What is Weatherization Assistance?

Mary McMahon

Weatherization assistance is a service provided by governments or charitable organizations to reduce energy costs for low income households by improving their energy efficiency. Such programs are designed to reduce dependence on government assistance by making functional changes which lower energy costs, rather than simply providing households with financial assistance to pay for energy. Many governments offer weatherization assistance to qualifying low income households, and it can be obtained by applying through social services offices or regional departments of weatherization assistance.

Weather assistance programs often offer caulking.
Weather assistance programs often offer caulking.

When a structure is weatherized, a number of steps are taken to improve its insulating qualities, reducing heat loss in the winter and keeping the structure cool in the summer. Some examples of weatherization include adding insulation to the walls or roof, caulking cracks, replacing weatherstripping around doors and windows, and installing double-paned windows. The term “weatherization assistance” is actually a bit of a misnomer, because these programs go beyond weatherization with additional services which reduce energy use. These services can include hot water heater blankets, insulation for pipes, timers for electrical systems, and the installation of energy-efficient appliances.

Governments provide weatherization assistance to their citizens for a number of reasons. The first is that expenditure on weatherization assistance programs is less than that of long-term aid programs to help people cope with high energy costs. Therefore, assistance is cost-effective when compared to the alternative. In addition, many governments like to encourage their citizens to be independent, and some hope that when a single household improves its energy efficiency with government assistance, others may follow suit, including households which don't qualify for assistance but see the benefits modeled by a home which has been retrofitted by the government, thereby reducing energy costs and the burden on the electrical grid.

Weatherization assistance is also environmentally friendly, which is a concern for many governments; when a house is weatherized, it is no longer throwing away energy. In some regions, the demand on the electrical grid is constantly rising, and the ability to tighten up energy efficiency reduces that burden, lowering energy costs for everyone and reducing the risk of interruptions in power service caused by high demand on the system. For this reason, some utility companies also participate in weatherization assistance programs, and utilities may offer assistance to all customers free of charge, whether or not they are low income.

Homeowners who are interested in weatherization assistance can file an application to see if they qualify for government assistance and ask their utilities about weatherization options. Renters should consult their landlords first, as weatherization can involve functional changes to a home which may be of interest or concern to a landlord. In some nations, renters can apply directly, while in others, landlords may need to apply on behalf of renters.

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