'Home Star' program to plug home energy retrofits

Nicknamed Cash for Caulkers, a program designed to jump-start home efficiency retrofits is backed by a coalition of companies, contractors, and advocacy groups.

You heard of Cash for Clunkers. Get ready for Cash for Caulkers, a proposed multibillion program designed to create jobs and give homeowners lower energy bills.

Representatives from building efficiency advocacy groups on Friday held a "Webinar" to outline the Home Star program--nicknamed Cash for Caulkers--and said that its prospects for becoming a law should be known within several weeks. A Home Star Coalition has been formed, which includes large retailers Home Depot and Lowes, equipment suppliers such as Dow and GE appliances, along with energy-efficiency contractors, labor groups, and environmental advocacy groups.

Part of a comprehensive energy audit is a blower door test, which measures how air tight a home is by measuring air flow at a given air pressure. Martin LaMonica/CNET

For homeowners, the proposed legislation provides incentives to weatherize homes and upgrade to more efficient lighting or heating and cooling systems.

It will be structured on two levels--silver and gold--depending on the level of investment made, said Matt Golden, the chair of the EfficiencyFirst advocacy group and the CEO of home energy-efficiency company Recurve, on Friday.

To get up to $2,000 in tax credits for an energy efficiency retrofit, a homeowner needs to do at least two approved improvements and work with contractors that meet certain "basic standards," said Golden, adding that Home Star is designed to fit with the EPA's Home Performance EnergyStar standards and state programs.

The gold level involves having a building's energy "performance" rated by contractors accredited by the Building Performance Institute. The more stringent performance goals, which could reduce a building's energy consumption on the order of 20 percent, would be eligible for up to $4,000 of tax credits, according to the description on the EfficiencyFirst Web site.

The intent of Home Star (click for PDF) is to create jobs in the short term, either through training or creating demand for home efficiency products and services. But given the amount of money being discussed and its standards-based approach, Home Star has the potential to be "transformative" in the building efficiency industry , Golden said. "This is a moment in time where we are going to have a foundation to drive a strong industry," he said.

President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which includes venture capitalist and green-tech investor John Doerr, has endorsed the plan as it meets economic and environmental goals, Golden noted. There's also the potential to create demand for green building products: among some of Home Star Coalition members is Serious Materials, a Silicon Valley company that makes energy-efficiency building products, including windows and sheet rock that's manufactured in a relatively low-polluting way.

Golden cautioned that Home Star is not yet law. But it does have clear support from President Obama, who has touted the benefits of home weatherization many times and called insulation "sexy" during a Home Depot visit last month.

 

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