Energy efficiency residential programs can be about a lot more than just saving energy. They can be a conduit to improving all aspects of a home, improving health outcomes for its residents in the process.
That’s the idea behind the “Whole House” pilot program launched this week in Trenton by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.
The program, which is designed to address health and safety issues in residences in the city’s low-income communities, is believed to be a first of its kind in the country.
BPU officials said “Whole House” refers to a holistic approach to healthy housing, incorporating and coordinating energy efficiency improvements while remediating health and safety hazards that pose a threat to human health and too often cause efficiency upgrade work to be deferred or delayed.
These hazards can include:
- Water intrusion;
- Asthma triggers;
- Slip-and-fall risks;
- Electrical deficiencies;
- Lead-based paint;
- Lead service lines;
- Other existing toxins and contaminants.
NJBPU President Joseph Fiordaliso said its Comfort Partners program (which is co-managed by the BPU and local utilities) found that too many residents in low-income communities had health- and safety-related issues in their homes that needed to be addressed before they could take advantage of energy efficiency upgrades.
Residents, he said, were having to navigate through several programs as a result.
The Whole House pilot program aims to be a solution.
“The Whole House pilot project addresses this issue by linking residents who need assistance with the appropriate community-based programs through one point of contact,” he said. “We are excited to partner on this pilot program with the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, a nationally recognized leader in this area.”
The Whole House pilot brings together already existing state, local, federal and nonprofit programs into an integrated process where resources are coordinated and leveraged to improve client service delivery and program impact. The intent is to develop and coordinate energy efficiency improvements and health and safety hazard remediation into an integrated, single-stream process.
After implementation, board staff and GHHI will evaluate the results of the pilot to determine whether these health and safety improvements should be made as part of an expanded statewide program in the future.
For now, it starts in Trenton, which was chosen for the pilot because it ranks among the top municipalities in terms of older housing stock and high household energy burden among low-income residents, childhood lead poisoning and asthma emergency department visit rates.
Trenton has a total of 34,637 housing units, with 31,409 built prior to 1980. Of those, 24,160 were built prior to 1950. Lessons learned from the pilot could help to expand the program throughout the state.
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said the city was grateful for the opportunity.
“We can’t wait to get started as we strive to make our city’s aging housing stock safer and healthier for our residents, while at the same time making our homes more energy efficient,” he said.
Residents of Trenton who are interested in participating in the pilot may call 410-534-6447 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
GHHI will assist and coordinate next steps on energy efficiency improvements performed through Comfort Partners, and health and safety remediation through community-based organizations.
The Comfort Partners program, which is co-managed by NJBPU and the major electric and gas utilities, works with community-based vendors to publicize the program, assess housing and energy needs and provide energy upgrades in income-eligible housing.