W H Trevarthen

The Home Star program introduced in Congress earlier this year would provide rebates to homeowners for energy-efficient retrofits such as insulation, windows, and HVAC equipment. The bill was introduced under the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, approved by the House, and currently awaits Senate action. A slightly different version of Home Star is in the Oil Company Accountability Act of 2010.

Larry Zarker, CEO of the Building Performance Institute, in Washington, D.C., says that the current lame-duck session may not have time to vote on these bills. Zarker points out that the Home Star bill has inspired states to develop similar programs, so it might get more traction on a local level.

Nationally, he points to two other energy-related bills. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the Advanced Energy Tax Incentives Act of 2010, and are hoping it passes before Congress adjourns in December. This bill offers homeowners a $200 credit for an energy audit. For homes built before 1940, it offers a credit of $3,000 for achieving a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) index rating of 100, plus an additional $1,000 for a HERS rating that meets code for that calendar year. For homes built after 1940, the credit is $2,000 for achieving a HERS equivalent to code in place that calendar year.

The two senators also introduced the Reduce Energy at Home Act to extend the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act energy tax credits that expire Dec. 31, 2010, but it differs significantly from the existing program. It would allow taxpayers to claim up to $3,000 for two years; provides two levels of credit for energy-efficient windows; and includes the insulation installation labor costs. “There seems to be a lot of support for the notion that this could actually deliver jobs,” Zarker says, noting governmental concern over high construction unemployment.

The Home Energy Score plan from the Department of Energy was commissioned by Vice President Joe Biden as part of his Recovery Through Retrofit program. An audit would label a home with an energy-efficiency score of 1 to 10. The plan is currently in a pilot phase.

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.