration, the tour guests are escorted in groups of four or five through the house, stopping at each station for a five-minute presentation. Groups should be kept very small—about 10 to 15 guests—and the focus should remain entirely on weatherization. Community action agencies run as many as 60 different programs, and at an event such as this it is tempting to talk about some of those programs.However, the idea of the weatherization demonstration house is to focus solely on weatherization so as to make the greatest impact on the participants.

A Weatherization Kit

        With these goals and strategies in mind,Team Michigan members worked with the Macomb County Community Services Agency to prepare the first Michigan Weatherization Demonstration House in Clinton Township, just north of Detroit.Along the way,Team Michigan developed its own step-by-step manual and a Weatherization Demonstration House kit so that any agency, regardless of size or resources, could call upon the team, follow the manual, and borrow the kit to put on its own demonstration.
        Duane Griffus, the weatherization director of Capital Area Community Services in Lansing compiled the manual, which is available at the Michigan Family Independence Agency Weatherization Office in Lansing. He built on the resources of both West Virginia and Ohio, customizing the process to fit Michigan’s needs.This manual should be the starting point for any state looking to implement the demonstration house process.
        The team then worked out the components of a kit that could be replicated and shared throughout the state.The kit includes laminated posters for each station, displays of client photos and comments, a display showing the materials used in a weatherization project, and a state weatherization banner. The kit also includes fact sheets on state and federal weatherization history and statistics.The agency can add its own information to these fact sheets when creating a take-home packet for each guest.
        Last but not least, the kit includes a video showing how to set up a Weatherization Demonstration House.The demonstration in Macomb County was recorded and edited to produce a training video to encourage agencies to participate in the process, particularly now that utility deregulation is playing havoc with residential heating and cooling bills. Currently, low-income families spend an average of 20% of their annual income on their heating bills. Deregulation of gas and electricity is expected to raise rates 20% or more this winter. Weatherization can take a lot of the sting out of the increase for families that are the most vulnerable.
        The success of Michigan’s team effort in Macomb County led the Chicago DOE Regional Office to suggest that the group present a training workshop at the Midwest Regional Weatherization conference in French Lick, Indiana.
        To celebrate National Energy Month in October, and the 25th Anniversary of the Weatherization Assistance Program, three demonstrations were conducted: on October 1 in Alma; on October 29 in St. Joseph/Benton Harbor; and on November 5 in Clawson, Michigan.

Benefits Abound

        The benefits of organizing a Weatherization Demonstration House are many. Congressional and legislative members and local community leaders are often amazed to see the sophistication and high technology involved in weatherization. Guests have commented positively on the improvements to health and safety that weatherization brings.
        The media are particularly interested in the on-site client involvement.The currency of energy issues and the need for conservation makes weatherization particularly newsworthy, and this provides the media with a first-hand look at various weatherization measures. The Weatherization Demonstration House also serves as a way to publicize the energy-saving benefits of weatherization for low-income, senior, and disabled persons, thereby increasing referrals and client applications from many community-based organizations that might not have been aware of the program. For example, Michigan’s Area Agency on Aging and Family Independence Agencies have both increased their referrals for weatherization.
        The demonstration house strategy can be easily adapted to many other situations, such as spotlighting energyefficient new construction for both affordable housing and high-end construction, for example.
        Improving the health, safety, comfort, and energy efficiency in the homes of low-income, senior, and disabled populations deserves the effort involved in organizing a Weatherization Demonstration House.

Payson Tilden is deputy director of housing and energy at the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency in Pontiac, Michigan.

Discuss this article in the Weatherization group on Home Energy Pros!

Add a new article comment!

Enter your comments in the box below:

(Please note that all comments are subject to review prior to posting.)


While we will do our best to monitor all comments and blog posts for accuracy and relevancy, Home Energy is not responsible for content posted by our readers or third parties. Home Energy reserves the right to edit or remove comments or blog posts that do not meet our community guidelines.

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