'Cash for Caulkers': What home improvements would be eligible?

Cash for Caulkers, which home-owners could tap for government rebates of as much as $8,000 if signed, covers a range of energy-efficient home upgrades.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Rep. Henry Waxman, (D) of California, surrounded by Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts and Rep. Peter Welch (D) of Vermont, discussed 'Cash for Caulkers,' the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, at a news conference Thursday in Washington.

“Cash for Caulkers” is the nickname of the Home Star Energy Efficiency bill, which the House approved Thursday. But the legislation covers much more than weather sealants. What sorts of things would be eligible for government rebates if “Cash for Caulkers” becomes law?

Eligible retrofits include pretty much anything that blocks entry of cold (or hot) air into a house. That includes sealants, foams, gaskets, weather stripping, mastics, and lots of other similar items on sale now in an aisle of your favorite Do It Yourself home repair store.

Attic and wall insulation are eligible – though they have to meet certain standards outlined in the bill. For instance, crawl space insulation has to cover at least 500 square feet if Uncle Sam is going to help cover its cost.

Window replacements are eligible, but at least eight windows, or 75 percent of a home’s exterior windows and skylights, have to be included in the replacement effort, according to the bill’s fine print.

Storm windows and window film are eligible, too. But again, they have to cover most of the glass area of the home in question. (Standards would be lower for historic homes, for all you folks who live in drafty Victorians.)

Door replacements are included as well – and you only have to swap out one.

New furnaces and heat pumps are eligible. But they have to meet efficiency criteria which are pretty complicated. Consult your contractor. (Remember, the bill is not law yet – it has a long ways to go.)

Air conditioners? Water heaters? Other similar energy-saving appliances. Yes, yes, and yes.

Under the House bill, consumers would have two ways of tapping into “Cash for Caulkers” money.

Under the “Silver Star” program, they would get rebates totaling up to $3,000 for energy efficiency house retrofits. Cash would be limited to 50 percent of total project cost, however. Individual appliances would be eligible for rebates of $250.

Under the “Gold Star” program, homeowners would be eligible for a $3,000 rebate if they conduct a whole-house energy analysis and install stuff that increases their overall energy efficiency by 20 percent. Plus, they’d be eligible for an additional $1,000 rebate for each further five-percent efficiency improvement, up to a grand total maximum top line of $8,000 in government cash.

Consumers would access this money via discounts or rebates given by contractors or stores at point of sale. These vendors would then turn around and apply to the government for the actual federal funds.

But don’t go rushing out to Home Depot this weekend. The bill has only passed the House. The Senate must pass similar legislation, and President Obama would have to sign it, before it becomes law.

Plus – and you figured this might be coming – they haven’t really figured out how to pay for it yet. The bill would cost $5.7 billion over two years, according to House estimates. But under a Republican-backed provision passed by the entire House, Congress must find an offsetting reduction (or tax increase) somewhere else to pay for this effort.

State rebate programs for energy-efficient appliances have been wildly popular. in a matter of hours, residents of Massachusetts crashed the website of a program that gave away $8 million in energy-efficiency rebates last month. The same thing happened in Minnesota and Iowa.


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