Innovation Trail
10:41 am
Thu December 30, 2010

New Momentum for Home Energy Efficiency

Binghamton, NY – Home weatherization is renewable energy's less glamorous, low-tech, little sister. But the government and green industry advocates also think it's a great way to create green jobs. As Emma Jacobs in Binghamton reports for the WXXI Innovation Trail, momentum on home energy efficiency is growing, but slowly.

Early on a bitterly cold morning, Paul Carroll has assembled his class on the curb. Carroll's showing the group how to analyze the energy use of the home he's facing. But he takes a moment to point out an instructive detail on a neighbor's tiled roof. "There's snow there, but there's no snow anyplace else. That indicates to me that if it wasn't for heat getting into that attic from downstairs, there would be snow on all of that roof."

It's the first instruction he'll give in a day full of lessons. This field day caps off a week-long class on how to conduct an energy audit of a home to identify what a homeowner could do to make it more energy-efficient.

The group works all the way around the house looking for potential points of entry for cold air. They all have construction background and can't help pointing out nice woodwork to each other, and the house s flaws. Student Dee Little points out to his instructor where water pouring out of a broken drainpipe has worn mortar away from the foundation.

Little's here because he's out of work. He's a carpenter. "Seems to be a theme," he jokes.

Unemployment in construction was almost 19 per cent in November, the highest rate of any industry. Jim Charneley, also a carpenter, has been unemployed for over a year. "Theres very little out there to apply for" he says. "I mean quite honestly I don't want to cry the blues too much but it's terribly competitive out there. As I'm sure everybody knows. I mean it's just unreal. I've never seen anything like it in my life.

Little and Charneley are taking the class to update their skills. For for the others, who've recently entered construction, this course is about hitting the ground running. Holden Dickinson works right now at a moving company, "I signed up for a green construction course," Dickinson explains, "My instructor said if you want to get a job with a construction company, you should get certified."

When one of the carpenters breaks out cookies he's made for the class, Holden chats about qualifying for government incentive programs. He's particularly watching the Green Jobs-Green NY program rolled out in December with more than a hundred million dollars. That NYSERDA program finances energy assessments and low-interest loans to pay for retrofits.

The course's instructor, Paul Carroll says state incentives helped to boost some of the interest in energy efficiency.

"I think as time goes on there will be less need to have those incentives because home-owners will be self-incentivized by the savings." Caroll predicts that, "In fact down the road I think it will be very hard to sell a house to knowledgeable buyers unless you ve had some weatherization on the house."

There is some evidence that Caroll's prediction could pan out. Several cities, including Austin and San Francisco have enacted programs requiring homeowners to have an energy audit done before selling their house. And the federal stimulus is injecting 5 billion dollars into weatherizing low-income homes.

The weatherization funding was supposed to be one of the quickest job creators in the stimulus. So far, Carroll is not seeing evidence of that. He's had to cancel several classes this year and he thinks that's because contractors don't want to invest in employees they're not sure they can keep. However, he thinks demand will pick back up as the economy recovers.