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Green Building News

Don’t Know Much About Weatherization

In a recent interview with President Obama, CBS anchorperson Katie Couric implied that weatherization investments should be seen as embarrassing pork.
Image Credit: CBS News

Playing “Gotcha” With Obama, Katie Couric Stumbles

WASHINGTON, DC — CBS anchorperson Katie Couric scored a journalistic coup on February 3 when she landed an interview with President Obama. Unfortunately, Couric displayed her ignorance with a question about weatherization investments — thereby reminding energy activists of the need to better explain to U.S. taxpayers that energy-saving retrofit work saves more than it costs.

Baiting Obama, Couric said, “Let’s talk about the stimulus package. … Senator Mitch McConnell said over the weekend that surely you’re privately embarrassed by some of the product that came out of the House version, and let me just mention some of the spending in this package: $6.2 billion for home weatherization, $100 million for children to learn green construction …”

Couric failed in her attempt to embarrass Obama, however. The President responded, “Well, let’s think about it. We’re going to weatherize homes; that immediately puts people back to work. And we’re going to train people who are out of work, including young people, to do the weatherization. As a consequence of weatherization, our energy bills go down and we reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What would be a more effective stimulus package than that? I mean, you’re getting a three-fer. Not only are you immediately putting people back to work but you’re also saving families on your energy bills and you’re laying the groundwork for long-term energy independence. That’s exactly the kind of program that we should be funding.”

The stimulus bill undoubtedly contains measures that many Americans would label as pork. But by focusing on weatherization, Couric stumbled.

President Obama retured to the same theme at his February 9 press conference. “People suggest that, ‘What a waste of money to make federal buildings more energy-efficient,’” said Obama. “Why would that be a waste of money? We’re creating jobs immediately by retrofitting these buildings or weatherizing 2 million Americans’ homes, as was called for in the package — so that right there creates economic stimulus. And we are saving taxpayers when it comes to federal buildings, potentially $2 billion. In the case of homeowners, they will see more money in their pockets. And we’re reducing our dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East. Why wouldn’t we want to make that kind of investment?”

Europe Remains a Step Ahead

Meanwhile, European countries are moving forward with weatherization programs that are far more ambitious than anything yet proposed by Obama. A recent Reuters article (http://planetark.org/wen/51592) headlined “UK Plans Efficiency Retrofits For All Homes” details a plan to provide financing for whole-house insulation retrofits and HVAC system upgrades for every house in Britain. According to Reuters, “The aim was for all UK homes to make near-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the energy and climate ministry said in a statement announcing its ‘Heat and Energy Saving’ strategy.”

One Comment

  1. User avater
    Carl Seville | | #1

    Not a surprise
    It certainly isn't surprising that the public doesn't "get" weatherization. The home performance industry has been trying desperately to educate consumers on the value of it and build the industry in the process. Unfortunately, few people are willing or able to spend the money it takes to tune up their homes effectively, often to the tune of $5,000 -$15,000 to do it right. Understandably, most people, and particularly those who need it most, do not have that kind of money sitting around. And if they did, they are unlikely to spend it without getting something very tangible for it, like a car, wide screen TV, new appliances, etc. If they were able to borrow that money at rates comparable to a first mortgage, or wrap it into the first mortgage at the time of sale, the chances of them doing the work would rise significantly, as they would probably see an immediate positive cash flow from reduced energy bills.

    Another problem with weatherization/home performance is that the sales model in not well developed in most markets. We have very skilled technical people who often are not as effective at sales as they need to be. In most cases, their companies fail to make the improvements look simple and sexy to potential customers, and, most important, desirable to purchase. Until energy bills get so high that homeowners are forced to do this (and maybe not even then), it is going to be challenging to get most of them to shell out the money they need to for weatherizing their homes.

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