By last fall, when the White House proposed a weatherization program whose financial incentives would be available to all homeowners in the U.S., most consumers had become at least generally familiar with the benefits of making a home more energy efficient and the broader economic benefits of programs that, once they get rolling, can create jobs.
Coverage of the vastly expanded Weatherization Assistance Program, which is aimed exclusively at low-income households, helped with that. And now legislative action on the administration’s new proposal – the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, aka the “Cash for Caulkers” program – has weatherization in the news again. And all for the good. The House of Representatives passed the bill, 246-161, on Wednesday, and it now awaits action in the Senate. Twelve House Republicans joined the Democratic majority in voting for the measure, but also managed to add a provision that requires Congress to fund the two-year $5.7 billion program through budget cuts, new sources of revenue, or a combination of the two.
As noted in a post by Peter Yost, BuildingGreen LLC’s Director of Technical Services, Home Star has two levels of participation, Silver Star and Gold Star. The former is a “quick start” program offering upfront rebates of as much as $3,000 (or up to 50% of the total project cost, whichever comes first) for certain energy efficient measures such as the installation of new insulation, air sealing, windows and doors, and energy efficient appliances (including furnaces and water heaters).
Gold Star, meanwhile, is a whole-house retrofit option that offers up to $8,000 (or up to 50% of the total project cost, whichever comes first) for comprehensive energy efficiency audits and upgrades to various performance levels: $3,000 for modeled savings of 20%, plus $1,000 for each additional 5% of modeled energy savings. Audits are handled by contractors certified by Building Performance Institute and/or Residential Energy Services Network, although only BPI-certified contractors are authorized to do Gold Star retrofits.
The program requires an inspection rate of 20% for Silver Star projects, 15% for Gold Star projects, although the inspection requirement for Gold Star projects is reduced if the participating contractor’s entire retrofit team meets certain certification requirements.
A substantial market
Home Star subsidies can be collected in addition to existing credits or subsidies for energy efficiency upgrades at the state or federal level, including the energy tax credit of up to $1,500 that was included in last year’s economic stimulus act and runs through the end of 2010.
An Associated Press story on the bill notes that its supporters, which include the home-performance trade group Efficiency First, estimate that 3 million households would make use of the new program, saving $9.2 billion in energy costs over a 10-year period. Supporters estimate Home Star would create 168,000 jobs, mainly in the recession-hit construction industry.
In a press release, Efficiency First policy chairman Matt Golden said that the bipartisan passage of the bill “shows how when industry, labor, business and environmental groups cooperate, we can find solution for America. Home Star will create hundreds of thousands of good quality jobs, while saving families money on energy bills.”
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