For contractors who want to help low-income households lower their utilities and raise comfort, while also turning a profit, getting into weatherization could be a great choice.
The federal government has incentivized weatherization programs through the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), aimed toward helping low-income households improve the efficiency of their homes and lower utility costs. This means that the households pay nothing themselves, but the contractor still services the homes at market rate.
Weatherization improves a building’s energy efficiency while increasing comfort, and that could mean that the home gets new insulation, moisture control, or better ventilation. It can also mean an HVAC contractor is called to work on a system to repair or replace it.
The weatherization market is a win for everyone involved: Homeowners get improved comfort for lower cost, the government improves the sustainability of the nation’s residential infrastructure, and an HVAC contractor can get a sale.
The Weatherization Plan
WEATHERIZATION: At NeighborImpact, typical weatherization measures include air sealing, duct sealing, and a possible rubber roof replacement (if working with a manufacturer home). (Courtesy of NeighborImpact)
Jessica Taylor, weatherization director, NeighborImpact, said that NeighborImpact weatherizes about 100 homes annually. The first step in the process is to perform a full energy audit on the home, examining every system (include the heating and cooling system). After that, NeighborImpact contracts out all of the work that needs to be done to improve the efficiency of the home, such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC work. Typical weatherization measures include air sealing, duct sealing, possible rubber roof replacement (if working with a manufacturer home), insulation, and repairing/replacing an HVAC system or water heater if needed. Other upgrades can consist of venting for bath fans or kitchen hoods, weather stripping on doors, or caulking of windows.
“It’s important for contractors to know that even though it is a low-income program and we’re serving low-income people, we are the ones paying the bills, and we have stable funding,” said Taylor. “We’re paying a fair market rate, and not a discounted one just because it’s low-income.”
Taylor explained that the partnership makes the job easy for the contractor. They don’t need to market for any of these sales; instead, NeighborImpact will hand the contractor a work order for a repair or system replacement, and will then pay market rates for the work to be done.
Amanda Godward is the owner and energy consultant of Ecotelligent Homes. The company uses a thermal imaging camera on its initial energy audit to identify failures in the building envelope. After all of the issues have been fixed, a quality assurance check is performed to quantifiably demonstrate to the homeowner how much of the pre-existing problems have been resolved. This also allows Ecotelligent to be sure that new issues have not popped up as a result of fixing old ones (such as indoor air quality being poorly affected from new insulation).
Partnering With HVAC Contractors
“When we choose which HVAC contractors to partner with, their customer service plays a large role,” Godward said. “We look at customer service as well as scheduling, flexibility, and cost.”
While some companies use a bidding process, Ecotelligent bases it largely on relationships they form with local contractors. NeighborImpact opens up requests for contractor proposals, looking to sign yearlong contracts. The two parties agree on a price list, and the contractor confirms that they can handle the workload that will come in through the weatherization program.
Getting Into Weatherization
For HVAC contractors looking to enter the weatherization space, or improve their weatherization skillset, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has compiled a list of tools to help: Comfort Ready Home. BPA is a federal agency centered in the Pacific Northwest, specifically designed to manage and sell electrical power generated from hydroelectric projects, a nuclear plant, and a several nonfederal power plants. In January 2021, BPA launched its Comfort Ready Home program. The program is designed to provide contractors and utilities a large menu of tools to expand their residential weatherization offers. It will also help home and property owners understand what weatherization is and whether they would benefit from it, and would connect them with reliable contractors and incentives.
“Our research has shown that significant remaining potential for weatherization still exists,” said Jess Kincaid, residential sector lead at BPA. “The goal of this new program is to rebuild the infrastructure that will make it as easy as possible for utilities to reach those customers and, together, help entire communities reduce energy use.”
Comfort Ready Home offers a training center for contractors preparing to boost investment in weatherization. The site offers online resources such as a learning center, product guides, a marketing toolkit, weatherization checklists, and a field guide.
BPA’s program is also working to target homeowners with specific marketing, designed to encourage them to invest in weatherization as a way of improving comfort, efficiency, and sustainability. BPA also has a separate program that is geared toward low-income homes, using funding from the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Contractors interested in the Comfort Ready Home program can visit the website, applying to be a part of the program. This grants them access to all of the training and marketing materials, and it allows them to sign up as a part of the contractor network.
“They should also connect with their local utility to see specifically what offerings the local utility has around weatherization in their particular area,” said Robert Burr, public utilities specialist, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). “We are offering lots of support online and through webinars, but as COVID protocols change, we will be looking to have in-person contractor training when it’s appropriate and safe to do so.”
More Funds for Weatherization
The government is already offering money for the weatherization of homes, specifically low-income ones, and it is possible that more funding will become available in the near future, boosting the opportunities contractors could find in weatherization.
“We’re anticipating a huge investment in weatherization with the Biden infrastructure plan,” said Taylor. “It’s going to be a really big lift for a lot of weatherization agencies coming out of the pandemic. The more contractors we have to do that, the better. We’re going to do more jobs and we’ll have more money to spend.”
She added that when the economy is going through a recession, weatherization programs can offer consistent business that can help a company’s bottom line.