Weatherizing Contractors In Short Supply The federal stimulus plan is giving states $5 billion to make leaky homes more energy efficient. But there's a shortage of qualified contractors to do the work, and trainers are scrambling to get more builders up to speed on weatherization.
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Weatherizing Contractors In Short Supply

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Weatherizing Contractors In Short Supply

Weatherizing Contractors In Short Supply

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The Obama Administration wants federal stimulus money to create thousands of green jobs. But right now the government's scrambling to train people to fill those jobs. North Country Public Radio's David Sommerstein reports.

DAVID SOMMERSTEIN: In an 80-year-old wood frame house in the upstate New York village of Canton, a dozen men and women are learning to become home energy auditors, people who are trained to figure out exactly how a home wastes energy and what to do about it. They're like thermal archeologists prowling around with high-tech gadgets, like digital pressure meters and low-tech ones like measuring tapes.

Mr. MIKE NEWTOWN (Engineer): Going up.

SOMMERSTEIN: These people are already professional builders. This five-day course adds a potentially lucrative skill to their toolbox. Engineer Mike Newtown leads them through an analysis of the home's insulation.

Mr. NEWTOWN: We already kind of did - diagnosed that they tore the inside of the wall off, re-sheet rocked it. What about around the band joist?

Unidentified Man: No.

Mr. NEWTOWN: Okay. So that's going to be a spot that's going, could be a potential place for some insulation.

SOMMERSTEIN: Newtown teaches the course at Canton State College once a month, but he could do it way more often.

Mr. NEWTOWN: I can have a class every week and I could probably fill it.

SOMMERSTEIN: With the flood of stimulus money, high utility bills and concern over energy independence and climate change, weatherization's never been hotter. John Brown's a carpenter who's taking the class.

Mr. JOHN BROWN: Insulation, for example, there's something that's not a very glorious way to spend your money. But now people care, you know, they're interested.

SOMMERSTEIN: Another reason there's so much demand for Mike Newtown's class is it's free. New York's footing the bill because like the rest of the country the state needs more energy contractors. Gill Spurling directs the Federal Department of Energy's retrofitting programs.

Mr. GIL SPURLING (Director of Retrofitting, Department of Energy): There's no question that as of today there is an inadequate number of workers in all aspects of weatherization.

SOMMERSTEIN: President Obama wants to retrofit one million homes every year to reduce energy usage and pollution and to create jobs. All retrofitting work starts with an energy audit, but right now there's no national standard for doing one. Spurling says the DOE has ordered states to submit plans for recruiting and training by next month.

Ms. ANN HEIDENREICH (Energy Efficiency Agency, New York): We are out there letting people know that you're out there doing this work and happy that...

Mr. SOMMERSTEIN: Ann Heidenreich stops by the class to give a pep talk. She works for New York's Energy Efficiency Agency and she says for the weatherization movement now is an opportunity of a lifetime.

Ms. HEIDENREICH: It has to stimulate economic development. It has to go towards improving the environment. And if the work is poor quality then none of our goals are going to be achieved and that will be, I think, a thing of tragedy for everybody.

SOMMERSTEIN: Heidenreich says that's why it's so important to train the next generation of energy contractors to do the job right.

For NPR News, I'm David Sommerstein in Canton, New York.

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