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Weatherization: A Solution for Energy Burden and Milwaukee’s aging Properties

Updated: Dec 31

The city of Milwaukee, steeped in history and architectural wealth, is home to properties that have seen centuries pass by. As you meander through the central part of the city, you'll encounter buildings constructed as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The average age of residential property in Milwaukee is between 63 and 69 years old. While these properties add a unique charm to the cityscape, they also present a distinct challenge - energy efficiency.

Energy Burden and its Connection to Weatherization

In the context of housing, 'energy burden' refers to the proportion of a household's income spent on energy costs. In older, less energy-efficient homes, this burden can be substantial, often leading to increased utility costs for families.

Weatherization, the process that improves a house's ability to conserve energy, can help reduce this burden. However, before diving into the details of weatherization, it's essential first to understand that many of these historic properties may need significant repairs, such as roof or foundational work, before any weatherization can take place.

Weatherization: A Spectrum of Needs

Weatherization isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. It encompasses a spectrum of needs, from windows to roofs, foundations, and insulation. Each component plays a crucial role in maintaining a home's temperature and minimizing energy waste. However, the specific weatherization needs will vary from property to property, depending on their condition and design.

Estimating the Losses

While a precise figure for financial losses and wastage is difficult to pinpoint, various studies and reports offer insights:

  • A 2017 study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that the average leaky home in the United States wastes an average of $372 per year on energy costs.

  • A 2020 report by the City of Milwaukee Health Department revealed that 48% of rental housing units in the city had at least one housing code violation related to weatherization or heating systems.

  • A 2021 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee estimated that poor housing conditions cost Milwaukee County over $1 billion annually in healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Investment in Weatherization and Energy Efficiency

Increased investment in weatherization is a critical step towards reducing the energy burden. This includes the need to invest in energy-efficient equipment, such as Energy Star-rated appliances. When combined, these measures can significantly improve a property's energy efficiency, thereby reducing the overall energy costs and burden.

The Aggregate Impact and the Challenge of Split Incentives

When implemented across a large number of properties, weatherization can have a profound aggregate impact on energy costs in the city. However, a significant challenge to this is the 'split incentive' problem, particularly in rental properties. Split incentives refers to the issue arises when the benefits of weatherization (lower energy costs) accrue to the tenants, while the costs of implementing these measures are borne by the landlords.

Collaborative Opportunities for Conservation

Achieving widespread weatherization and energy efficiency in Milwaukee will require a concerted effort from various stakeholders, including state, municipal, and community-based organizations. These entities can work together to improve access to weatherization services and educate residents about the importance of energy conservation.

Several initiatives are underway to address the problem of unweatherized buildings and high utility costs in Milwaukee:

  • Weatherization Assistance Programs: Programs like the Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) provide financial assistance to low-income residents for weatherization improvements, reducing energy costs and improving living conditions.

  • Energy Efficiency Rebates: Utility companies offer rebates and incentives for homeowners and businesses to invest in energy-efficient upgrades like insulation, windows, and HVAC systems.

By increasing investments in weatherization and energy-efficient equipment, we can sustain a steady path toward reducing the energy burden, improve the living conditions, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

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