The theoretical benefits of weatherizing a home – energy savings, greater comfort, smaller carbon footprint – are significant. But for many homeowners, so are the complexities of weatherization and the concerns about return on investment.
Soon, though, those complexities and concerns might be addressed by a new stimulus plan. As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote in his “Economic Scene” column on Wednesday, the White House is considering a program for 2010 that would help demystify weatherization for homeowners, help contractors market a new set of government incentives to weatherize, and create a rush to retrofit that, if things go really well, would echo the enthusiasm that greeted the Cash for Clunkers program.
Leonhardt points to two possible strategies for bringing such a program to life, one proposed by Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, the other by former President Bill Clinton. Doerr’s plan, known as Home Star (right, a play on Energy Star), calls for spending $23 billion over two years, with $6 billion allocated for homeowner incentives.
For example, homeowners who complete at least two significant weatherization projects from a list of 10 identified by the program (air sealing ducts, perhaps, or insulating walls or installing energy efficient appliances) would pay at least half the cost of the improvements but qualify for a government subsidy of as much as $2,000. Completion of four such projects would qualify for a subsidy of up to $3,500.
A subsidy of $4,000 (covering a maximum of half the project’s cost) would be available to homeowners whose weatherization improvements reduced energy consumption by at least 20%, with the subsidy increasing by up to $1,500 for each 5% increase in energy efficiency. About $2 billion would be set aside to audit the performance of participating homes’ improvements, and $3 billion would be used by contractors and retailers to help market the incentives and guide homeowners to the right set of retrofits.
The Clinton plan, which, Leonhardt notes, would apply to both residential and commercial improvement projects, would reallocate clean-energy money from the stimulus bill that has not yet been spent and would offer building owners a fixed set of climate-appropriate improvements designed specifically for buildings in their region. This plan also includes a financing program that would attach the loan payments to the upgraded property’s tax bill, working in much the same way as the bond-funded Property Assessed Clean Energy program has been working for dozens of municipalities and many states (PACE was adopted this week by the state of New York).
A 2010 option
It’s too early to tell whether either plan – or elements of both – might eventually be proposed by the Obama administration. But Leonhardt points to a comment made to him by White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who said a new weatherization stimulus program is “one of the top things” Obama is considering.
Simplifying weatherization for consumers is an interesting challenge, especially since energy efficiency improvements can include such a wide range of solutions and prices, from replacing light bulbs to insulating walls and upgrading HVAC systems. Weatherization’s prominence in the news, though, has helped highlight some of the consternation and money concerns homeowners face, and government agencies are at least attempting to respond appropriately.
Case in point: the Environmental Protection Agency recently unveiled a website designed to help homeowners and renters sort through the long list of possible energy efficiency improvements, sustainable-materials purchases, and new-home construction choices they might make. The site – whose pages link to other sites offering more-detailed information – does a fair amount of hand-holding, and makes the point that no weatherization job is too small to be ignored. Even if means just installing a low-flow showerhead or replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs.