Spotlight On: Opportunity Council’s Weatherizaton Plus Health

A true pioneer in integrated healthy homes and weatherization services, the Opportunity Council (OC) in Bellingham, Washington, has been providing combined services to needy families since 1993. Over these 18 years, the OC has partnered with myriad agencies and other nonprofits to provide all-inclusive services using a “one-touch” approach to weatherization, health, and other community action services. The OC’s Weatherization Plus Health program has three main components:
  1. Improving the indoor environment, including measures that build on weatherization and education.
  2. Educating clients, including a visual survey of indoor air and health issues, interviews with clients, development of an action plan for behaviorchanges and implementation, and use of low-cost or no-cost materials.
  3. Performing weatherization improvements, including a weatherization audit, energy saving measures, and combustion safety.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the OC’s approach is their integration of client education. The process begins with an eligibility screening, followed by an in-home visit so that a healthy homes educator can create a targeted action plan with items the client can do. The educator then summarizes suspected asthma triggers and begins implementing healthy homes strategies in the home. Next, a weatherization auditor does the assessment, identifying energy retrofits and working with the educator on healthy homes upgrades. The educator then reviews the file to ensure that they have followed the proper procedures. This approach is critical to ensuring the client understands the why behind healthy homes and energy efficiency and so can continue to institute the upgrades once the OC is no longer in the picture. Another unique aspect of the OC is their partnership with the Building Performance Center (BPC), which provides training in both healthy homes and energy efficiency. This combination of approaches sets the tone for the inclusion of both in clients’ homes from the very beginning. Additionally, BPC uses hands-on props and demonstration to ensure trainees are fully educated in the tangible aspects of weatherization and healthy homes. The OC serves as a model for integrated approaches to healthy homes and weatherization. In fact, the National Association for State Community Services Programs and the U.S. Department of Energy took inspiration from the OC’s efforts to initiate the larger Weatherization Plus Health project. The partnerships and strategies employed are best practices for agencies nationwide.