Coming Soon: Cash for Caulkers

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You can now start to consider some home renovations (or at least think about buying a new air conditioner). Last night in a 246-161 vote, the House passed the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act, a $5.7 billion economic stimulus bill that would give rebates for energy-saving home improvements.

The purpose of this bill, affectionately dubbed “Cash for Caulkers,” is two-fold: Stimulate sales in the construction industry while promoting energy efficiency and other green initiatives.

Those opposed to the bill cite one major problem.  

"This is not a terribly bad bill, but it has one fatal flaw: It is not paid for," Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, top Republican on the energy committee, told The Associated Press.

As a result of this complaint, a measure was added to terminate the bill if it’s found to drive up the federal deficit. Supporters (i.e. Democrats) maintain they will find a way to fund the program when the bill goes to the Senate this summer.

Cash for Caulkers is similar in theory to last year’s Car Allowance Rebate System (more commonly known as Cash for Clunkers), which offered monetary incentives to car buyers who traded in their gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles.  While the program’s environmental effects were minimal (most swaps resulted in only marginally better fuel consumption rates), Cash for Clunkers did successfully boost auto sales.     

Under Cash for Caulkers, consumers would get rebates for home improvements that include air sealing, duct sealing and attic, wall and crawl space insulation. They can also get some cash for replacing windows, doors, furnaces, air conditioners, heat pumps, water heaters and other appliances.

But the big money comes from massive energy-efficient overhauls. Renovators who perform a complete energy analysis on their home and install technology that improves the unit’s energy efficiency by 20% are eligible for a $3,000 rebate. Each additional 5% increase earns an additional $1,000. Consumers can receive a maximum rebate of $8,000, but their rebate cannot surpass more than 50% of the actual project. (This is great news for the solar business, whose $35,000 - $80,000 panels, already subsidized up to 50% by utility companies, would qualify homeowners for the maximum rebate.)

Meeting the bill’s requirements shouldn’t be a problem as energy analyses, and the resulting installations, are expensive. The audit itself can cost anywhere from $800 to $3,000 depending on the size of the house. But the argument is, obviously, that once adjustments are made to your home, you’ll save in the long run.      

Supporters of the bill estimate that, should it pass, Cash for Caulkers will reduce homeowner energy costs by $20 billion over 10 years. They, like you, just need to find a way to pay for it.

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