Cash for Caulkers: The Next $23 Billion Stimulus Program?

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Photo via Britannica

It's pretty safe to say that there's been only one stimulus bill story that truly resounded with the public: Cash for Clunkers. Whether or not that program truly achieved its green MO or boosted the economy in the long run, there's no denying that it was popular and attention-grabbing. Now, the Obama administration is looking for a way to turn heads in a similar fashion. A prime contender, advocated by top venture capitalists and the likes of Bill Clinton, is tentatively being called "Cash for Caulkers"--a program that would reward people for weatherizing their homes. Cash for . . . Home Weatherization?
Like Clunkers, the idea is to simultaneously help the economy and the environment--this time by making incentives for people to hire workers to make their homes more energy efficient. Lower electricity bills, less emissions created, and more jobs--win, win, win.

There's no doubt that it's an intriguing idea, and one that Rahm Emanuel has publicly said is one of Obama's top considerations for the next stimulus program. With hundreds of thousands of construction and maintenance workers jobless at the moment, it could be a huge shot in the arm to the building industry. But since it still exists merely in proposal form, there still varying ideas of how a Cash for Caulkers program would work.

Incentivizing the Weatherizing
There are two different plans currently under consideration. According to the New York Times, the first, recommended by green venture capitalist John Doerr, would "cost $23 billion over two years. Most of the money would go for incentive payments, generally $2,000 to $4,000, for weatherization projects. The homeowner would always have to pay at least 50 percent of the project's total cost." An additional $3 billion would be set aside for marketing and promoting the program.


The second, championed by Bill Clinton, would take funding out of the already existing pool for renewable energy stimulus and use it to incentivize weatherization on not only homes and apartments but commercial and industrial buildings too. It also makes deciding whether or not weatherizing is worth the cost easier on the homeowners:

Perhaps most intriguing is its proposal to help homeowners and building owners who are nervous they will end up selling their property before a weatherization project has paid for itself. Under the Clinton plan, they could add the project's cost to their long-term property tax bill, effectively splitting the cost with the next owner. The New York State Legislature approved such a program on Monday.
Which makes sense--you're going to be saving your home's subsequent tennants money in the long run, after all.

Ready them Caulkers
Either way it's cut, this is an idea well worth getting behind--though I'd rather not see any funding pulled from the renewable energy pool, and getting commercial and industrial buildings on board is a must, as it would mean bigger projects and more jobs. It's doubtful if the program would make as much of a splash as Cash for Clunkers did, if only because it's much easier to get people excited about new cars than it is about putting in insulation.

But the reach of 'Caulkers' could be much larger and more meaningful--it could employ more people faster, and could eventually seriously cut US energy consumption. This is going to be one to watch.

More on Green Stimulus Programs
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The Stimulus Bill Tax Credit Guide: Great Green Stuff Obama Will Help You Buy
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