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"Cash for Caulkers" a Pretty Good Idea

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on November 25, 2009
In a recent blog post, I wrote about what it takes to become certified as a Building Analyst through the Building Performance Institute (BPI) (“Am I certifiable?”). A BPI certification or becoming a certified HERS (home energy rating system) rater through the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) are the most recognized ways to enter the home performance marketplace.

But in several blogs I read on a regular basis and in conversations with building analysts and HERS raters, I’ve found a lot of frustration, even anger, at the slow pace of the economic recovery. Here’s a typical response: “I bought the tools and put time and money into training, but where are the jobs? ” Being certified as a Building Analyst will no doubt make me a better writer and editor. But for thousands of men and women, being certified and finding work in the home performance field is a matter of economic survival.

The problem right now is financing. Who has the money to spend on a home energy upgrade nowadays? The costs can run anywhere from about $2,000 to over $10,000. Municipal governments all over the country are experimenting with financing mechanisms for home energy retrofits—the city pays for the retrofits and recovers its costs through an increase in property taxes, for example. The city of Babylon, New York, charges building owners a tax on carbon emissions, and uses this as seed money to do retrofits. But all these efforts so far have not brought about the expected increase in “green jobs.”

This may soon change. Heard of the “Cash for Caulkers” program? This is the nickname for HOME STAR, a program to provide incentives for homeowners to upgrade their homes to be more energy efficient, healthy, and affordable to live in. The program was born in the minds of private sector advisors, including the Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr; members of Efficiency First, a national advocacy group started in the San Francisco Bay Area; and others. On November 2, the group presented its ideas at a meeting of the Presidents Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Word on the street is that the plan has the support of the President.

The HOME STAR program would reimburse homeowners for a list of qualified home energy retrofits such as air sealing, insulation, and new, energy efficient lights and appliances. Homeowners would get up to $2,000 for making two upgrades, and up to $3,500 for four upgrades. Homeowners who decrease their energy use by more than 20% would get more money. The government would cover up to half of the costs of a project, and homes would be audited at random to ensure quality work and real energy savings.

So what would taxpayers get for an expected investment of $23 billion over two years? The projected outcome of the program is 500,000 well paying jobs in the depressed construction industry; close to 6-million homes retrofit; billions of dollars in energy savings over the life of the retrofit measures; power plants that don’t have to be built; and according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the equivalent in green house gas emissions reduction of taking half the cars in the country off the road.

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