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Green Building News

The New Congress vs. Green

Members of the House say they are trying to protect Americans from overregulation and wasteful programs, including a few tied to the housing industry

Republicans in the conservative bloc known as the Republican Study Committee presented a proposal last month to cut federal spending by $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years, with some cuts affecting sectors of the housing industry
Image Credit: Republican Study Committee

Political theater is never in short supply in Washington D.C., but the new majority in the House of Representatives has been staging particularly exuberant – if, at this point, largely symbolic – displays of Republican policymaking, and Senate Republicans, though still outnumbered by Democrats, have been cheerfully pitching bills aimed at undoing many of the energy policies implemented over the past two years, including weatherization efforts and the Energy Star program.

After the House majority voted to repeal the “jobs killing” health care law, conservatives in both branches prepared to roll out legislative proposals they say are grounded in tough-love fiscal prudence and a sensible aversion to burdensome regulations.

Last month, for example, Senate Republicans unveiled legislation intended to thwart the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions – a set of regulations whose enforcement, the senators say, would hurt the economy. As noted in a recent story published by The Hill, the bill is designed to prevent the EPA from regulating the gases under the Clean Air Act and would prevent federal agencies from considering climate change when enforcing the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Washington agencies are now trying a backdoor approach to regulate our climate by abusing existing laws. Congress must step in and stand up for the American people. My bill will shrink Washington’s job crushing agenda and grow America’s economy,” Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming and the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told The Hill.

Cutting, slashing, burning

Earlier last month, a group of conservative House Republicans known as the Republican Study Committee presented a proposal to cut federal spending by $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years – substantially more than the approximately $800 billion the House majority originally pledged. Some of those cuts would affect programs tied to the housing industry, including the government’s Energy Star program and its Weatherization Assistance Program. The committee is led by Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio.

The Energy Star budget, for instance, would be cut by about $52 million annually, while the Department of Energy’s weatherization grants to states would be cut by $530 million annually. The Davis-Bacon Act, which requires payment of prevailing wages for public works projects, including the current, stimulus-funded edition of the Weatherization Assistance Program, would be repealed. Also, federal control of mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be eliminated, for a total savings of $30 billion, according to RSC calculations.

As we said, a lot of this partisan arm-flapping, although no one should be surprised to see funding cut for a variety of useful programs as budget pressures grow ever more intense. We should note, though, that so far military spending, the mortgage interest tax deduction, and the major entitlement programs – Medicare and Social Security – have yet to be addressed with a major initiative by a House committee or by a conservative caucus in the House or Senate. But there’s still plenty of time, if not political will, for that.


  1. Natur Haus | | #1

    Weathering the Republicans
    I am not Republican, and I am not conservative, but the federal gov't isn't the best business model of success. The weatherization funding program makes me squirm a little bit. The idea of a bunch of yahoos running around squirting caulk around poorly built structures seems like trying to spread fresh icing on a moldy cake, no pun intended. I would have rather seen a reduced tax benefit, or incentive program, run at the state level, for REAL improvements to a home. Even the topic pic for this site shows a guy blowing insulation into what seems like a pile of corroded aluminum. I have a feeling this is a little different from programs across the pond. This is just another way to rob and steal from honest American taxpayers and a get rich quick scheme for half ass so called contractors.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Matthew Amann
    The photo on our home page shows a weatherization worker blowing insulation into the ceiling of a trailer. The Weatherization Assistance Program has always prioritized work to help the poorest American families, many of whom do, indeed, live in substandard housing that you characterize as "a pile of corroded aluminum."

    Others who have received weatherization assistance live in substantial older houses, well worth preserving, that are simply badly insulated and in need of air sealing work.

    I have worked side-by-side with several weatherization crews over the years, and I can attest from personal experience that they are not "a bunch of yahoos running around squirting caulk." Weatherization agencies regularly send their workers to national conferences (include Affordable Comfort) for training in building science issues and best weatherization practices.

    In many communities, weatherization workers are some of the most experienced crews available for such tasks as blower-door testing, dense packing cellulose, and performing air sealing work.

  3. davidmeiland | | #3

    Martin and Matthew
    Among energy auditors I have chatted with via the web, working for a WAP agency is widely thought of as the best way to get solid training and experience in weatherization. Apparently the vast majority of these folks know exactly what to do and how to do it.

    There is also, unfortunately, the possibility that some programs cost too much for the results they get, due to mismanagement and administrative burden. As far as I can tell, DOE is making efforts to address this stuff recently. We all wish the government were 100% efficient. There are a lot of things that need doing that the private sector doesn't do.

  4. Natur Haus | | #4

    RE: Response from Martin
    I appreciate your respectful response to my mumblings, as they are certainly objective. I do know that this program has the potential to help the poorest Americans pay their energy bills, but I do not believe this is how it is being executed or advertised. I support spending tax money to truly improve properties, including weatherization. How thorough, experienced, or trained are the people doing the actual work? Are historic houses going to get the careful treatment they deserve? Are they abiding to the LBRP rules where they apply? This is not the CCC, or a welfare program, which I am not against, but rather people profiting from opportunity in tough economic times. I am quality minded, and I assume that someone like myself would not be able to compete with these guys that are blowing and going. I really hope there are people that care performing this work. Maybe my mother working for the gov't for 30+ years made an impression.......

    @David, I believe it IS the private sector performing this work, the gov't is only blindly handing out money.

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Second response to Matthew
    I am glad that you "support spending tax money to truly improve properties, including weatherization."

    The Weatherization Assistance Program was established in 1976, so the program is now almost 35 years old. The weatherization workers I have met have been extremely well trained, and know more about building science and pressurization dynamics than the average new-home builder.

    Most weatherization workers are employed by a local nonprofit agency, although some states contract weatherization work to private contractors.

  6. Natur Haus | | #6

    Your last response leads us to a good question....Has the 35 years of WAP been more effective chasing bad builders, or would it be better used training them. Remember, we're talking about the best building scientists, out there seeing all of these problems, why not stop the vicious cycle?

  7. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #7

    Third response to Matthew
    In my home state of Vermont, most of the homes that are weatherized by the WAP are more than 100 years old. I think it's a little late to provide training to the people who built those houses.

    Fortunately, it's not too late to provide air sealing measures or improved insulation to these leaky 100-year-old buildings.

  8. davidmeiland | | #8


    .Has the 35 years of WAP been more effective chasing bad builders, or would it be better used training them

    Think about this more carefully. The article you are commenting on discusses, in part, the desire of some legislators to reduce "government regulation" of the building industry. The industry is well known for pushing back hard against any requirement to improve the energy performance of new homes. Here in WA State the industry association is constantly filing lawsuits over energy code issues, while bitching and moaning to the press about how improved performance will make homes unaffordable, kill jobs, etc.

    If you are concerned about this issue, your time would be better spent talking to your elected officials about the big picture. Tell them how you think they should stop the "vicious cycle".

  9. Natur Haus | | #9

    Lucky Vermonters
    Wow, the poor in Vermont get to live in 100 Year old houses?!?! Out here you have to have some bucks to live in or own one of those. This is what I fear, people with energy money on their mind, messing with historic houses, without care, often without a builder/remodeler supervising, trying to get to the next one. How many old houses have I seen with vinyl windows slammed and caulked into them, because the vinyl windows are Energy Star and qualify for a credit program......unlike taking the time to restore the windows and make them tight, or installing wood tilt-packs. Out here, the rich people buy the old houses because they cost a lot to maintain, and the poorest sectors of the population live in either apartments , trailer parks, or programs do exist for the less fortunate to help build new homes on city donated lands for efficient affordable housing. @ David, I think there are always going to be those that are following the codes reluctantly. I am not against effective gov't regulation, but weatherization is a entirely different issue than energy codes. I am all for remodeling and building green, believe me I practice what I preach, but I fear potential defacement and abuse of historic buildings. Their form, and their preservation are also very important.

  10. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #10

    Fourth response to Matthew
    Yes, Vermonters are lucky. You could also move to Vermont and rent an affordable apartment in a 100-year-old house in a Vermont village and share in our luck.

    Your alarmist scenario about the weatherization program installing vinyl windows is entirely spurious. Replacement windows are not a cost-effective energy retrofit measure and are not part of weatherization work.

  11. Natur Haus | | #11

    Alarmist Carpenter/Taxpayer
    So, you're saying I can rest assured that the WAP is being carried out by advanced building scientists, spending our money effectively, and saving the world at the same time? I guess the reports I have heard about this gov't program were false...... No, I'm just not that gullible.

  12. kzgu22ccNE | | #12

    Martin said as plain as day
    Martin said as plain as day that he has worked side by side with WAP workers, and that they regularly send their people to building science training at national conferences, such as Affordable Comfort. But you somehow think that 'professional' builders and remodelers can do a better job of protecting our country's historic buildings?

    Do you have any actual evidence of WAP 'blowing and going?'

  13. user-282515 | | #13

    I think the quality of the work performed through the WAP varies from place to place. I went through a week long auditor training for the WAP program to be administered through 18 different agencies across the state of Tennessee. I had a couple of contractor friends go through the 1 day contractor training. I chose not to participate (work) in the WAP because I found it to be extremely lacking in quality.

    Many of the contractors who were participating in the program were displaced from new construction and their mindset was that of cutting corners to maximize profit. The administrators of the WAP did not know much beyond what they were told by the contractors doing the work. Because of this, I admit that I am a bit biased toward this being a wasteful program, so it is refreshing to hear that other locations are placing an emphasis on quality and knowledge of building science to do a good job.

    Here is a link that describes the findings of an official audit of the program in Tennessee:

  14. uwli | | #14

    Another perspective
    I might suggest to the group that while all of the postings have their merit, this is STILL a political issue and many posters believe what they read in the media actually has factual content. Nevermind that DOE WAP has the research might of Oak Ridge National labs, NREL, and related groups, ask the recipients of the WAP program how much the weatherization work has done to improve their income position (low income folks pay 25% of their income to energy while middle income pays around 10%) and don't have to choose between heat and/or medications. That's right Fox news aficiandados, they have more money now to spend locally and PAY taxes to boot! There will always be fly by night contractors within ALL facets of construction. They do not limit their presence to the energy retrofit /wx world. Having worked in the construction industry for 25 years, I've had interface with many contractors, many highly trained, focussed on customer service and their integrity in the community. Others, well we've all heard of the horror stories. Administrators of these programs save tax dollars by having vetted, insured, and credentialed professionals on their bid lists with a heavy dose of QA and QC. WAP is a simple concept. Any measure that acheives an SIR of 1.0 or better is put on a prioritized list based upon the evaluation(audit). This produces return on investment in the most basic form.
    So whether you bend your views based upon what the media wants you to believe (or even worse, from a fly by the hip approach where no real research was invested), the fact remains that this program DOES work and has for over 35 years. Cutting "spending on programs" is short sighted and does not serve the majority of the american public. Better I suppose to give tax breaks to the rich so they can start manufacturing more products in China!

  15. 9XBiNUysjE | | #15

    Great debate but what about Tax Credit Elimination
    The Federal tax credit for windows, doors, etc. expiring has hurt many suppliers of building products. Our clients hit the lottery for at least $1500 in the last few years and quite simply, many are waiting for the credit to be extended or renewed. Watch the manufacturers for layoffs. One of our suppliers has cut back to a 4 day workweek and they believe it was casued by the tax credit coming to an end.

  16. davidmeiland | | #16

    Many people feel that the tax credit for windows has encouraged a lot of people to needlessly replace windows. Should I pay higher taxes so that window suppliers and contractors can benefit from this market distortion?

    And yeah, I'm a contractor who has gotten a number of those tax credits for customers in the past few years.

  17. Natur Haus | | #17

    Some thoughts to Norman and David
    According to the some weatherization industry reports I have read, windows and doors only account for 10-15% of a building energy loss. How did they calculate that effectively? Anyone else come across these figures? If these are accurate, than Martin was right when he said," Replacement windows are not a cost-effective energy retrofit measure and are not part of weatherization work." I have a hard time believing these figures, and I think the weatherization sector has purposely stayed clear of these energy bleeds, except for the obvious caulk here, and weatherstripping there. They probably don't want the intensive work of replacement(certainly bring time and cost issues pertaining to the LBRP law), and the same potential problems with restoring historic windows and doors to an appropriate level. If they were to perform these services, energy would be saved AND the home would truly be improved, but quantity is what it is all about, about 600,000 homes are the goal, but I have read the statistics that show the program is not on target to reach this goal set, and the money being spent is not correlating, and much of it being blamed on, imagine this.........RED TAPE.

  18. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #18

    Response to Matthew
    You may have a hard time believing it, but performing the calculations is fairly simple. You take the cost of replacing a window, calculate the energy savings attributable to the window swap, and calculate the payback period -- it's generally in the range of 60 years or so.

  19. user-755799 | | #19

    Response to Matthew
    Matthew, you said:

    "I have a hard time believing these figures, and I think the weatherization sector has purposely stayed clear of these energy bleeds, except for the obvious caulk here, and weatherstripping there."

    Do you have a reason to believe these facts are incorrect? If the home has poor air sealing and insufficient insulation, window and doors are the least of it's problems. And actually the "obvious caulk here, weathestripping there" can do a lot for these "energy bleeds". I have been called to do repairs on 10-15 year old housing that have "bad windows" when really it was "bad installation"--lack of sealing around the window frame.

  20. Natur Haus | | #20

    Response to John.
    I don't see too many windows out here that haven't been caulked behind the flanges, even going back 15-20 years. Even if not caulked, I have seen the tar paper completely adhered to the flanges, making a somewhat of a seal. I do see a lot of aluminum windows, like in my house, with drain holes that you can see plain daylight through. This is a direct air leak, and with a lot of windows I'm sure this adds up pretty quick. Seems to me, other than electrical and plumbing penetration through floor wall junctions, leaky windows and doors would be second on the air leak list. Most houses I work on, don't have proper or properly adjusted door shoes or sweeps, and the windows have some sort of major air leaks. I question whether unpainted caulk, and simple "applied" weatherstrips are quality measures that will last. If we are talking about non historic, aluminum windows with the small thermal spacers and leaky drains, how, considering comfort,energy savings, and aesthetic/functional improvement, can replacement not make sense?

  21. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #21

    Air leakage research
    Fortunately, we don't have to guess about the major sources of air leakage in homes. The question has been extensively studied by researchers since the mid 1970s, and we now have a huge body of data to draw on, as well as the experience of thousands of weatherization workers and hundreds of thousands of blower-door tests.

    Leaks around windows and doors contribute in only a very minor way to air leakage in homes. The big air leakage paths are elsewhere:
    - utility chases
    - kitchen soffits
    - fireplace surrounds
    - under bathtubs
    - attic hatches
    - at basement rim joists
    - through wiring penetrations and around vent pipes into attics.

  22. Natur Haus | | #22

    Air Leakage research
    Thanks Martin, I appreciate your responses to my mumblings. I have a full understanding of where air leakage and thermal loss happens. I am only trying to be a cautious supporter of making our existing homes energy efficient and doing so in a way that does so with the least impact, the highest integrity, and the with most economic sense. I am trying to find out more about what weatherization will cost for the average home and what it will truly entail. Payback equations and doing this for the least amount, which often means the quickest and easiest way, may not provide the best results. I am truly a supporter of energy efficiency, I do so with caution of the "easy "answers. Please forgive my tendency to be cynical.

  23. Natur Haus | | #23

    Leading me to believe.....
    I clicked on one of the sponsor advertisers on this site, which was about "Organic Spray foam, and the home page asked why spray foam? and then asked "Can you believe 80% of a home’s energy loss is due to air moving in and out of the structure? Everywhere you see an outlet, a window, a door or a light, fiberglass insulation is allowing heat--and your dollars--to escape. " So if these are honest, advanced building scientists, why is 50% of their dialogue based on 10% of the home's energy loss? And why not leave the fiberglass that is existing and just fill penetrations and edge seams with expanding foam? To tear out existing insulation and replace it with spray foam seems more like a business plan to maximize product than good building science trying to save resources and energy........Just Sayin......Really?

  24. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #24

    Claims by advertisers
    As you can imagine, GBA doesn't write any of the ad copy for advertisers who pay to post ads on our site. The accuracy of advertisers' claims varies -- some stretch the truth a little bit. Thanks for sharing your reaction to one of those ads.

    The percentage of a home's heat loss attributable to air leakage varies widely. Needless to say, it depends on the house.

    I have never heard of a weatherization contractor advocating the removal of existing fiberglass batts and the substitution of spray foam for fiberglass batts. That would NOT be a cost effective retrofit measure.

  25. Natur Haus | | #25

    Thanks, Martin
    I appreciate you being patient with me Martin, I seem t get myself into some trouble on this thread, I apparently have lots of counterproductive points. I do see a fine line between reputable, honest, and knowledgeable weatherization services and one's with the tap into the large gov't artery business model ones. I want to facilitate the latter being held accountable so that cynics like me have a less obvious target.........;>)

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