With the growing number of federal, state, and local incentive programs for energy-saving home improvements and upgrades, there’s never been a better time for building pros to diversify into home weatherization.

“This is potentially a great opportunity to really get people thinking about upgrading their houses,” Maine builder and remodeler Ashley B. Richards told attendees at the NAHB National Green Building Conference May 16 to 18.

Among the federal-level incentive options are the existing Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), aimed at low-income households, and the new Home Star bill. Home Star, which recently passed in the House, will provide up to $3,000 in rebates (Silver Star) to homeowners for the installation of energy-efficient upgrades such as windows and water heaters or up to $8,000 in rebates (Gold Star) for energy audits and subsequent measures to address efficiency problems.

Other incentives include the Existing Home Retrofit Tax Credit (Section 25C) of up to $1,500 for purchases of energy-boosting products such as Energy Star windows and added insulation (expires at the end of this year); the Wind, Solar, Geothermal and Fuel Cell Tax Credit (Section 25D), covering 30% of the cost of these systems (expiring in 2016); and PACE, Property Assessed Clean Energy bonds, a municipal-level loan program for energy retrofits such as solar that homeowners pay back through their property taxes (and therefore can pass along should they sell the house).

In addition to federal programs, check your state’s offerings at www.dsireusa.org.

All of these options mean opportunities for remodelers to grow their business or for builders to diversify into weatherization.

For newcomers to weatherization, the Home Builders Institute offers a weatherization course, and a certified energy auditors course is in the works; Richards recommends attending an auditors course even if you don’t plan to be certified because it can offer insights into all aspects of your weatherization work.

Once trained, the core of your weatherization tool kit will comprise:

  • An energy audit. You should become certified or partner with a subcontractor.

  • Certified energy techs. Richards looks for people with carpentry skills; their hands-on talent makes them very adept at the multi-tasking that weatherization demands.

  • An electrician. Have a relationship with a reliable sub for installation of bath fans and other ventilation.

  • Insulation equipment. Richards invested $50,000 in insulation blowing equipment that allows his crew to blow 200 bags in a day or “drill and fill” insulation into closed-in walls; renting is an option if you aren’t ready to buy.

  • Caulking guns and foam guns.

Contracts for weatherization can vary from about $1,500 to $15,000. Richards averages about $5,500 jobs, which can be tackled in one day with a crew of three; a fourth person is added for bigger jobs.
To ensure success and profit, organization and training are key: Everything must be in the truck and crew members must know exactly what they’re doing before they get to the jobsite, Richards advises.

“When you go in to do these weatherization jobs, there is very little margin for error.”

Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.