Most warehouses are filled with items such as equipment, boxes and food. But walk into the Intermountain Weatherization Training Center's warehouse in Clearfield, Utah, and you see something unexpected: a life-size, 1,280-square-foot house with two floors, three bedrooms, a living room and working appliances.
What looks like an idyllic house, with its siding, rustic brick and a silver mailbox, is the state’s latest comprehensive teaching tool for those in the weatherization business.
Funded in part with $200,000 of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, the new demonstration house is being used to train weatherization workers to find ways to make homes of low-income residents more energy efficient.
“We created a life-size facility that [the students] can go in,” says Michael Johnson, program manager for Utah’s weatherization assistance program. “We have attic bypasses, old and new windows, good and bad floors and good and bad walls.”
The house—set up in a 21,000-square-foot warehouse in the Freeport Center— is giving workers the chance to evaluate real issues residents are facing in their homes. They crawl into spaces to investigate leaky duct work and examine walls to see what proper insulation should look like.
“They go on a treasure hunt to find the different problems,” Johnson says. “And we can throw them different curve balls. We can change things at literally at the flip of a switch.”
Patching up areas and upgrading appliances can save homeowners up to 35 percent on their utility bills. Assistance is available for families earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level —which is about $44,000 a year for a family of four.
The Recovery Act...
- Increased Utah’s weatherization assistance program workforce from 50 to 180 people
- Provided $38 million for weatherization efforts
- Enabled the state’s eight agencies to weatherize 2,200 more homes in 2009, compared to 1,300 in 2008
Workers from the state’s eight local agency groups--including a community action agency, a county government, a county housing authority and five associations of governments--are the first round of trainees to attend the courses, which include a two-day energy auditing course, a one-day lead based paint course and a mechanical training course.
“You are limited to what you can learn when you train in a client’s house,” says Tony Schleick, a weatherization worker for Utah’s Tri-County Weatherization, who took the two-day energy auditing course. “You can physically touch the problems in this home.”
Now when he goes into someone's home, Schleick says, he knows exactly where and how to “tighten the home.”
The demo house helps workers perform their jobs more efficiently, but it also trains workers faster.
“It will allow us to essentially, at the drop of a hat, provide comprehensive training that was not available before, because sometimes it would take us weeks to find a client’s home to train people,” says Johnson. “We can do in two or three days here what we could do in two to three weeks before.”
Eventually, Johnson says, training will be extended to those from colleges, utility companies, the construction industry and across the region. About 180 people will be trained or retrained over the next six months.