WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama dropped into a Home Depot store in a Washington suburb on Tuesday and said he'll ask Congress for new temporary incentives to encourage more people to weatherize their homes.
Energy-efficiency improvements such as better windows and doors, insulation in walls and roofs and new heating and cooling equipment can help people save money on their energy bills, "but the challenge for a lot of people is getting that money up front," and that's where the government can step in, Obama said.
"If you saw $20 bills just sort of floating through the window up into the atmosphere, you'd try to figure out how you were going to keep that," he said. "But that's exactly what's happening because of the lack of efficiency in our buildings."
The White House, however, is looking to boost retrofits not just to help people save over the long run but also as a quick way to add jobs. Although the economy is growing again, the national unemployment rate is 10 percent. Since the recession began two years ago, more than 7 million people have lost jobs.
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Obama said he'd urge Congress to get the incentives for energy-efficiency home improvements in place soon. The House of Representatives is expected to take up a jobs bill first. A Democratic aide said that incentives for retrofits could be part of a bill that the House would vote on early next year.
The President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board earlier this month outlined a proposal for what's called Home Star, or Cash for Caulkers — a plan to provide matching government payments for energy efficiency upgrades.
Stimulus funds already have paid for home energy-efficiency improvements, largely for low-income people. Obama estimated that upgrades of the homes for half a million people would be completed by the end of next year.
"But this is an area that has huge potential to grow," he said.
The recovery advisory board said that more retrofits would put laid-off construction workers back to work and add other jobs as demand grew at retail stores and at companies that manufacture the materials used in the retrofits.
The Alliance for American Manufacturing, an advocacy group, said in a statement on Tuesday that many of the products in one Washington-area Home Depot it checked recently weren't made in the U.S. It said Congress should look into ways to ensure that U.S.-made goods were given preference in any incentives plan.
Obama didn't specify what incentives he wanted put in place to stimulate consumer spending on retrofits.
His recovery advisory board proposed that the federal government should offer matching funds for energy-efficiency improvements such as insulation, leak sealing and efficient lighting. Larger incentives would be offered for major projects that start with an energy audit to find where energy is being wasted, bring in accredited contractors for the improvements and end with a third-party inspection. The board called for the incentives to begin in 2010.
The report proposed that retrofit measures that reduced energy use by 20 percent should be eligible for $3,500 in incentives. Each additional 5 percent in energy savings would get an additional $1,500, up to a limit of 50 percent of the homeowner's contribution.
Widespread home energy improvements could also help bring down U.S. emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a policy research group that works with businesses, home energy use accounts for 21 percent of all U.S. emissions.
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