Why is Obama at Home Depot? To get cash for caulkers going.

President Obama's stop at Home Depot shows that if 'cash for caulkers' is going to get off the ground, the government has to get at least three groups to buy in.

Ron Sachs/UPI
President Obama speaks at a meeting on the economic impact of energy-saving home retrofits with labor, manufacturing, and small business leaders at a Home Depot store in Alexandria, Va.. The president's 'cash for caulkers' program needs wide buy-in in order to be successful.

President Obama's stop at a Home Depot in northern Virginia on Tuesday was another step toward building the wide-ranging coalition he needs to build if he wants to realize his plans for a "green" jobs push. The Home Depot stop was in conjunction with a meeting between labor, manufacturing and small-business leaders the same day.

His program, which would be formally dubbed Homestar but called in some circles "cash for caulkers," is aimed at spurring homeowners to retrofit their homes with energy-efficient technologies. The White House aims to offer $23 billion in incentives for everything from weatherization to new doors and windows.

These enticements will only work, many analysts believe, if the package can appeal to contractors and retailers as well as homeowners.

First, retailers need to have some incentive to stock energy-efficient appliances above and beyond current demand, advocates say, in order to make sure consumers have solutions close at hand.

Second, homeowners need to have a sweetener – such as government paying up to half the cost – to buy the appliances, which are often more expensive than conventional models. If customers can't make that first, straight-forward step toward energy efficiency, they won't move on to larger projects, says Larry Zarker, CEO of the Building Performance Institute,.

"You may not always be able to buy [a comprehensive retrofit]; you may just start with some basics, but what contractors can give is a road map," says Mr. Zarker, whose group accredits green contractors. "Then the homeowner can say 'I’ll come back and pick up the second and third and fourth things later on.' But at least they get the road map."

Third, contractors need to be accredited. Without strong accreditation standards, the program could fizzle if consumers don't see first hand the benefits of retrofitting their homes, supporters say.

"We can’t afford many stories of people who paid for work and didn’t save any money," says Kevin Pranis, research director for the labor coalition Change to Win’s Green Economy Project. "We think the top priority is that you’re using an entirely certified workforce, so that everyone who goes in a home knows what they are doing and you know they know what they are doing because they go through a test."

In the long run, the program will rely on worker-training programs, innovative financing techniques and, the administration hopes, the success of the program's first stages to carry it through.

The outcome could make a difference in America's dependence on fossil fuels and its correlating carbon output, to say nothing of generating new jobs. Since 2006, some 1.6 million construction industry workers have been let go, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates. They would be prime candidates for retraining and rehiring under a "cash for caulkers" program.

Whether the program gets to this point will be decided in part by how widely the program is supported.

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As part of the President's broader jobs initiative, the green retrofitting program aims to jump-start a largely new American industry. With 1.6 million construction industry employees let go since 2006, Americans with related jobs could see a boom in hiring and long-term employment prospects.