home repairs

New Study Finds Subsidized Weatherization Programs Aren’t As Efficient As They Should Be

Solar panel installation
Energy-saving appliances have become the focus of many renovation and repair projects for homes and businesses alike, with a multitude of tax benefits and promises of lower energy bills. But what happens if these savings don’t actually pay off like they’re supposed to?

According to a paper recently published by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago, it seems that many energy efficiency programs — especially those backed by federal and state subsidies — aren’t actually effective when it comes to reducing household energy consumption.

Many of these programs focus on weatherizing houses by providing subsidized home repairs that focus on insulation; the programs may focus on small projects like sealing up cracks along windows, or they may provide help for major projects like furnace replacements.

In theory, these programs should result in lower energy consumption, especially for low-income households, and the programs are often based on concrete research that has proven the effectiveness of energy-efficient appliances. An old water heater, for example, can account for 30% of a home’s entire energy bill; replacing it with a new water heater can result in hundreds of dollars saved each year.

In reality, however, these programs end up failing and costing the government more money in the long run, contrary to what they’re supposed to do. But, as the Wall Street Journal and Vox both note, this isn’t because the programs or appliances are deficient.

Instead, consumers end up falling into what the WSJ calls an “energy efficiency gap” because they’re more likely to “[pass] up investments that reduce their fuel and electric bills” after taking advantage of subsidized insulation and repair projects.

Rather than continuing to turn down their thermostats or spending a bit more on energy-efficient lightbulbs, homeowners are actually more likely to develop habits that result in increased energy consumption after they take part in subsidized energy savings programs.

To use Vox’s explanation, “engineering studies might not always capture the messiness of the real world… and there are all sorts of human behaviors that might reduce the effectiveness of efficiency investments” — not to mention plenty of “irregularly shaped” homes that don’t provide the maximum insulation, or appliances that are installed improperly.

In one respect, the recent findings are positive: energy-efficient appliances are, after all, as efficient as they claim to be. However, understanding how these appliances work in the real world may end up being the more difficult task.

Illinois Attorney General Warns Homeowners Against Roofing Scams

Man Examining and Repairing Rotten Leaking House Roof
After a series of tornadoes in northern and central Illinois, Attorney General Lisa Madigan has warned Chicago and other Illinois residents to be on the alert for roofing and home repair scams that often pop up in certain seasons and after such storms.

“The communities hit by these tornadoes face a long recovery process,” Madigan said in a news release. “During this challenging time, I encourage area residents to be cautious and on alert for scammers trying to take advantage of people in need of assistance.”

She noted that these scammers often use the pressure of recent damage to persuade homeowners to make impulsive, expensive decisions regarding roofing and other cleanup and construction work.

The attorney general’s office also announced that lawsuits have been filed against four businesses that apparently previously scammed suburban Chicago and central Illinois homeowners out of around $220,000.

“In some of these cases, homeowners are faced with the possibility of liens being placed on their homes all because they put their trust in the wrong people,” Madigan said. “Be wary of anyone who knocks on your door offering services and make sure you obtain written copies of all contracts and warranties.”

Madigan encouraged any consumers to check out prospective workers by calling the attorney general’s consumer fraud hotlines (numbers are available online), and warned against paying in cash.

It’s important to check out the reputation of any company in advance and get a written contract; some fraudsters will appear to start satisfactory work but cut corners along the way in order to move on to other projects, leaving homeowners with far less recourse (installing a new roof on top of the existing one to save time, for example, cuts the life of the new roof by 20%, according to expert estimates).

Though Madigan’s warning is aimed specifically at Illinois residents, it’s a sentiment many homeowners across the country should probably heed as they look to repair damage from summer and spring storms; even typically mild cities such as Austin have seen serious storm damage in the past weeks.