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As the state of Massachusetts advances toward its goal of weatherizing approximately 17,000 homes over three years, thousands of residents across the Bay State have already felt the impact of its expanded program.

Massachusetts has hired 35 energy auditors, roughly 140 weatherization workers and about 30 administrators to keep up with the surge in weatherization work made possible by an $86 million slice of the state’s Recovery Act money. Twenty-eight additional contracting companies have been added to the 55 the state already used to weatherize homes.

“Every week, we’re trying to bring in a new contractor. The more we can get, the more work we can do,” says Ken Rauseo, manager of the state’s energy conservation unit. “There are still so many people on the waiting list.”

In addition to hiring contractors and purchasing equipment including blower doors, infrared scanners and combustion test equipment used to optimize homes for energy efficiency, the state has also set aside about $1 million in stimulus money for its new weatherization training center where contractors get trained and certified to do this important and money-saving work.

“It’s a steep learning curve,” Ken says. “It takes time to get a contractor up to the level where we think it can meet our high standards for this program.” After completing classroom and hands-on training, the contractors have to pass a rigorous test before they receive any money.

“We have a tight quality control system to ensure against fraud, waste and abuse,” Ken says.

Massachusetts’s weatherization program has been tightening up homes since 1979. In 2008, it retrofitted more than 2,600 of them with funding from the Department of Energy and state utility programs. In 2010 that figure is set to double.

With so much weatherization work yet to be done, Ken says the state plans to hire about 50 more companies, creating roughly 200 more jobs.