CHAMPAIGN – The University of Illinois will receive a nearly $1 million stimulus grant to help low-income residents save money and the environment by improving their homes' energy efficiency.
The $959,635 grant to establish one of the state's first weatherization training centers could provide local jobs, as well as training for those jobs.
The federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant will support a training center on the Urbana campus for the Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance Program.
The UI Building Research Council has run the Weatherization Training and Certification Program, which has seven courses and 140 hours of instruction, for five years.
"Long term we believe that the training center will allow us to develop the capacity to provide training and evaluation services for a wide range of energy efficiency programs, whether weatherization, utility programs, the possible HomeStar legislation (for retrofitting houses) currently in Congress, or other programs that come along," instructor Paul Francisco of the Building Research Council said in an e-mail interview.
Some of the programs are already in place. The Building Research council trained and certified about 200 workers in the last 12 months, according to Jeff Gordon, the project leader.
Francisco said the work is hands-on.
"In order to do the in-field portion we have to find a house, typically with the help of the local weatherization agency. The in-field portion is critical. It is where what we teach comes together," he said.
In the classroom, his group provides "the pieces to the puzzle, but in the field they get to put the puzzle together. The problem is that a single house only provides the training opportunities for that house."
The training centers provide a wider, more comprehensive experience, Francisco said.
"Some of the most cost-effective weatherization work is air sealing of homes and duct work, and the diagnostic tests that we use to assess air leakage can demonstrate a lot of different opportunities in houses depending on the actual conditions at the house. The funding will allow us to develop hands-on props within the training center that will allow us to get out of the classroom to demonstrate how buildings work and how the testing is done through a wide range of conditions," he said.
The project will also helps with full-scale building sections to test air sealing and insulation.
"The idea is to make building sections (walls, roofs, ceilings, etc.) that trainees can work with that are comparable to what they see in the real world, and we will make them as needed. These would be sections that they could climb on, if appropriate, and we will be requiring that some of the training center have 12-foot ceilings so that, essentially, people could be on top of a one-story house," Francisco said.
The group has already written a curriculum for architectural contractors. This further funding allows the council to widen this to mechanical contractors as support for further community college training. It will also fund creating training videos.
"Looking long-term, the training center will allow us to develop the capacity to develop curricula for programs other than weatherization," he said.
This includes energy efficiency program evaluation, he said:
Studying the impact of the state weatherization program is being moved to the group, he said, and the training center funding will allow them to expand this evaluation to a greater detail.
About 30,000 low-income residences in the state will be weatherized under the program this year, and another 40,000 homes will receive the services in 2011, the council estimates.