How Federal Government Wants to Help Homeowners Get Green Retrofits

Photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a house near Boston MassachusettsPhoto: Gray Watson

My husband and I recently closed on a new house and we are very excited about making our new home an energy efficient, and possibly energy generating, green home of the 21st century. The potential is there – a roof pitched perfectly for solar panels, older appliances that can be replaced with more energy efficient models, and an unfinished basement that can be weatherized. We also could install solar powered lamps along the long driveway and front walkway, buy a solar cover for the pool, and maybe even add a solar powered fountain for the yard!

There are small projects homeowners can do to make their homes more energy efficient such as insulating pipes, installing ceiling fans, and changing light bulbs, but did you know that the federal government wants to help you do even more? The Obama administration has invested $80 billion dollars in Recovery Act funding for increasing the energy efficiency of homes and buildings. The federal program incentivizes energy retrofits for homes, businesses, municipalities, and schools while at the same time growing the green energy economy.

The White HousePhoto: G. Keith Douce, University of Georgia, United States

On Earth Day, the White House announced that $425 million of the $80 billion was being awarded to 25 cities and other entities to ‘ramp up’ implementation of the energy efficiency programs and incentives at the local level. The U.S. Department of Energy is administering the grants which are being used by awardees for programs such as: leveraging private funds for energy efficiency programs; scaling up green industry; subsidizing the cost of home energy audits; creating green jobs and training programs; creating models of collaboration between government, industry, and power companies; and creating financing mechanisms for home and commercial retrofits.

The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) is one of the twenty-five awardees. The agency is using its $40 million dollar grant to create funding mechanisms for home retrofits and weatherization. The reason why better financing mechanisms are needed in NY and elsewhere is because many homeowners are concerned about the upfront costs of the work and getting a good return on their investment. Retrofit financing programs may enable homeowners to obtain low cost financing, roll loans into property tax bills and mortgages, and obtain rebates. To read about NYSERDA’s and other grant recipients’ plans click here.

Solar Panels All Done!Photo: clownfish

Pending federal Home Star legislation will create an an additional incentive and rebate program for home retrofits. The federal Energy Star program provides tax credits for the installation of energy efficient appliances, doors, caulking, and other products. Home Star also will provide credits and other incentives for major home retrofit work. One of the stated goals of the proposed program is to create retrofit industry jobs and strengthen a weak manufacturing industry. It is being modeled as a market driven program that will benefit private industry and consumers alike. Home Star has passed the House and now must pass the Senate.

The Obama administration is committed to developing a clean energy economy which could potentially help the U.S. rebound from a crushing recession and lessen its dependence on fossil fuels. A clean energy economy will create green collar jobs and new training programs for American workers. The energy efficiency program also is supporting a culture shift in how Americans think about and use energy. Many property owners want to reduce their buildings’ carbon footprint but need support to do so. Retrofit incentives and other energy efficiency programs help property owners act on their sense of obligation to the environment while also saving them money. Seems like a recipe for success to me – we’ll see.

Read more:
This Old House: 15 Green Projects for Under $500
White House ‘Recovery Through Retrofit’ Report
U.S. Department of Energy Press Release on Retrofit Ramp-Up Awards

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