Speeding up Weatherization: Michigan’s Solution

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The GAO has documented that almost 90 percent of homes set to be weatherized are subject to historical preservation review. Whether or not they had that startling number in front of them, officials in Michigan’s  State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) saw that they were confronting an enormous obstacle to getting weatherization money out. In Michigan alone, 34,000 homes would be affected and would need review.

Historic Linton Hall on the MSU campus

“Neither the Department of Energy nor the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation were giving guidance on how to handle this,” says Martha MacFarlane-Faes, Michigan’s Environmental Review Coordinator. But solutions needed to be found, and they were, through a collaboration between the State Historical Preservation Office, its Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Development.

What emerged is an interdepartmental agreement that slices the number of buildings that need to be reviewed by SHPO staff by 80%. One big move was a matter of simple common sense. With limited staff available, the decision was reached to skip review on homes needed relatively minor work (caulking or weather-stripping, for instance).

Similarly, the decision was made that if a house wasn’t so old, there was little likelihood it would be evaluated as historical. “If you are in a 1970’s building,” MacFarlane-Faes says, “we aren’t interested.” This seems like simple common sense. But such common sense can easily fall by the wayside in complying with complex directives. And it didn’t here.

What’s more, the whole matter impelled the state to digitize SHPO review processes. “We have been relying on snail mail,” explains MacFarlane-Faes. “That can take two or three weeks and that delays things right there.” In June, the new digital system will allow construction teams to submit review applications (a description and a photo of the structure) electronically. In time, having everything digital might also help the office perform more sophisticated analyses of historic homes and districts.

“There has been added emphasis on upgrading technology because of Governor Granholm’s commitment to efficiently distributing ARRA funds in Michigan,” says McFarlane-Faes, “Without her backing, I’m not sure we would have been able to do it in a timely manner, if at all.”

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