The Biden administration has set its sights on making homes in low-income communities more energy efficient. Its tool for doing so? The Weatherization Assistance Program, which will see a $3.2 billion influx as part of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that President Joe Biden signed into law in November.
The Department of Energy is now accepting applications for the new funding from the state and tribal governments that administer the program. The decades-old WAP designates funding to upgrade homes — insulate attics, swap out old appliances and replace leaky windows and doors — in a bid to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter with the least possible energy use.
The influx represents a tenfold increase for the program’s budget, meaning its funds will reach far more households. The administration estimates the new funding will allow it to help 450,000 households, compared with the 38,000 homes per year it serves today.
WAP seems to represent a no-brainer for the government to pour into given the myriad ways it benefits Americans, including financially. The DOE emphasized the program has helped households save an average of $372 per year since it was instituted in 1976. Per a DOE fact sheet, WAP is highly cost-effective, too. The program has resulted in $1.72 in generated energy benefits and $2.78 in other benefits for every dollar invested in weatherization. This comes as utility bills soar nationwide, reflecting the dividends that low-tech solutions can pay now and into the future.
The benefits for the climate aren’t so shabby either. While the program was almost eliminated under former President Donald Trump’s tenure, it is now among the most effective arrows in the Biden administration’s quiver for addressing climate change. Improving efficiency is not nearly as riveting as investing in new technologies to reduce emissions like fanciful carbon dioxide removal schemes, but it has a central role nonetheless. Commercial and residential energy use make up 13% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
While a number of cities have implemented bans on gas hookups and numerous studies have shown that electrification is the most effective means to long-term decarbonization of buildings, weatherization and other efforts to improve efficiency could help cut carbon emissions quickly by ensuring buildings need less gas or electricity in the first place.