Couleecap’s Weatherization Deferral Program Makes Homes Safer and More Energy Efficient

As any Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) practitioner knows, having to walk away from a needy family’s home because of health and safety problems is demoralizing and goes against the mission of the program. Couleecap, a Community Action Agency and WAP provider serving four counties in western Wisconsin, faced increasing WAP deferral rates due to the ramp down in U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Weatherization Recovery Act funding and a renewed emphasis on securing higher energy savings on homes that were provided with WAP services. The least energy-efficient homes often required other services, such as housing rehabilitation or home repairs, that are beyond WAP’s scope. Couleecap’s WAP deferral rate was fast approaching 60%. This was unacceptable. Not only were many needy families not being served, there was also considerable expense involved in identifying the home, processing the application, and performing the energy audit before deferral. Recognizing that this was no longer a viable business option, Lee Hoss, Couleecap’s WAP director, and Kahya Fox, Couleecap’s housing assistant director, sat down to figure out how programs could collaborate more frequently. “You can’t keep doing business as usual when the usual doesn’t work anymore,” said Hoss. Collaboration Becomes Key - Local Agency Takes the Lead Couleecap already had successful rehab partnerships with Habitat for Humanity, La Crosse’s Critical Repair Program, the State of Wisconsin’s HOME (Home Investment Partnership Program) program, and the Affordable Housing Program (AHP) through a partnership with Citizens State Bank. Couleecap leadership saw that these other funding sources could be used to provide homes with additional energy savings measures that have lower savings-to-investment-ratios, along with non-DOE-covered health and safety measures. As a result, Couleecap created the Weatherization Deferral Project (WDP) to resolve health and safety as well as structural issues that, when completed, would be followed up with WAP energy efficiency services. WDP harnessed Habitat’s volunteer workforce to focus on WAP-deferred units and combined their labor and donated materials with forgivable grant dollars provided by AHP. Prior to WDP, Couleecap had never used volunteers for home rehab work because of concerns over warranty work, quality, timeliness, and skill. Because Habitat’s business model is based on volunteer labor, Couleecap had to find a way to ensure that Habitat’s work conformed to WAP field standards. Couleecap and Habitat worked together to develop a plan that would treat Habitat’s work crews like any other WAP contractors. Additionally, Habitat agreed to warranty their work for one year, the same requirements applied to Couleecap’s other contractors. “Jason [Habitat’s construction manager] is very dedicated. His enthusiasm for helping families makes coordinating the work easy,” said Fox. Additionally, timing and coordination of various services can be difficult. To address this challenge head on, Couleecap convenes all project managers to discuss end goals and to ensure that clients are provided with services in the right order. This involves regular meetings and communication among all partners to evaluate strategies to increase efficiency, which results in greater client satisfaction. In addition, all rehab projects are presented to a multidisciplinary review committee that includes weatherization and housing rehab staff so that opportunities can be identified early on. Multiple Beneficiaries Increased collaboration through WDP has produced multiple benefits. The WDP partnership has allowed WAP to utilize an additional $5,000 to $10,000 in rehab and healthy homes benefits per home, as well as provide WAP services for those homes that would have been deferred. Most important, clients in these 52 substandard homes were able to receive the full benefits of WAP services, providing significant energy savings and addressing home health and safety concerns holistically. Couleecap’s efforts, in tandem with local partners, fit the vision of Weatherization Plus Health perfectly. By tapping into existing resources, Couleecap has shown their capacity to innovate, placing them on solid ground when making their tcase for additional resources for expanded weatherization and healthy homes services. For more information on Couleecap, visit