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September 23, 2014

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Weatherization program proves popular

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Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun

Brian Patchett, President and CEO of Easter Seals Southern Nevada, is shown in his office April 16, 2010.

Easter Seals of Nevada has long trained people with disabilities for careers, but recently it began training able-bodied folks to audit buildings’ energy use and to modify buildings to reduce their cooling and heating costs.

The program is funded by a $250,000 federal weatherization grant and a $1.2 million Workforce Investment Act grant, administered through the state.

Easter Seals of Nevada CEO Brian Patchett, 43, talked to the Sun recently about the program.

What kind of weatherization training do you offer?

We use nationally certified trainers and a curriculum from the Building Performance Institute that teaches our trainees not only how to do the weatherization work properly, but about what weatherization is, where inefficiencies can be found and how to create a customized weatherization plan for individual homes or businesses. Energy audits are a big part of this process.

How many people do you expect to train this year?

We expect to train about 45 people this year. Our program is small, so we can’t take everyone. We only have 13 to 17 seats per cycle, but we get 50 to 100 people showing up to apply for those slots. That’s where we have to start eliminating people. We hate to do it, but we have to try to choose the people who are most likely to succeed, so we give the applicants a written assessment test.

What qualifications should prospective weatherization experts have?

Because of the energy audits, there’s a good deal of math involved in our training. And while we have had people with no professional building experience, out-of-work contractors tend to do the best in this program.

Why did Easter Seals start training nondisabled people to weatherize homes?

The federal government designed the program for the general public. But the intent is to get people employed as quickly as possible. That’s what Easter Seals already does for the disabled community. So this is just an expansion of what we already do. The program is open to people with disabilities, too. It is an opportunity for people with disabilities to be involved with a new job field as well, and we’re always looking for that. So far at least four trainees with a disability are in the program. And additional disabled people stand to benefit from the program indirectly. All those people who complete our program will need to hire people to help them with the weatherization or with cleanup or office work, and we encourage them to hire people with disabilities when they can.

Why do you think so many Las Vegas Valley homes need weatherization?

Because our summers are so hot and dry and because we haven’t done a great job of building houses for this environment. We’ve seen that with all the construction defects lawsuits and just the amount of maintenance and repair required even on newer homes. Many of these developments were just slapped together in a rush. A lot of air leaks around the doors and windows in the homes here. The insulation in the attics and crawl spaces is inadequate. Many houses have outdated air conditioners and water heaters. A wasted kilowatt means not only wasted money but also more air pollution from the power plant having to make extra power.

The weatherization industry seems to be a trend right now, but is it an industry that’s going to provide long-term work?

We anticipate this program lasting at least a few years. The funding is for two years, but the president and Congress support this program. As long as we see some business growth coming out of this industry, we’ll see programs like ours continue.

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