The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act (H.R. 5019), commonly referred to as Cash for Caulkers, was recently approved 246-161 by the House and is now making its way to the Senate. The program aims to establish an innovative rebate system for projects undertaken to improve energy efficiency in homes. Sponsors of the program are hopeful that if passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, Home Star would create 168,000 construction, manufacturing and retail related jobs in the United States.
This is key as the construction industry has suffered significantly, with an unemployment figure of around 25 percent. This figure is high compared to the general rate which is about 9.5 percent. Job creation is a major component of Home Star, as green building jobs cannot be outsourced and 90 percent of the energy saving products in the program are manufactured in the United States, according to a press release from Congressman Stupak’s (D-MI) office.
So how can homeowners cash in on this program? The bill would fund two types of consumer incentives. The Silver Star program would provide for up-front rebates of up to $3,000 for retrofits that include things like insulation, duct sealing, windows and doors, air sealing and water heaters. The Gold Star program would provide homeowners with up to $8,000 for conducting comprehensive energy audits and for substantially reducing the energy use in one’s home.
In a March 2010 article, Tracey Samuelson indicates that the more complicated energy retrofits could take a while since contractors will need training and have to be certified by the Building Performance Institute. Currently there are between 1,000 to 3,000 contractors who are certified for gold level retrofitting, but in some cases homeowners might have to wait for energy audits and major retrofit projects. The lag shouldn’t last more than two to three months before enough contractors are trained.
This program has some clear advantages, including building value in homes, creating real jobs and stimulating a movement centered around better energy efficiency investments in the United States. With the economy still trying to find stable footing, this program will help spur job creation for contractors, construction related manufacturers and for those companies producing building materials.
President Obama has touted this effort as neither a Republican nor a Democratic bill, but as a “common sense” approach. This doesn’t mean that there still won’t be some wrangling. Although the House passed the bill and the Senate is expected to show its support as well, the question of how to fund this estimated $6 billion program lingers.
Hopefully, once Home Star is approved, Congress can begin consideration of the Building Star program, which has been proposed in the Senate and includes rebates and tax incentives for existing commercial and multi-family building retrofits. This program would cover about 30 percent of the cost of energy related equipment and services, including audits, building envelope insulation, mechanical equipment upgrades, lighting and energy management and monitoring equipment.
The renewed and timely focus on home and building retrofits is essential for a variety of reasons. Economically, retrofit-based incentives will create jobs needed in the ailing market due to the recession. Environmentally, retrofits help to reduce the amount of energy consumed in this country. Furthermore, those individuals that retrofit their structures will realize long term economic benefits in the form of lower energy bills, even as electricity rates may increase.
Energy-efficiency is the new buzz word.