Low-Income Weatherization--Better Way of Meeting Needs in View of Limited Funds

RCED-86-19: Published: Oct 31, 1985. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 1985.

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GAO reviewed low-income weatherization efforts in 17 states that had received over two-thirds of federal low-income weatherization funds in fiscal years 1982 through 1984 to: (1) describe the various weatherization efforts undertaken in selected states and provide data on the future of weatherization in terms of dwelling units weatherized, expenditures, and timeframes for weatherizing all eligible units; and (2) examine whether the weatherization program could be more effective if fewer dollars were spent per unit by limiting weatherization to the most cost-effective measures.

The two main sources of federal weatherization funding are the Department of Energy's (DOE) low-income weatherization program and the Department of Health and Human Services' low-income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP). The DOE program limits the annual average expenditure per dwelling unit in each state to $1,600 for specific weatherization measures; LIHEAP, a block grant program, leaves these decisions to the states. GAO found that: (1) it will require from 15 to 100 years to weatherize all eligible dwelling units in 15 of the 17 states studied; (2) states have the option of using more liberal LIHEAP income eligibility criteria, which could increase the number of eligible units by about 8 million; (3) states could spend an average, rather than a maximum, of $1,600 per dwelling, which may result in fewer dwellings weatherized; (4) dwellings weatherized in the earlier program years may need reweatherization before all dwellings are initially weatherized; and (5) DOE regulations provide for installing weatherization measures in order of cost-effectiveness on the basis of the cost of materials, installation, lifetime of materials, and the estimated annual fuel savings. GAO believes that establishing a requirement that weatherization investment be repaid in potential energy savings within a specified period of years would: (1) place emphasis on installing the three or four highest and most cost-effective priorities; (2) result in fewer measures being installed per unit; and (3) result in more units being weatherized, resulting in increased total energy savings.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The DOE final decision is not to change its regulations. DOE noted that it would not be prudent to change its current regulations until there is sufficient documentation to show that such a change would lead to program improvement. DOE also noted that payback criteria are being used by states.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should consider revising current program regulations governing prioritization of low-income weatherization program measures by establishing payback criteria. This would result in limiting weatherization measures to those that can be repaid through potential energy savings within the specified number of years. The appropriate number of years in the period could be based on a study of similar criteria in other programs and consultation with experts in the area.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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