'Cash for Caulkers' aims to make Americans greener at home
The White House and business leaders team up to craft a program to encourage energy efficient home improvements.
Latasha Pittman’s life was becoming one no after the other.Skip to next paragraph
Why It Matters
Budget-strapped Americans face both an urge to lower their utility bills and a lack of resources to make "green" home improvements. The Home Star, or "Cash for Caulkers," program aims to bridge that gap. What do you think of the program? Let us know on Twitter.
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No job. No way to get by without welfare for herself and five children. And, increasingly it seemed, no way out.
Then Ms. Pittman took an unexpected turn. She enrolled in a three-week home-retrofitting training program and now is pounding down door sweeps and sealing windows to make homes more energy efficient in and around her hometown of Mendenhall, Miss. When her government assistance runs out in March, she won’t need it anymore.
“I never thought that I would be able to afford [health] insurance,” says the former nurse’s assistant. “This program made it possible for me and my family to strive on our own.”
It’s part of what green-sector business leaders call the “triple win” from a national home-retrofit proposal. By making American homes more energy efficient, the program would create more jobs, offer energy savings to consumers, and lower carbon emissions. The Obama administration has teamed up with green-sector entrepreneurs to craft a vision for a program that Congress could enact later this year. Officially, the plan is called Home Star, but it’s also quickly becoming known as “cash for caulkers.”
Despite its simple appeal, the plan faces a number of practical hurdles.
During a late December lunch with business leaders to discuss the proposal, President Obama asked that the end document be “simple, quick, but effective,” said Steve Cowell, CEO of Conservation Services Group in Westborough, Mass. For Mr. Cowell and other energy-saving proponents, that means grappling with two tough challenges: how to get homeowners to buy into the program and how to build a nationwide industry, complete with training and accreditation, from a disparate collection of state and local programs.
Two kinds of subsidies
To attract homeowners, Home Star will offer two tracks of incentives. The first, “Silver Star,” track subsidizes the purchase of services, like roof installation, as well as products, like efficient windows and furnaces. The incentives will be designed to get homeowners and businesses to try the program.
The second, “Gold Star,” track offers incentives tied to overall reductions in a home’s energy usage. A 20 percent reduction in energy output would be eligible for $3,500 in rebates, with each 5 percent of additional energy savings adding $1,500 in incentives. The government would fund no more than 50 percent of any project’s total cost.
Gold Star’s bigger financial incentives are aimed at getting larger energy savings, treating a home as a system rather than as disparate parts, says Matt Golden, president of a San Francisco-based home-retrofitting firm and a leading player in creating the program. “We need to make sure the investments that we’re making right now will be sustainable and will have a long-term impact.”