How do we help more Vermonters weatherize their homes?
Comprehensive weatherization includes targeted air-sealing of critical areas in the attic and basement and adding insulation to reduce air leaks and keep the heat inside in the winter (and outside in the summer). Out of over 1,820 households that weatherized in 2020, 76% were low- or moderate-income.
Low-income households are eligible for free weatherization services through the statewide Weatherization Assistance Program, operated by the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). While many moderate-income Vermonters want to weatherize their homes, they don’t qualify for low-income assistance and still can’t afford the upfront cost of these home improvements.
“We were putting our son through college, so it felt like a big home improvement project would have to wait.”
Efficiency Vermont helps Vermonters who don’t qualify for low-income assistance weatherize their homes by providing rebates that offset the project costs. The funding for these incentives comes from external sources dedicated to saving Vermonters money on heating – separate from the funding for electric efficiency work. The funding for weatherization projects currently allows Efficiency Vermont to support 800-1,100 households each year. Combine that with the Weatherization Assistance Program, the two can only support 1,800-2,100 households annually. Year after year, we’ve maxed out our budgets – the interest and need to weatherize far outweigh the available funding.
But in the past two years, the proportion of moderate-income homeowners participating grew dramatically. What made more Vermonters want to invest in their homes, particularly during a pandemic?
In 2019, the legislature passed and Governor Scott enacted Act 62, which allowed Efficiency Vermont to repurpose existing funds to help more moderate-income Vermonters weatherize their homes. Efficiency Vermont deployed these funds as increased incentives for moderate income Vermonters: up to 75% off project costs, with 0% interest financing for 60 months, and the first six months of payments would be paid for by Efficiency Vermont. We immediately saw a difference. Once the cost came down through the upfront incentive, and homeowners could break the remaining cost into low monthly payments (about $50 a month), the demand for weatherization surged statewide.
It’s easy to understand why Vermonters want to weatherize. Home heating is one of the largest energy expenses that most households face. Keeping that heat inside reduces heating bills. It also adds comfort, cutting down on drafts and keeping families warmer.
Comprehensive weatherization through Efficiency Vermont’s Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program also includes health and safety recommendations. Trained Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified Efficiency Excellence Network (EEN) contractors consider the indoor air quality of the home and include improvements that can impact the health of residents for many years. The Vermont Department of Health found that the estimated 10-year economic benefit of weatherization, in health and energy cost savings, is nearly three times greater than the initial expense.
Steve Dunn, Program Manager for the DOE Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program, said that Efficiency Vermont is leading the effort to improve energy efficiency in homes, which lowers energy costs and improves home comfort and safety for thousands of families across the state, including communities that aren’t able to afford the cost of energy efficiency improvements.
“By providing low-moderate income families access to weatherization programs, Efficiency Vermont has made sure that the energy savings and health benefits of weatherization improvements are available to the families who need it most.”
Many Vermonters also want to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint. Reducing the amount of fossil fuels burned to heat our homes also reduces our greenhouse gas emissions. Those actions add up for the state: heating our homes and buildings is currently the second highest contributor to our state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Weatherization projects also support local jobs. Efficiency Vermont created the Efficiency Excellence Network in 2013 to support trained, BPI-Certified weatherization contractors in our state. As more Vermonters seek the benefits of weatherization, Vermont will need even more professionals trained in building science to meet that demand. The EEN helped keep these critical workers employed, even during the shutdown caused by COVID-19. In a fall 2020 survey, 88% of EEN members reported that they maintained or increased staff levels between March and September 2020.
Since 2008, Efficiency Vermont has worked with Efficiency Excellence Network contractors, the state’s weatherization agencies, VGS, and Burlington Electric Department to weatherize nearly 30,000 homes. We know that with the proper level of financial support, Vermonters will complete this work. However, funding for weatherization is currently far short of what would be needed to meet the state’s goals – and it’s set to decrease dramatically in the coming years.
The Public Utility Commission recently completed a two-year process to consider how to increase weatherization funding. The Commission found that finding a stable, long-term source of funding for weatherization was the most important action to meet the state’s goals.
“More funding will deliver results. With additional funding, Efficiency Vermont was able to quadruple the number of projects it completed by reducing up-front project costs. In August and September, 2020, increased funding allowed Efficiency Vermont to complete four to five times the number of projects historically completed in those months.”
Weatherization directly supports Vermonters, boosts a growing workforce, and reduces greenhouse gas emission. The past decade has proved that our statewide system of delivering these benefits has been effective. But without a stable, long-term source of additional funding, we will miss out on the opportunity to help thousands more Vermonters. Efficiency Vermont looks forward to continuing our successful partnerships to serve Vermonters and support our state’s goals for many years to come.