A recent paper on the cost-effectiveness of weatherization work has received much more attention in the popular press than have similar studies in the past. The researchers concluded that weatherization measures performed at five nonprofit community action agencies in Michigan weren’t cost-effective. Newspaper headline writers have had a field day, trumpeting generalizations that aren’t supported by the limited data collected by researchers. (A typical headline: “Study: Home efficiency upgrades fall short, don’t pay.”)
Energy experts familiar with weatherization programs have suggested that the headline writers should have dug a little deeper into this story than they apparently did, but these measured voices have gained less attention than the “Weatherization Doesn’t Pay” headlines.
The controversial paper, “Do Energy Efficiency Investments Deliver?,” was written by three economists: one from the University of Chicago, Michael Greenstone, and two from the University of California at Berkeley, Meredith Fowlie and Catherine Wolfram. (Some of the paper’s findings were summarized by Scott Gibson in a recent GBA news story, “Blows Against Two Carbon Reduction Strategies.”)
This decades-old program helps low-income Americans
The federal low-income weatherization program — officially known as the Weatherization Assistance Program, or WAP — is now 39 years old. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the program pays for weatherization workers to perform air sealing work, to add insulation, to seal leaky duct seams, and to replace inefficient appliances in the homes of low-income Americans. The services are provided at no charge to recipients.
The weatherization program is administered by state employees; in most states, however, the actual weatherization work is performed by employees of local nonprofit groups known as community action agencies.
One of the guidelines promoted by WAP is that weatherization measures should be selected based on cost-effectiveness. Over the past decades, many researchers have looked at…
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