Make no mistake about it: Weatherization works

In cold weather states, weatherization can reduce heating costs by an average of 30 percent. –U.S. Department of Energy

Low-income families, on average, spend 16% of their annual income on energy costs compared to 3.3% for other households. Reducing energy costs means these families have more money to spend on food, medicine, and other essentials. –National Association for State Community Service Programs

Forty-six years ago this month, an oil embargo targeting the United States (and a handful of other nations that were perceived to have lent their support to Israel during the 20-day-long Yom Kippur War), resulted in what is today remembered as the 1973 Oil Crisis. By the end of this embargo nearly six months later, production had been cut by approximately 25 percent. Oil costs had increased four-fold in the U.S. to more than $12 a barrel (equivalent to $60 in today’s dollars).

This crisis had a rather notable and immediate impact on American energy providers and, by extension, the households it provided energy to. Of course, as is always the case, those most deeply impacted by these events were low-income Americans. And, although it took a couple of years to respond, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) established the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) in 1976.

Initially, the WAP sought to help low-income households save money on energy by providing short-term solutions such as caulking windows. Over the years those measures have evolved into more long-lasting and cost-saving strategies that include the installation of storm windows, increased insulation in attics and walls, and other environmentally sound initiatives.

Today, weatherization services are provided across the United States in large part by Community Action Agencies like the one I have the honor of leading, Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties (CAPRW). We begin with an advanced Home Energy Audit designed to “assess and document the energy conservation needs” of the home.

Among the steps performed during this process are: safety and efficiency tests on heating systems and the hot water heater; measuring heat loss; insulation checks; and home energy education.

The actual weatherization work, provided free of charge to eligible households (those  living at or below 200% of the federal poverty line) can include a number of critical resolutions such as heating system tune-ups, sealing air leaks, proper insulation, the repair or replacement of furnaces, installing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, as well as additional mechanical work.

Since its establishment more than four-decades ago, the WAP has provided these vital services to approximately 7.5 million low-income households. Moreover, according to the DOE, every dollar spent on weatherization results in a return of “$1.83 in direct energy savings to the homeowner.”

When that figure is coupled with non-energy-related benefits (such as consumer education on energy efficiency and safety), the total return on investment for each weatherization dollar spent increases to $2.69.

The point here is that weatherization works. But again, as intimated above, it is not solely about improving the environment, decreasing our energy use, and saving low-income families money on their utility bills. It is also about addressing the health and wellness of our fellow citizens, particularly some of the most vulnerable among us: our children, seniors, and the disabled.

For example, the National Association for State Community Services Programs (NASCSP) reveals that after weatherization services are provided in the home:   

  • Residents with asthma reported fewer hospitalizations and ER visits.
  • Residents experienced fewer “bad” physical and mental health days.
  • Children in the household missed fewer days of school.
  • Household members reported fewer allergy and cold symptoms.

The verdict here is plain and simple: Weatherization works. If you believe that either you or someone you know is eligible for energy assistance and weatherization services, you can find your local services provider by contacting the Minnesota Department of Commerce Energy Information Center at 1-800-657-3710 or by visiting them online at

Clarence Hightower is the executive director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.