Center trains thousands to weatherize homes

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Since the New River Center for Energy Research and Training (NRCERT) was founded in 1999, officials have traveled to 32 states, training more than 30,000 people on ways to weatherize homes and save energy. “We are on the road almost every week with a couple of trainers,” says Mark Jackson, NRCERT’s vice president.

NRCERT is part of Community Housing Partners, a nonprofit community development organization based in Christiansburg. NRCERT got a big boost in 2010 when it opened its Weatherization Training Center in Christiansburg, a facility that has allowed the program to increase its staff from one to 23 employees and add 32 contract trainers. “In March 2011 alone our Weatherization Training Center completed over 3,600 training hours in classroom and field training,” Jackson says.

The center’s efforts help fulfill the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which is intended to help low-income families make their homes more energy efficient. Each year, the Energy Department divides about $175 million among the states. An additional $5 billion was appropriated over three years under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 to weatherize about 600,000 homes across the country. “Each state has sub-grantees that provide weatherization services,” Jackson says. “Community Housing Partners is one of 22 sub-grantees in Virginia.”

NRCERT’s training center in the Christiansburg Industrial Park provides classes on weatherization, residential energy conservation, home energy audits, and heating and cooling equipment diagnostics, repair and replacement. “We do a lot of field technical assistance training and mentoring,” Jackson says.

Since opening, the training center has expanded from 10,000 to 12,500 square feet and now includes six classrooms. The center also leases older houses and mobile homes, that are used for hands-on instruction. NRCERT currently is training six people from rural mountain areas as part of a partnership with the Federation of Appalachian Housing Enterprises, a nonprofit based in Berea, Ky. “We will also spend time with them in the field,” Jackson says.

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $3.8 million grant to Community Housing Partners in 2010 for green job training through the first quarter of this year. As part of the grant, NRCERT is working with Virginia Tech and other local educational institutions and nonprofits to train workers in green energy solutions (such as solar, wind and geothermal technologies) and help them obtain industry-recognized credentials.

NRCERT also is fielding an increasing number of calls from contractors, electricians, plumbers and builders inquiring about performance diagnostic testing for health and safety concerns such as carbon monoxide and mold. “The 2009 International Energy Conservation Code is being adopted by the state to ensure that energy conservation measures are being installed properly in new and existing homes,” Jackson says. “There is a lot of new demand from private contractors around the new energy code.” 

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