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Obama pitches 'cash for caulkers'

Would a proposed federal program prompt you to weatherize your house?

By Karen Datko Dec 15, 2009 4:51PM

Regular readers here know that budgets are sexy. Now insulation is, too -- according to the president.


President Obama held a roundtable at a Home Depot to push "cash for caulkers," then addressed a larger crowd at the store that included Home Depot CEO Frank Blake, union members and other folks. According to The Los Angeles Times, he said:

We were at the roundtable and somebody said, "Insulation's not sexy." I disagree. Here's what's sexy about it: saving money.

That is sexy, and so is the thought of being toasty warm when it’s beyond frigid outside -- without a budget-busting power bill. (The high here is supposed to be 15 degrees today -- a vast improvement over the previous 24 hours.) Congress would have to approve the cash for caulkers program, officially called Home Star, but here’s how it might work.  (For more details, read this post by David Leonhardt at The New York Times’ Economix.)

  • A homeowner would hire a contractor to perform an energy audit and do necessary work to improve a home’s energy efficiency. Note: Some utility companies offer free energy audits and some reimburse customers for part of the cost.
  • Once the work is done, the federal government would reimburse the homeowner for up to 50% of the cost.

The program would be the third rung in a major emphasis on energy efficiency that began with the economic stimulus plan passed early this year. The government is already offering tax credits for certain home energy improvements, as well as the “cash for clunkers” program for major appliances.

How do you find a contractor to evaluate your weatherization needs and do the work? You don’t want some fly-by-night outfit. This article at The New York Times has many valuable suggestions.


The offshoot: Jobs are created, greenhouse gases are reduced, and we’re saving money on the power bill. All told, that’s pretty attractive.


Would the extra help from the government spur you to, say, improve the insulation in your attic? We already have one basement insulation project in mind that we’ve put off because of the cost. An incentive from Uncle Sam would spur us to action.


Some aren’t so sure. Daniel Indiviglio at The Atlantic said that unlike the original and hugely popular “cash for clunkers” program, where your payments for a new car could be stretched over several years, people would have to pay up front for something a lot less sexy than a brand new vehicle. And what about renters, like him? Why are they left out?


He wrote:

The average American consumer has a notoriously short attention span and isn't fiscally responsible enough to much care about saving a few hundred dollars per year if it costs them thousands up front. If they were, these weatherization projects would already be wildly popular.

Related reading:

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