Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

More than Just an Energy Efficiency Program, Weatherization Ensures Health and Safety

October 25, 2016

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The Weatherization Assistance Program: A Client's Story

The primary mission of the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is to reduce energy costs for low-income households by providing energy efficiency upgrades that make the most cost effective sense. However, most people don’t realize that these upgrades also ensure the health and safety of our clients. The WAP has made a tremendous difference in the lives of millions of Americans. According to a national evaluation of WAP, during a typical Recovery Act year, the program achieved approximately $3.8 billion in health and household-related non-energy benefits for its clients, or about $14,000 per household (dollar in present value).

Weatherization crews are required to look for health and safety measures first to ensure the safety of their clients including the elderly, families, and people with disabilities. For example, furnaces and stoves are tested for gas leaks or carbon monoxide in the home and crews install mechanical ventilation to ensure adequate indoor air quality. They also make electrical repairs prior to insulation, convert incandescent lighting to CFLs or LEDs, and install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. They test for lead poisoning (lead-based paint) which is typically associated with homes predating 1978, taking extreme precautions if lead is found on site to prevent dust from being inhaled by anyone. Moreover, crews have all been trained to look out for scenarios where high moisture could lead to mold. The benefits that come from health and safety are part of a whole house weatherization approach.

Here’s some examples of specific areas that receive many health and safety benefits from this longtime Energy Department Program.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a Weatherization Plus Health partner that works with the Energy Department to reduce WAP deferrals and increase healthy homes services in Washington D.C. HUD Lead Hazard Reduction Demonstration grants are potential resources for WAP homes. For example, The Washington D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development received a HUD grant in FY 2012 for more than $2.9 million for 225 homes to be made lead-safe. Initiatives like this matter because 87 percent of D.C. homes were built prior to 1980, which means many of these homes most likely have lead paint. That’s 47 percent higher than the national average.

The Energy Department also provides support that’s used to help Weatherization Plus Health, a partnership in Maryland also following the whole house approach. The main objective is to help improve a resident's health, while saving money for local hospitals and health care providers. For instance, 10 percent of the asthma attacks suffered by Maryland’s children are triggered as a result of housing-related hazards, and every dollar spent reducing indoor asthma in turn reduces emergency room visits and healthcare costs by an average of $10.  As a result, weatherization safeguards public health and promotes healthcare affordability.

Statistics such as this validate client testimony. Juan Carlos Olivares, Executive Director of Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, spoke with a client who suffered from brain cancer and was experiencing severe cold temperatures in her home that were exacerbating her condition.  “We immediately arranged for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to repair her furnace,” said Olivares, “and subsequently insulated her home and replaced her old appliances with new energy-efficient ones. She was so very appreciative of her new energy-efficient home. She doesn’t have to deal with a cold unhealthy home for herself and her children and is more able to concentrate on getting well.”

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program provides grants to states, territories, and some Indian tribes to improve the energy efficiency of the homes of low-income families. These governments, in turn, contract with local governments and nonprofit agencies to provide weatherization services to those in need using the latest technologies for home energy upgrades. For more information, please visit the WAP website