New help offered for home weatherization projects

MONTPELIER — A new program announced last week will add to a suite of incentives available to Vermonters who want to weatherproof their homes. 

For months, state officials have encouraged Vermonters to weatherize their homes ahead of the winter to offset high fuel costs and to lower climate emissions related to fossil fuel heating systems. 

The new program, called the Weatherization Repayment Assistance Program, or WRAP, follows a widely advertised “Button Up” campaign that provides incentives to reduce high upfront costs of weatherization projects. 

WRAP spreads the leftover costs of qualifying projects over years of utility bills, and resulting payments can run as low as $15 or $20 per month. Energy savings on a participant’s heating bill should “more than make up for the new charge that will be on your utility bill,” said Maura Collins, executive director of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency.

Qualified projects include insulating and air sealing, along with installing heat pumps and advanced wood heating systems. Each project also must demonstrate a capacity to improve efficiency, Collins said. 

The program aims to overcome another barrier by declining to run credit checks on customers in favor of verifying their utility bill payment history.

Green Mountain Power, Ludlow Electric, Vermont Electric Cooperative, Vermont Gas and Burlington Electric will soon offer the program to their customers, Collins said. She hopes other utilities will sign on over time.

While the program is open to Vermonters of all incomes, most of the funding will be allotted to households earning between 80% and 120% of the area median income, according to officials. Lower-income households are eligible for free services through other existing programs.

“We’re targeting lower- and moderate-income Vermonters because we know that Vermont’s housing and businesses make up, like, one-third of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins said. “We have among the oldest housing stocks in the nation, and so there’s a real need to weatherize homes.”

Electric heat pumps, which state officials are broadly encouraging Vermonters to install, are typically more effective in homes that are insulated and sealed. Heating and cooling accounts for a third of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions, which need to be reduced significantly to meet benchmarks for 2025, 2030 and 2050 under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act. 

Both homeowners and renters are eligible for WRAP. While the program may help renters persuade reluctant landlords to move forward with costly weatherization projects, renters are responsible for project costs during their time in the upgraded unit. 

“A property owner or landlord, I think, would likely agree to these investments being made because, if anything, this enhances the value of their home, or the property that they own, and they just have to allow for it to happen,” Collins said. 

The Vermont Housing Finance Agency will oversee the program, which is funded by $9 million from the state. 

Boosting the number of weatherproof buildings has long been a goal for state officials. The state Legislature approved $80 million this year for weatherization projects, and according to Vermont’s 2021 Climate Action Plan, about 90,000 additional homes need to be weatherized by 2030. 

That money has funded a number of other programs that can reduce the overall cost of weatherization projects. Peter Walke, managing director of Efficiency Vermont, said WRAP is unique because it targets Vermonters with moderate incomes, and some of the programs work together. 

“We and (Vermont Gas Systems), together, increased incentives for moderate-income Vermonters up to $5,000 — 75% of costs up to $5,000 — last July,” he said. “This gives another tool to help them pay for the remainder of a project, or frankly, to take on a bigger project.”

Vermonters who aren’t sure how to navigate the web of options available for weatherization can call Efficiency Vermont, Walke said. 

“That way, you’re not just hearing about this program, but you’re hearing about other opportunities that might benefit you,” he said. 

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