March 2 -- President Obama today announced the details of “Homestar,” a Cash for Clunkers-like rebate program designed to entice Americans to make their houses more energy efficient.

Under the proposal, homeowners could be eligible for up to $3,000 in rebates for purchases of efficient product upgrades or whole-house audits/retrofits. Obama wants the program, dubbed “Cash for Caulkers” and first mentioned in his January State of the Union address, included in a jobs package being drafted by Congress.

The administration hopes the incentives will boost demand for building products such as insulation, efficient windows, and roofing in the same way car sales skyrocketed last year when consumers were offered rebates for trading in their gas-guzzling autos for more fuel-friendly models. The White House says the program would create “tens of thousands” of jobs, cut energy bills for families by $200 to $500 per year, and reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

In a statement, the NAHB acknowledged the program’s economic possibilities: “This has the potential to be a real shot in the arm for the home building industry,” said association chairman Bob Jones. “It will help put America back to work, and it will help families save on monthly energy bills.”

Administration officials are still working with Congress on details but confirmed the program would cost about $6 billion and that up to 3 million households would participate, according to the Associated Press. Some details, including how long the program will run, have not been worked out with Congress.

“It is going to be politically difficult to do some of this,” Obama said outside Savannah Technical College, the site of his announcement. “I am confident we can do it.”

Under the plan, consumers would collect point-of-sale rebates for energy-efficient purchases. A broad array of vendors, from small independent building material dealers and energy efficiency professionals to large national home improvement chains would market the rebates, provide them directly to consumers, and then be reimbursed by the federal government.

Under the first level of rebates, Silver Star, consumers would be eligible for up to $1,500 for a variety of home upgrades, including adding insulation, sealing leaky ducts, and replacing inefficient water heaters, HVAC units, windows, roofing, and doors. There would be a maximum rebate of $3,000 per home.

The more comprehensive Gold Star level would provide a $3,000 rebate to consumers for a whole-house energy audit and subsequent retrofit tailored to achieve a 20% energy savings. Additional rebates would be available for savings above 20%.

Click here for full details of the Homestar program.

Along with the NAHB, building products manufacturers and nonprofit environmental groups heralded the new plan.

“American homes are so wildly inefficient that billions and billions of dollars in wasted energy are holding back our economic recovery,” said Lane Burt, manager of Building Energy Policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a wildlife protection organization. “Even the most basic upgrade puts money in our pockets, puts Americans back to work, and puts energy waste on the run.”

Masco Home Services president Larry Laseter, one of three manufacturers who joined President Obama at the announcement, urged Congress to approve the program. “We applaud the efforts of the administration to introduce a jobs creations program that is truly a win-win-win," said Laseter. "The Homestar program will put our nation's skilled construction force back to work, benefit homeowners through comfort and energy-efficient improvements to their existing homes, and result in long term energy efficiency gains.”

The National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association was more cautious, telling EcoHome's sister publication ProSales that it will be working closely with the White House, the DOE, and Congress to help ensure the program does not put small and large independent dealers at a disadvantage over big-box retailers.

The NAHB also expressed that equal access for everyone will be essential to the program's success.

Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome.