Weatherization: Where We Are Now and Where We Could Be
It has become conventional wisdom that our region’s existing building stock needs to be weatherized in order to meet our climate goals and put us on a path to a sustainable future. The energy consumed in the region’s homes, largely from imported fossil fuels, accounts for 21% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing those emissions is a key component of any climate change mitigation strategy. But what does weatherization really mean, and how can we get there? Weatherization generally refers to improvements in a home’s shell, or envelope, that separates the indoors from the outdoors. The main tools for weatherizing a home are sealing gaps to prevent unwanted air leakage and improving the insulating value of ceilings, walls, and windows.
While it sounds easy, for many homes weatherization can be a real challenge. There is often work that needs to be done first before the weatherization upgrades can be performed – asbestos that needs to be removed, outdated wiring that can’t be insulated over, and much more. In addition, there are complex weatherization projects that are just much more expensive than simple ones – insulating brick buildings or air sealing older walls with lots of hidden seams. Buildings that have some insulation, but not the optimal amount, will cost nearly the same amount to upgrade as a building with no insulation, but the savings will be less. The result is that at today’s energy prices, many weatherization projects will take a very long time to pay off and are just not attractive to homeowners.
Fortunately, weatherization makes sense for the majority of homes in the region, and we’re making significant progress in this area. The energy efficiency programs in the New England states are helping hundreds of thousands of residents make weatherization improvements every year. These programs make it easy for consumers to get their homes assessed, get started on upgrades, and get unbiased information on the next steps toward additional improvements. The programs are delivering real savings – to the participants and to our energy system, as well as emissions reductions.
For those weatherization projects that don’t make financial sense for a consumer based on energy savings, do we still want to encourage them? The answer is generally yes – assigning a realistic price to greenhouse gas emissions can dramatically change the cost equation. The states in the region need to move toward better valuing the carbon emissions reductions that will be needed to meet mandatory greenhouse gas targets, and then bundling that value into incentives that can be offered to building owners for weatherization through existing energy efficiency programs. To learn more about this important topic, see Acadia Center’s recent publication, “Weatherization and Energy Efficiency as a Resource.”
Jamie Howland leads Acadia’s Climate & Energy Analysis Center (CLEAN), and Energy Efficiency and Demand Side Initiative. His work as a policy analyst focuses on data management on energy markets and emissions trends, buildings and land use issues.