Recovery Through Retrofit: Saving Homeowners Money and Creating Jobs
At a Middle Class Task Force meeting in May 2009, Vice President Biden asked the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to develop a proposal for Federal action that would expand clean energy job opportunities in the United States and boost energy savings by improving home energy efficiency. In response, CEQ facilitated a broad interagency process that resulted in the Recovery Through Retrofit report.
The report identified three primary barriers to a robust, self-sustaining home energy upgrade market:
- Homeowners' lack of access to clear and reliable information,
- Homeowners’ lack of financing, and
- Lack of skilled workers to perform home energy retrofits
The report also laid out several recommendations aimed at breaking down these barriers. Over the last several years, an interagency working group has launched several new initiatives that build on these recommendations. Below is an overview of these initiatives, as well as some of the other federal resources that support the home energy upgrade industry.
Overcoming Barrier #1: Clear and Reliable Home Energy Information
Most homeowners do not have access to straightforward and reliable information about their home's energy use. For example, most homeowners cannot tell if their energy bills are higher than necessary due to poor insulation, leaks, or heating or air conditioning equipment in need of repair or replacement. Without this information, homeowners are less likely to make investments that would save them money, improve the comfort of their homes and cut air pollution. To address this, the federal government is working to make energy information more useful and accessible to homeowners.
Home Energy Score: The Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a voluntary program to help homeowners understand their home’s energy use and prioritize cost-effective energy improvements. Using the Home Energy Scoring Tool, developed by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, trained and certified assessors can collect the information needed to generate:
- A Home Energy Score between 1 (a home that needs major energy improvements) and 10 (a home that needs no energy improvements), which is presented with easy-to-understand graphics to help homeowners understand their home's energy performance and how it compares to other homes in the area;
- An estimate of how much money could be saved by making energy improvements; and
- A list of recommended energy retrofit improvements for that particular home, with estimated annual savings for each upgrade
After completing a pilot of the Home Energy Score in 2011, DOE launched the first implementation phase of the Home Energy Score in June 2012. To see a sample Home Energy Score and a list of partners in this program, visit: http://www.homeenergyscore.gov.
Overcoming Barrier #2: Better Financing Options
In many cases, homeowners would be willing to invest in recommended home energy retrofits if they had access to consumer-friendly financing options. The lack of such financing was a major barrier identified in the Recovery Through Retrofit report. The Administration has actively worked to make more consumer-friendly financing options available to American homeowners. Besides the mechanisms listed below, the Administration has supported a number of other innovative national and local financing tools and strategies that aim to reduce the upfront costs of energy efficiency while leveraging energy efficiency savings over time to help repay lenders.
AVAILABLE NOW! PowerSaver Loans: In February 2011, The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA) launched PowerSaver, a new financing option that enables homeowners to make energy saving and renewable energy improvements to their homes through affordable, Federally-insured loans from private lenders. Several PowerSaver lenders are participating in a pilot in a number of cities and states. The lenders were selected based on their capacity and commitment to provide affordable home energy improvement financing, offering homeowners loans of up to $25,000 for terms of up to 15 years (or 20 years for solar improvements). Homeowners can use the loans to make energy improvements of their choice, based on a list of proven, cost-effective measures developed by FHA and DOE. For more information, please visit: http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/title/ti_home.cfm.
Rural Economic Development Energy Efficiency Effort (REDEEE): REDEEE is the USDA team supporting Recovery Through Retrofit. REDEEE consists of Rural Utilities Service (RUS), Rural Housing Service, Rural Business Service, and Community Facilities Service. USDA’s Rural Development programs provide a vehicle for supporting energy efficiency in housing, businesses, farms, and utilities located in rural areas of the United States. The initial scope of REDEEE included partnerships with electric cooperatives in South Carolina, Indiana, Virginia and Texas. REDEEE’s scope has since expanded to include all homeowners and small businesses served by rural electric cooperatives across the country. RUS Electric Program contributed to REDEEE and has proposed a new Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program that would make funds available to rural RUS borrowers for implementing energy efficiency programs within their service territories. For more information on REDEEE, contact your Rural Development State Office: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/StateOfficeAddresses.html. For background information on the new energy efficiency regulation please see: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov.
Strengthening State and Local Financing: State and local revolving loan funds allow consumers to borrow money for home energy improvement projects at reasonable interest rates. Once the energy retrofit loan is paid off, the principal and interest on the loan may be reinvested into the revolving loan fund, providing the capital for a home energy improvement loan for another homeowner. In October 2009, when the Recovery Through Retrofit report was published, residential energy efficiency revolving loan funds were available in 16 states. Since then, the Department of Energy and its partners have launched additional revolving loan fund programs across the nation, including hands-on technical assistance to ensure success. Such programs are now available in more than 30 states.
Overcoming Barrier #3: Guidelines for the Retrofit Workforce
Ensuring a ready supply of trained, skilled workers is essential to a vibrant home retrofit market. All but the most basic home energy efficiency improvements must be installed by professional contractors, so homeowners must have confidence in the quality and reliability of workers. The Recovery Through Retrofit report called for a uniform set of national guidelines to be developed to train residential retrofit workers. With the adoption of these guidelines, consumers will have confidence that energy efficiency improvements are implemented correctly and are generating the expected energy savings.
The Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals Project: The U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are developing the Guidelines for Home Energy Professionals project to support and promote high-quality work within the weatherization and home energy upgrade industries. A suite of resources are being developed as part of this effort, including standard work specifications (SWS) that define quality work; training program accreditation based on job task analyses (JTAs); and certification blueprints that align the SWS and JTAs to develop robust worker certifications. These voluntary guidelines are being developed with input from industry stakeholders to benefit workers, homeowners, contractors, training providers, and energy efficiency upgrade programs. For more information, please visit: http://www.weatherization.energy.gov/retrofit_guidelines.
AVAILABLE NOW! Healthy Indoor Environment Protocols for Home Energy Upgrades: The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Healthy Indoor Environment Protocols for Home Energy Upgrades serve as a companion document to the Workforce Guidelines for Home Energy Upgrades. The Protocols provide the recommended actions necessary to maintain or improve indoor air quality and resident health when performing home energy retrofits. Together, the Guidelines and the Protocols can increase home energy efficiency, improve the quality of work performed, and provide a healthier home environment for Americans. EPA released the Protocols in November of 2011. For more information, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/homes/retrofits.html.
AVAILABLE NOW! SBA's Online Training Course: The Small Business Administration's (SBA) new online course, Recovery Through Retrofit: Creating Jobs and Saving Homeowners Money, provides training for entrepreneurs who are looking to enter the home energy retrofit market. The course provides free business counseling and information for those seeking to launch a new business or expand an existing business in the energy efficiency market. This training opportunity is free and available on SBA Office of Entrepreneurship Education's website, at: http://www.sba.gov/content/online-courses-managing-your-business.
Other Federal Resources
ENERGY STAR® in the Home Energy Marketplace: The ENERGY STAR program’s mission in the Home Improvement marketplace is to educate and empower American homeowners with information about the actions they can take to improve their home’s energy efficiency. Through 2011, more than 450,000 consumers used EPA’s online Home Energy Yardstick to compare their home’s energy use to that of others across the country; more than 230,000 visitors have used EPA’s interactive online Home Energy Advisor tool to get customized recommendations for increasing the energy efficiency of their homes; and millions of Americans have visited the ENERGY STAR Home Improvement web site to access tips and guidance to help them save energy at home. For more information about how ENERGY STAR is helping homeowners learn about energy efficiency improvements, please visit: https://www.energystar.gov/homeimprovement.
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR: Home Performance with ENERGY STAR (HPwES) offers whole-house solutions to homeowners with high energy bills and homes with comfort problems. Through partnerships with more than 50 Sponsors in 34 states, including the District of Columbia, the program has installed energy efficiency improvements in more than 200,000 homes and certified over 1,800 participating Qualified Contractors since 2002. DOE provides resources to local program sponsors, who support HPwES by linking their local home performance efforts with the national program through a common approach to improving home performance. To learn more about HPwES and the local partner programs, visit: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=hpwes_profiles.showsplash.
HVACR to Home Performance: HVACR to Home Performance is a new DOE project that seeks to support the expansion of traditional HVACR contractors into residential whole house energy efficiency services, and to encourage the participation of HVACR contractors in the Home Performance with Energy Star Program. Each time an HVACR technician visits a home for an installation or a service appointment, it represents an opportunity for a whole-house assessment and energy efficiency improvements. DOE is also exploring ways to engage other residential building trades to incorporate more energy efficient technologies or services into their work.
Better Buildings Neighborhood Program: The Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Neighborhood Program is helping more than 40 competitively selected state and local governments develop sustainable programs to upgrade the energy efficiency of more than 100,000 buildings. These leading communities are using innovation and investment in energy efficiency to expand the building improvement industry, test program delivery business models, and create jobs. For more information, please visit: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/betterbuildings/neighborhoods/index.html
Weatherization Assistance Program Standardized Training Curriculum: The members of the Weatherization Trainers Consortium, together with DOE’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and its contractors, conceived of and created the WAP Standardized Training Curriculum as a way to share the best information that should be included for training within the WAP network. Training curriculum modules cover single family, manufactured, and multifamily housing and are designed to build on one another. Comprehensive, downloadable curriculum modules are available for all areas of WAP work and employment, and include PowerPoint slides, lesson plans, talking points and resource libraries. All of the resources in the curricula are open source and are available free for download at http://www.waptac.org/Training-Tools/WAP-Standardized-Curricula.aspx.
National Weatherization Training Platform: The Department of Energy’s National Weatherization Training Platform (NWTP), is a “virtual campus” that offers open source, online training courses, manuals, videos, and simulations of residential weatherization. This program can enhance and supplement traditional classroom, lab, and in-field weatherization training, and will cover basic and advanced building science. The National Training & Education Resource (NTER) is the underlying web-based technology developed for the NWTP. Designed in 2011, NTER helps WAP train workers quickly and efficiently and augments training that takes place in the classroom. It is currently being used across DOE, as well as other federal agencies, colleges, universities and international organizations. For more information on NTER, please visit: http://nterlearning.org.
Weatherization Training Centers: Supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) currently has 38 training centers operating in 29 states. Many centers have also been state sponsored and/or supported to provide training to sub-grantees. The Weatherization Training Centers (WTCs) are specialized training organizations that focus on teaching whole-house building science to an on-the-ground workforce which takes the training and immediately puts it into practice.. For more information on the training centers, please visit: http://www.waptac.org/Training-Resources/WAP-Training-Centers.aspx.
Green Button: Responding to a call by the Obama Administration to help consumers take better control of their energy bills, utilities across the country have voluntarily adopted the industry-developed, consensus-based Green Button standard. Green Button makes detailed electric consumption data easily available to customers through their utility and catalyzes a growing community of software developers and entrepreneurs who can create innovative and informative uses for this data. As a result of this initiative, 35 utilities and service providers will enable more than 36 million customers to log on to their utility website, download their detailed energy data, and voluntarily upload it into a growing number of apps that dissect their energy consumption and provide energy-saving strategies, information on the proper sizing of rooftop solar panels, and other useful services. To date, 16 million households and businesses can access their data using Green Button. Utilities in California and the Mid-Atlantic have also taken a new step to make it easier for their customers to securely, automatically, and routinely transfer their own energy usage data to authorized third parties, based on affirmative (opt-in) customer consent and control. To learn more about Green Button, visit: http://energy.gov/green-button.