The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act (HR 5019) passed in the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 246 to 161. Similar legislation, S.3177, is now in the Senate. (View the bill in its entirety here.)

Sponsored by Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt..), Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.), and Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif), Home Star authorizes $6 billion to be used to encourage residential energy efficiency improvements. It is expected to create 168,000 jobs, boost consumer home improvement spending, and increase home energy savings.

According to a spokesperson in Rep. Welch’s office, the congressman is optimistic that the strong bipartisan vote is a good sign that this bill has momentum going into the Senate. There are no immediate plans for a Senate vote, however.

The bill defines two tracks:

  • Silver Star provides up to $3,000 rebates to homeowners for the installation of specific energy-saving technologies, including insulation, duct sealing, windows and doors, air sealing, and water heaters.

  • Gold Star rewards homeowners who conduct a comprehensive energy audit and implement a full complement of measures to reduce energy use throughout the home.  Consumers will receive $3,000, or half the cost, for measures that reduce energy use by 20%, and can receive up to $8,000 when additional energy savings are achieved.

Many remodelers have taken issue with the bill’s language regarding who is eligible to perform retrofit work and how much it will cost them to pursue the work. Contractors must be “accredited” by the Building Performance Institute (BPI) or another entity sanctioned by their state. The bill also states that “effective 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, [the accredited contractor] uses a certified work force” — one in which all those working on a job are certified by “third-party skills standards established by BPI, North American Technician Excellence, Laborers’ International Union of North America,” or by standards established in the contractor’s state based on a program run by the Home Builders Institute (an arm of NAHB) in connection with Ferris State University in Michigan.

While both NAHB and NARI are pleased by certain aspects of Home Star and its intentions, Mary Busey Harris, president of NARI, sums up the problem as “a significant burden of entry … I think our [members] are looking at this as so much bureaucracy and [a high cost] to play that it’s not going to be worth it.” Leaders of both associations agree that their members will likely participate mainly in the Silver Star program.