A tidal wave of energy audits and weatherization upgrades are coming! Get ready.
Obama’s new plan to create jobs, save energy: Call it cash for caulkers?**
Reporting from Washington - Declaring that insulation is “sexy,” President Obama today pushed Congress to create a program giving homeowners cash incentives to improve their energy efficiency by replacing windows, caulking leaks and modernizing heaters and air conditioners.
He traveled to a Home Depot store in Alexandria, Va., to pitch a job-creation plan some have dubbed “cash for caulkers” – government incentives given directly to consumers to spur economic activity, similar to the popular “cash for clunkers” rebates that spurred a surge in auto sales last summer. Obama also held a roundtable at the store that included the chief executive of insulation-maker Owens Corning and a 23-year-old local contractor.
“I know the idea may not be very glamorous, although I get really excited about it. We were at the roundtable and somebody said, ‘Insulation’s not sexy.’ I disagree,” Obama told an audience that included Home Depot Chief Executive Frank Blake and workers from the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “Here’s what’s sexy about it: saving money.”
He said homes built in the first half of the 20th century use about 50% more energy than those built today. Much of the energy is wasted through leaky roofs and windows. Making homes more energy efficient not only will help the environment, but also will help homeowners save money and boost the economy.
“If you saw 20-dollar bills just sort of floating through the window up into the atmosphere, you’d try to figure out how you were going to keep that,” Obama said. "But that’s exactly what’s happening because of the lack of efficiency in our buildings.
“So what we want to do is create incentives that stimulate consumer spending, because folks buy materials from home-improvement stores like this one, which then buys them from manufacturers,” he said. “It spurs hiring because local contractors and construction workers do the installation. It saves consumers money, perhaps hundreds of dollars off their utility bills each year. And it reduces our energy consumption in the process.”
Such a program is among several “strategic surgical steps” Obama is pushing to help create jobs as the unemployment rate remains at 10% despite a return to economic growth after the deep recession. Obama sketched those ideas in a speech last week and added more detail to the “cash for caulkers” concept today.
Congress must create such a plan, as it did with “cash for clunkers.” Obama said that Owens Corning has seen an increase in exports of insulation to Australia after that country created a weatherization incentive program.
Obama joked that his trip to Home Depot would allow him to do some holiday shopping, such as “a few million energy-efficient light bulbs” for Energy Secretary Steven Chu and “something that will prevent leaks” for White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. But it was insulation that he focused on, saying incentives for consumers to buy it and other home weatherization material would be a “win-win” for the economy and the environment.
“We are going to generate so much business for you, Frank,” he told the Home Depot chief executive. "We are going to generate so much work for you guys, from LIUNA. We’re going to create . . . so many business opportunities for contractors here that over the course of the next several years, people are going to see this, I think, as an extraordinary opportunity, and it’s going to help America turn the corner when it comes to energy use.
“I’m excited about it. I hope you are, too,” Obama concluded. “See, I told you insulation is sexy.”