Inside UNC Charlotte -- August 2012 -- SWIFT

Uploaded by unccharlottevideo on 31.07.2012

>> Stephen Ward:
The Streamlined Weatherization Improvements for Tomorrow Project, or SWIFT for short.
Let’s take a look inside this Department of Energy-funded initiative to weatherize
low-income homes in North Carolina, led by UNC Charlotte professors Thomas Gentry and
Rob Cox, SWIFT may well become a national model for making homes more energy efficient.
>> Robert Cox:
The weatherization assistance program, which is called the WAP, has been around about 30-35
years, and as you might guess over that time, there’s been a lot of changes in housing
and the technology that goes into housing.
So, the US Department of Energy put out an RFP for a program called WIP, which is Weatherization
Innovation Pilot Program, and have organizations develop a new weatherization program which
is what we’ve submitted our SWIFT program, which stands for Streamlined Weatherization
Improvements for Tomorrow, there’s a lot of acronyms involved in this industry.
We were one of the 16 grantees chosen to be funded for this project and the only academic
institution to receive funding for this.
Ours tends to be fairly heavy in terms of the research.
We’re focusing on both the technology and in education for the homeowners.
Our goal is to weatherize 800 low income houses throughout North Carolina.
Those are actually served more as basically our laboratory in terms of developing the
program and evaluating the program so there’s the community service component actually doing
the work but in terms of the research it’s what we’re doing in those houses that we’re
looking at.
The educational component has got a couple different facets to it.
We’re installing real-time power monitors in the house so that the homeowner can actually
see how they’re using energy in the house.
We have two basic types of partners.
We have the leverage partners and the reason why we have them is that DOE strongly requested
that for every federal dollar that we spend on the project that we leverage 3 dollars
in funds or in-kind services.
So the leverage partners include Lowe’s Home Improvement Center who has given us a
substantial discount on the materials, North Carolina Housing Finance Agency which is providing
forgivable loans to the homeowners, and Habitat for Humanity, they’re providing volunteer
labor, access to homeowners to some of their staff time.
They are a big part of the project.
So, those are our leverage partners.
They were providing devices at a discount.
And then we have our small business partners which are the contractors that are in this
There are a couple favorite parts of the projects; working with the homeowners is great.
Every once in a while it gets frustrating with all of the bureaucracy and everything
else you go through and you kind of question, why am I doing this?
Then you sit down and work with the homeowners and it’s like wow this is really kind of
a great experience because they genuinely are appreciative.
And then the research side of it.
It’s a lot of fun to just be able to come up with an idea and then play with it and
see how it really does have opportunities to improve people’s lives.
>> Melissa West:
In these Habitat neighborhoods all of the homes are kind of clustered together.
So we went through door to door basically trying to get people involved and get the
word out that this project was going on and we were just walking through the neighborhood
and a homeowner came out of her house, I think they were actually leaving to go somewhere,
it was a Saturday, so they were leaving to go somewhere and she kind of came running
out wanting to know what was going on and got really excited so she would be at our
community meetings and you know she was just really excited about it.
We need people like that in the neighborhood to kind of to help us to spread the word to
their community leaders is kind of how we're looking at them so they’re kind of our liaison
between the University and the neighborhoods themselves.
The most interesting part of this project to me is kind of where our lifestyle choices
meet technology and how it’s really a balance of the two.
We’re educating these homeowners on how to effectively or efficiently use this technology
in their home that will help them conserve energy and lower their energy bills every
>> Robert Cox:
So a lot of my past research focuses on energy monitoring and how energy data can be used
to be able to detect problems in systems and to be able to figure out where energy efficiency
is a problem and a lot of our previous work has been focused on military customers or
commercial buildings, some residential cases.
In applications in the residential space for energy monitoring it’s been a hard time
for a lot of companies who’ve tried to get into that really because it focuses on niche
customers who don’t see a lot of value in it.
One of the things that we’re really trying to do through this project is to figure out
how we give homeowners the information they need to make smarter energy decisions.
For the low income customers it’s a huge deal and that’s one of the things that’s
been very positive about this program, so we’re trying to use the research that we’ve
done to be able to figure out how to best interact with these homeowners.
As we look at it we can focus on passive methods for improving the house and we do that by
air sealing and insulating and things like that, basics.
Then what we want to do is be able to go that last mile and figure out how we extract more
The easiest way to do that would be to make a smart house, but that’s expensive, so
the alternative is to install the energy monitor and be able to give people the right information
to make good decisions in that case we’re trying to make a smart house by making a smart
homeowner and that’s one of the big things we’re trying to do through this project.