weatherizing home

Winter in the Northeast leads to cold temperatures and the most energy intensive months of the year, putting a high stress on our grid and our wallets. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By investing in weatherization and energy efficiency appliance upgrades, we can lower the demand on our grid and our energy bills.

Weatherization + Energy Efficiency Upgrades = Deep Energy Efficiency Retrofits

Deep energy efficiency retrofits are the combination of weatherization, or building shell improvements, and energy efficiency upgrades. These programs deliver benefits to both the grid and residents, including drastically lowering energy use, decarbonizing the energy supply, lowering energy bills, and improving the comfort, air quality, and durability of residents’ homes.

Deep energy efficiency retrofits differ from current energy efficiency programs because they offer deeper, more meaningful savings and a way to drastically reduce the energy use of existing homes. Generally, these programs aim to save 50 percent or more of energy used in the home and include measures such as building shell improvements, insulation and air sealing, and upgrades to high-efficiency heating and cooling and hot water systems. These are different than current energy efficiency programs offered to customers, such as Home Performance with Energy Star and the Weatherization Assistance Program, because these programs present a piecemeal approach and offer only a handful of measures like insulation and the replacement of individual appliances. Due to this approach, some of the currently highest performing programs achieve only 10-20 percent energy savings, compared to the potential of 50 percent for deep energy efficiency retrofits.

Deep Energy Efficiency Retrofits and Restorative Justice

Restorative justice, as defined by the Justice in 100 Metrics Report from the Initiative for Energy Justice, is “a holistic understanding of equity that recognizes past and current energy injustices [that] should guide the implementation plans to advance energy justice and confer benefits to communities most burdened by these injustices.” Prioritizing restorative justice means recognizing that inequities in housing and energy policy have left many communities without access to comfortable and affordable homes, and actively working to alleviate these unjust burdens by strategically allocating benefits to historically marginalized communities.

These inequities are due to historical and current injustices, including banking and housing practices such as redlining that have deprived historically marginalized residents of the ability to own and invest in their homes. The inability to invest in one’s home creates higher energy costs for residents and renters in these communities, despite using less energy overall. The result is disproportionately high energy burdens among historically marginalized communities. Energy burden is the percentage of gross household income spent on energy costs. Deep energy efficiency retrofits present the opportunity for meaningful investment in these homes and communities, providing a step towards justifying these past wrongs.

Creating Statewide Deep Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programs

NEEP’s newest policy implementation guide and accompanying webinar examines how to implement statewide deep energy efficiency retrofits.

The guide highlights five key steps in the process:

1. Define Deep Energy Efficiency Retrofit to streamline industry practices, standards, and results;

2. Identify Implementation avenues to ensure implementation and program scaling;

3. Lead with Equity in design to ensure access to and participation in programs among historically marginalized communities;

4. Support Workforce Growth by designing workforce trainings and standard contracting processes, as well as providing incentives to increase contractor participation; and

5. Eliminate High Upfront Costs by allowing innovative financing that creates incentives and new pathways to reduce initial project costs.

Example Programs

NEEPs webinar on implementing deep energy efficiency retrofits highlights two programs that communities and states can look to right now. The equity focused Triangle J Partners in Home Preservation Program in North Carolina and the contractor based Zero Energy Now Project in Vermont are two examples.  

In Vermont, Total Energy Pathways (TEP) is a contractor-based comprehensive, bundled approach to offer beneficial electrification upgrades by combining weatherization, electrification, and renewable energy into one package that offers customers the opportunity to finance energy improvements with the resulting energy savings. TEP starts with the training and certification of contractors; these contractors then guide customers through the process by coordinating subcontractors with expertise in different energy technologies and connecting customers with the appropriate available financing and incentives. A version of this program is ongoing in Vermont, the Zero Energy Now Program.

In North Carolina, Triangle J’s Partners in Home Preservation Pilot works to break down barriers between energy efficiency programs, weatherization programs, and home repair and rehabilitation programs that are delivered and administered separately by multiple agencies. The separation of services and lack of coordination between these programs creates significant inefficiencies, costing money, and can cause deferrals for homeowners that would otherwise be eligible for these programs. The program’s case management model creates a centralized database which allows for a “no wrong door” approach for participants.

These Programs Can Be Available Everywhere

As the Northeast gets ready for winter months, now is the time to look to energy efficiency programs that both benefit the grid and increase the comfort of our homes. By creating statewide deep energy efficiency retrofit programs, states can not only see these benefits but also invest in a local workforce and uplift communities. With the right policies and investment, deep energy efficiency retrofit programs can be available across the Northeast and the country.

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