The Human Face of Weatherization

By Katrina Metzler, Energy Policy Advisor, NASCSP

Last month, Oakridge National Research Laboratory (ORNL) released the long-awaited results of two comprehensive national evaluations, which concluded that the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is not only cost-effective for taxpayers, but provides tremendous health benefits to participants. ORNL is the largest U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) science and energy laboratory in the country and focuses on scientific discovery, clean energy, and security. The laboratory’s study included 30,000 weatherized homes and took years to complete and publish. It is as close to “above reproach” as you can get in this industry.

The results of the national evaluations provide credible evidence that Weatherization meets and often exceeds program goals. The federal Weatherization program has come a long way since the days of caulk and plastic. The program will celebrate its 40th year in 2016. Today, building science directs our work, diagnostic testing protects our customers, and standards for work quality are strictly enforced by credentialed Quality Control Inspectors. As a network, we take pride in our work and see the human impact every day. The benefits of Weatherization were substantiated in the results of the national evaluations.

For example: the number of days family members in weatherized homes reported that they “did not get enough sleep or rest” dropped a whopping 44 percent post-weatherization. Think of what that means to those families the next day at work and at school – for productivity, for learning, for mental well-being.

The evaluations also delivered valuable information about where we need to grow, to improve. That is the point of an evaluation – to explore the program and find not just the positive outcomes, but also the places where growth is possible. As a network, we take that information seriously and have worked diligently with our federal funding partners and experts in building science across the country to implement effective methods of addressing indoor air quality, provide deeper energy savings, and learn advanced installation techniques to continue to provide the best possible services to families.

We have also implemented new comprehensive standards for work quality that help ensure Weatherization end-products are consistent across the country. Every weatherized structure receives a Quality Control Inspection by a credentialed staff person, who checks that all measures were installed and meet expectations for quality service delivery. Customers are partners in their Weatherization experience, receiving education on how to maintain the equipment installed in their homes and how to maximize energy savings.

I have personally visited the homes of weatherized customers. One retired school teacher sobbed and patted my hand as she thanked Weatherization for saving her home, making it possible for her to remain independent, and replacing her unsafe furnace. She baked pumpkin bread for the Weatherization crew members. Her utility bills dropped so significantly, she didn’t think she would need bill assistance anymore. She is more than a statistic on a piece of paper – she was real, her story was painful and then triumphant, and Weatherization played a part in it.

That’s what this program is about: saving energy, protecting health and safety, and serving those most in need. It is what we do, and we do it well according to the evaluations.

There are more stories like the one above happening every day. For example, a single grandparent raising her grandchildren in Appalachia got up the courage to speak to an audience that gathered at her home during Weatherization Month last year. She bravely told her story in a soft voice – and then invited us in to her modest home, neat as a pin, and showed us herself what a difference the energy efficiency measures made in her home. Her family joined her on the porch to celebrate.

Three hand-colored thank you notes hang in my workspace, carefully drawn in crayon by some of our youngest Weatherization customers. One reads: “Thank you for helping us. Without you, we would have frozed to death!” It has a picture of the Weatherization truck that came to their house, fixed their furnace and made them warmer, saved their parents money on utility bills so the family could afford food, medicine, gas to get to work. This is what it feels like to make a difference.

Success is not all about the statistics; though the numbers are on our side. Success is helping people.

We will take time during National Weatherization Month to appreciate the service being provided, the children who drew that picture, and the good that is produced every day in this small, humble, highly effective federal poverty-fighting and energy efficiency program.