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Weatherization Installer Courses Meet Individual and Community Needs

Posted on Tuesday April 2nd 2013

Weatherization Installer Courses offered by Greenfield Community College in two different schedule formats meet both the needs of area residents to develop practical job skills and community needs for more energy-efficient homes. The course is being offered this April in a new accelerated four-day/32-hour format and as a 78-hour course that meets over the summer.

The hands-on courses are held at a specialized Weatherization Lab built at Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls as a partnership between GCC and FCTS. The Weatherization Lab is part of an instructional center for GCC’s Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency educational programs that includes the Weatherization Lab and the Clean Energy Instruction Center (CEIC).

The Weatherization Installer courses are geared toward preparing students to take the Building Performance Institute’s Residential Building Envelope Whole House Air Leakage Control Installer (RBE-WH-ALCI) certification exam. This certification is the industry standard for weatherization installers. Since GCC started offering the Weatherization Installer course in 2010, 29 GCC students have passed the certification exam. BPI is a nationally recognized agency that certifies professionals in the building and energy field (see www.bpi.org).

The accelerated course in April is geared toward experienced weatherization workers, while the 78-hour course is meant for participants with little experience in the weatherization field.

This spring and summer’s weatherization courses are taught by Bick Corsa, a carpenter, super-insulated house builder, and weatherizer since the 1980s. Corsa has done many energy efficient rehab’s and additions. In 2009, he built a house in Montague that won the Massachusetts Zero Energy Challenge, a utility-sponsored competition to build the lowest energy using house.

Peter van Buren, Bob Anson, and Colin Groundwater are three area residents who completed the GCC Weatherization Installer course. Peter van Buren was hired to work with Energia in Holyoke at the same time that he signed up for the course and they were able to accommodate his schedule so he could complete the training.

Following completion of the GCC Weatherization Installer course and successful RBE-WH-ALCI certification, Bob Anson has been employed with Community Action’s Energy Services Department. Bob was a retired music teacher who had completed the certificate in Renewable Energy /Energy Efficiency at GCC and took the course for more hands-on experience. He said, “I loved taking this course! Each class had a big portion devoted to hands-on practice of the skills and concepts that we were learning about that day. My classmates and I built upon those skills from week to week until we all had a well-practiced understanding of the job. Bick was a gem of a teacher. He not only knew his craft, but taught those skills with patience and good humor. I came away with professional certification, self-confidence, and, most importantly, a job that I am proud to go to every day!”

Colin Groundwater of Florence took GCC’s Weatherization Installer course and then worked for Valley Home Improvement. Now working for Energia in Holyoke, he commented on his experience of the Weatherization Installer course, “The course was great fun and I learned boatloads. Bick is well above and beyond what one will find in the weatherization field. Most of the BPI certification preparation courses, I have come to find, are taught by weatherization people with limited experience in some of the more involved aspects of energy efficiency. None I have encountered have participated in projects a fraction of in-depth or as frequently as Bick has. This provides a rare opportunity for the GCC weatherization students to obtain a much firmer and in-depth grasp of the work than students from similar programs. In weatherization, we do some pretty simple things: air sealing, cellulose blowing, and so on. While working in weatherization, I have routinely seen people with BPI training who have only a surface understanding of what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve. The GCC Weatherization Installer course gives you a rock-solid foundation to be far better informed than the average weatherization worker by discussing in-depth the fundamentals of building science and training extensively with the techniques and materials used in the field. I highly recommend this course to anyone who works in, or who is contemplating working in, weatherization.”

Community needs are also addressed by the course according to Peter Wingate of Community Action’s Energy Services Program. Wingate said, “On the big picture – energy efficiency and weatherization is not going away. It’s always exciting to see new, clean, sustainable power generated through solar and wind applications. But the fact is, as a national, regional, and individual household strategy, nothing beats weatherization and residential energy efficiency. Weatherization will be around as long as we need to reduce carbon emissions, reduce reliance on foreign energy production, and keep energy dollars in our pockets.”

The weatherization trainings are just part of GCC’s commitment to the College’s Renewable Energy/Energy Efficiency educational programs. Dean for Community Education Bob Barba said, “We’ve worked hard with the administration and staff of FCTS right from the start to create these two specialized learning facilities on their campus. The work of that partnership is another reason we feel so strongly about the quality and relevance of these trainings. When educators from across the administration/faculty/staff spectrum from two distinct schools (secondary and post-secondary) work this hard on a project, it’s a testament to how important we think green-collar jobs are and will be for the energy efficiency sector in the coming decade.”

Each class meeting of the Weatherization Installer courses has a hands-on component, either using the props in the weatherization lab or going on field trips to see actual sites. The course goes well beyond the “how” of weatherization and covers the “why” of weatherization. Students learn about building science and how to analyze a situation to understand the particular needs of a house. Students work as a team with other members of the course, conduct an energy audit of a real house, and get an in-depth understanding of what an energy auditor does in diagnosing the problems in a house. On the house visit, students look for air leaks using diagnostic testing equipment such as a blower door and infrared camera. The site visit lessons also include customer service components.

There is no “typical” weatherization installer course student. Students who have taken these courses range from 18-year-olds fresh out of high school to older students up to 65 years old who want to learn something different. About half of the students have some experience in the construction industry. Homeowners take the course so they can do their own weatherization and insulation. The mix of students and working in teams means students share their knowledge and learn from each other.

Reflecting on how the course meets student needs, Corsa said “Most people take this course because they want to get a job. They can learn in a hands-on setting and can move forward in the energy industry. The course provides both short-term benefits for students in terms of immediately applicable practical job skills, and long-terms benefits in that it provides a foundation for future education and careers in the energy and construction industries, including jobs such as energy auditor, analyst, and architect, anything related to building and energy.”

For information about the Weatherization Installer Course, visit http://www.gcc.mass.edu/workforce-development/sustainable-energy/weatherization-installer-accelerated/ or contact Alex Floratos Sullivan at  floratosa@gcc.mass.edu or (413) 775-1660.

By Mary McClintock, ’82

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