INDIANAPOLIS - Contractors emerged from every crevice of the North American continent to take advantage of educational programs offered at the 2009 National Weatherization Training Conference July 20–23 at the Indianapolis Convention Center. Ten years ago, the biennial conference only attracted a few hundred people at best, according to long-time weatherization buffs. Two years ago, the conference in New Orleans attracted about 1,400 people. The recent meeting was attended by 3,314 people looking for education and employment.
The recent tax credit program and weatherization incentive programs have focused a tremendous amount of attention on the opportunities for energy conservation around the home and office. Many county agencies that work in urban housing renovation are being required to learn about the latest technologies for building insulation, weather sealing, diagnostic equipment, and HVAC systems. One county official from Cleveland said that most of the HVAC work required for renovations is subcontracted to local HVAC contractors because the agency does not employ people qualified to handle this aspect of energy conservation.
Ironically, there were very few HVAC contractors in attendance at the Weatherization Training Conference. This is not to say that the HVAC industry has no interest in weatherization; in fact, another major building science convention, the Affordable Comfort Institute National Conference, typically attracts a fair number of HVAC contractors and home builders. Most HVAC people think of weatherization practices as being limited to weather stripping and insulation, and to date, they have been mostly right.
JEANS AND JACKETSThe difference which may lie ahead is that the lines between HVAC and weatherization are becoming blurred. The Cleveland county official is actually an ex-electrician. Another attendee is an ex-HVAC business owner. The Clevelander said, “There are as many people here developing new careers in this economy as there are died-in-the-wool weatherization hippies.”
The mix of blue-jean wearing, long-haired, 50-somethings, along with those clad in sports coats, did indeed make for an interesting convention.
Dana Boughton, national accounts manager for Thermo Pride, a manufacturer of air conditioning and heating equipment from North Judson, Ind., began attending the national weatherization event about four years ago, primarily to promote the company’s manufactured housing products. Boughton said, “Two years ago we were showing our 95 AFUE condensing gas furnace that qualifies for the current tax credits, but found limited demand at that time. Now, the demand has grown so much that we are literally having trouble keeping inventory available.”
That sentiment was echoed by Frank Spevak, national sales manager for The Energy Conservatory, best known for its Minneapolis Blower Door, a pressure equalization device used by many HVAC contractors who are looking for leaks to plug in buildings before installing high-efficiency systems. In the last two years, and especially in the wake of the government’s push for more efficient buildings, Spevak said, “Our typical lead times were running about 10 days. At one point, we got as far out as eight weeks, as demand for blower doors and duct blasters had skyrocketed. Fortunately, we are back down to less than four weeks.”
Spevak said that not only has the weatherization bandwagon gotten full because homeowners and business owners are demanding energy conservation measures, but because the opportunities for the unemployed and underemployed have never been better - for the right people. Providing weatherization services is not as simple as blowing some insulation in an attic; understanding diagnostic procedures is critical for success, and for providing legitimate services to owners.
EDUCATIONConvention spokespeople said that the huge increase in attendance for the recent show is attributed to not only the newly employed in the field, but to the education requirements imposed by the federal government on current advocates - even the graying, long-haired contingent is being pressed to stay current with the latest technologies. Regardless of who the attendees are, the primary impetus has come from the stimulus package.
Several programs are working to increase awareness of weatherization techniques and benefits. The Department of Energy Energy/Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE/EERE) Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program (WIP) increases awareness and accelerates adoption of practices and technologies that cost-effectively increase energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, and oil displacement.
The DOE Weatherization Assistance Program reduces energy costs for low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes. The program currently works in partnership with states and more than 900 local agencies.
The State Energy Program (SEP) provides grants and technical assistance to states and U.S. territories to promote energy conservation and reduce the growth of energy demand.
Alan Givens, a Maryland HVAC contractor, met with President Barack Obama at the White House a few months ago to discuss the effect of the President’s stimulus package upon small businesses. Obama turned Givens on to the idea of the weatherization assistance program, saying that HVAC contractors could likely find an opportunity in that aspect of the energy conservation movement. Givens researched the opportunity and began to work the weatherization angle into his normal course of business, with outstanding results.
As more contractors, like Givens, discover HVAC opportunities within the weatherization movement, it is very likely that the next National Weatherization Training Conference might more than double in attendance, once again. And maybe with a few more HVAC contractors - whether clad in jeans or sport coats.