In December, at an event in a Virginia Home Depot, President Obama declared that “Insulation is Sexy.”
This was a follow-up to his earlier announcement of a Home Star or “Cash for Caulkers” initiative. (“Cash for Caulkers” may be a cute name riffing off of “Cash for Clunkers”, but Home Star is much more than caulk or caulkers and the CfC moniker is a bit misleading.)
Congress has taken up the idea and is exploring how to put meat on the bones. And rightly so. As the Boston Globe points out, this should be an immediate priority when Congress returns to session in a couple of weeks. It’s the right way to get the 17 percent of construction workers who are unemployed back on the payroll improving homes while also increasing our nation’s energy security and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. While GreenHomes continues to be busier than ever, that simply isn’t the case for most of the residential contracting and construction industry. Fortunately, Congress may have a good start on this in the form the REEP legislation introduced by Congressman Peter Welch earlier in 2009, elements of which were incorporated in both House and Senate energy and climate bills that seem to have stalled out.
It’s time to move forward with REEP under the Home Star banner and get construction workers, manufacturing workers making insulation, furnaces, windows, water heaters, and all the supporting industries back on the job full time.
The HOME STAR Program
As just mentioned, HOME STAR is intended to create jobs in existing industries using incentives for homeowners to retrofit homes to improve energy efficiency and lower energy use. The program will move quickly with a minimum of red tape and also act as a bridge to long term market development of existing industries and jobs.
HOME STAR provides two pathways to incentives and savings.
A SILVER STAR prescriptive path, what I call the a la carte approach, rewards the purchase and proper installation of specific energy saving equipment (like furnaces and water heaters), high performance major appliances (like refrigerators and washing machines), and very importantly, changes to a buildings envelope (like insulation and duct sealing). Incentives may range as high as $4,000. SILVER STAR provides a near term incentive that is simple to administer and easily introduced into the existing marketplace.
A GOLD STAR performance path offers an incentive to households that choose to conduct a comprehensive energy audit and then implement a variety of energy saving measures that together result in a total reduction in home energy use (and energy bills) of 20% or more. This lines up very well with the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program already on the ground in many states and localities and in development in many more (and I think taking advantage of ENERGY STAR makes a lot of sense here). The incentive is designed to provide greater rewards the deeper the energy savings—up to as much as $12,000 for projects that save more than 50% of a home’s energy use. The performance path represents the future of home efficiency: state‐of‐the‐art building science is used to deliver verifiable energy savings, generating confidence among homeowners and investors. GreenHomes is doing this today, but most of the market is lagging.
Both paths are subject to quality assurance to guarantee that jobs are done right and that advertised energy savings are realized, and to protect against waste, fraud and abuse. This system uses industry performance standards, such as those of the Building Performance Institute and includes a provision that a portion of all jobs are inspected by credentialed professionals, and offers an additional incentive to contractors that invest in a trained and certified workforce.
HOME STAR would breathe life into a still struggling economy and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs by skilled and trained home efficiency technicians and factory workers here in the U.S. We have great examples of how this both creates jobs and provides enormous benefits to consumers. The time to act is now.