This week we have a featured Guest blogger! Paul Trudeau is a Program Specialist for the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions at the University of Georgia. He has much to say about the new “Cash for Caulkers” initiative as well, and I’m pleased as punch that he wanted to post on this site. From Paul:
I happened upon a story on NPR last week regarding President Obama’s so-called “Cash for Caulkers” program announcement. For some reason beyond my comprehension, Ron Saxton, a former candidate for governor in Oregon, was invited to the White House to participate in a “jobs forum” to discuss components of the program. For those of you who don’t know Ron Saxton, he is a former gubernatorial candidate from Oregon and currently the Executive Vice President of Jeld-Wen windows, a very popular window replacement company (also based in Oregon). He’s also a renowned anti-environmentalist and his gubernatorial campaigns were apparently funded by polluters (http://www.candidatesforsale.com/cgi-bin/display.cgi?page=saxton). As I was reading the story, I found myself most disturbed. But before I get into that, let’s take a closer look at Cash for Caulkers.
The program was developed as an additional strategy to create jobs under Obama’s stimulus package. The New York Times reported on the program last November, noting that “the housing bust has idled contractors and construction workers, who could be put to work insulating homes and caulking air leaks. Many households, meanwhile, would save substantial money — not to mention help the climate — by weatherizing their homes.” Sounds fair enough, huh? Why not have contractors get back to work doing good things to save people money and help the climate?
So back to the disturbing part. The White House hosts a jobs forum to discuss a weatherization program intended to stimulate the economy, get contractors back to work, and help the environment, and they invite a bigwig window replacement executive who has a history of bad environmental policies. Say what? Saxton proudly declares that “America has literally a billion, with a B, single pane inefficient windows…replacing even a fraction of those produces huge energy savings, as well as creating jobs, and those jobs can be created immediately.” A most convenient quote coming from the executive vice-president of a window replacement company! Most preservationists (myself included) will eagerly point to studies that show that the restoration of a single-paned wood window and addition of a storm window will be just as energy-efficient as a double-paned replacement window. Remember folks, it’s air infiltration that’s the primary culprit; even a tripled-paned window installed in place of a single-paned window will leak air around the perimeter of the frame. That’s what you get with dem old houses! Additionally, window restoration is a much more sustainable practice – old wood windows were made of durable materials, are easily repaired, and will outlast replacement windows by decades if properly maintained. Window restoration is also much more labor intensive than installing new windows, which can create sustainable jobs. So, if the evidence shows that properly restoring those old “single pane inefficient windows” will save energy, help the environment, and help the economy, how can we get this message across to those policy makers at the top? Wouldn’t it make more sense to invite a preservation carpenter or window restoration specialist to a jobs forum on this subject?
The answer to these questions may lie in our ability to educate homeowners at the local level first. If we as preservationists can slowly change the “quick-fix” mentality that is thrust open so many homeowners (including vinyl siding and other so-called “maintenance free” products) and successfully tout the environmental and economic benefits of restoration practices, that will help. But as most of us in the field know, it’s an uphill battle. Finding qualified contractors to do the work is hard enough, let alone convincing homeowners that those old, rattling windows can actually work properly. But as Carla has been discussing recently, the notion of having qualified energy raters go into people’s homes and school them on window myths could be very effective, as seen in Baltimore, for example.
It’s an open-ended question, and we need to come up with some good answers, stat!
p.s. as I make the final edits to this guest blog, I happened upon a story in the L.A. Times about Obama’s recent trip to Home Depot to “plug” (pun intended) the Cash for Caulkers program. Seems like he is being fed some serious misinformation–I mean, who needs more business than Home Depot??? Let’s move those cheap vinyl windows, people!