First there was Energy Star, the government program that encourages consumers to purchase energy-efficient appliances and live in more energy-efficient homes.

Then came “Cash for Clunkers,” the government program (part of the Recovery Act) to get drivers to replace their gas guzzlers with more fuel-efficient vehicles. In a single month this fall, consumers bought nearly 677,000 vehicles under this incentive, according to

Now, remodelers, get ready for the newest star in the government’s stimulate-the-economy constellation: Home Star, also known as “Cash for Caulkers.”

Over the course of two years, the proposed program would allocate roughly $23 billion to encourage homeowners to seal their ducts, insulate their attics and basements, install programmable thermostats, and otherwise retrofit leaky homes in relatively minor ways that can greatly reduce energy use.

“Cash for Caulkers” is big news today because word came out, via the The New York Times and other outlets, that President Obama is keenly interested in the concept as a tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs -- perhaps as many as 500,000 jobs of the type that can’t be outsourced. “It’s one of the top things he’s looking at," said Rahm Emanuel, the President's chief of staff, to the Times.

As the paper reported,

John Doerr, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and former President Bill Clinton have separately suggested versions of the idea to the White House. …

The idea has a lot to recommend it. The housing bust has idled contractors and construction workers, who could be put to work insulating homes and caulking air leaks. Many households, meanwhile, would save substantial money — not to mention help the climate — by weatherizing their homes, research by McKinsey & Company has shown. All in all, a cash-for-caulkers program seems like a promising part of the jobs program for 2010 that Mr. Obama has suggested he is planning.

While homeowners would be able to do some of the weatherization work themselves, the program could prove a huge shot in the arm to the decimated construction workforce, whose unemployment now stands at 17.1%, according to Doerr.

As Doerr told the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board earlier this month,

“…[W]e would engage private enterprise, the likes of a Lowe’s or a Home Depot, these organizations that have tens of millions of people a week coming into their storefronts, and use that private capital to incentivize consumers to then work with out-of-work trades – remodelers, production builders – to do this kind of work.”

Details of the Home Star/Cash for Caulkers program remain sketchy, but here’s how the funding seems to break down now, according to a press release from Efficiency First and Building Performance Institute, nonprofit trade associations for the home-performance workforce:

  • $6 billion for incentives to homeowners who do at least two significant weatherization projects. Funding capped at 50% of project cost.

  • $12 billion set aside for households that undertake a weatherization project that reduces energy consumption by at least 20%. A 20% reduction would bring a $4,000 subsidy. Each additional 5% reduction would bring another $1,500. Funding capped at 50% of project cost.

  • $2 billion for program administration, including quality assurance in the form of periodic audits of projects to confirm they’re achieving the desired performance improvements. 

  • $3 billion for incentives to retailers and contractors to encourage their participation and contribution to awareness building and consumer education

How would the money exchange hands? How would remodelers get involved? Hard to say at this point. But it could be big, considering broad consensus for the impact of greater home efficiency. (Check out this study for a project-by-project breakdown.)

In the meantime, there’s lots more coverage of the budding “Cash for Caulkers” movement online. Start here: