Cash for Caulkers

With a winter chill in the air, President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced his much-discussed plan to spend billions helping people make their homes more energy efficient.

Dubbed "Cash for Caulkers," the new program would "provide incentives for consumers who retrofit their homes to become more energy-efficient, which we know creates jobs, saves money for families and reduces the pollution that threatens our environment," the president said at his address on job creation at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Here's how the program might work: homeowners would hire private contractors to conduct home energy audits and buy and install the necessary gear, ranging from insulation and windows to energy efficient appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators. Homeowners could then apply for a rebate from the federal government that would pay for half the cost.A homeowner could receive up to $12,000 in rebates, or half the cost of $24,000 in upgrades to a home. So far, there's no income restriction on who is eligible, according to CNN's interviews with both a staffer on the Senate Energy Committee and Steve Nadel, director the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Nadel is helping Congress write a bill for the proposal.

As the federal budget deficit metastasizes, new spending proposals are a tough sell. But energy efficiency work often pays for itself quickly, especially for older buildings, according to green building experts. And anything that reduces the amount of oil we buy and burn will cut into the trade deficit and strengthen our economy for the long haul.

Obama's proposal would save homeowners billions of dollars and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, says Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), who has pushed for months for a proposal like this.

Of course, to make all this happen, Congress would have to create the program and allocate some money for it, which will take months. Homeowners shouldn't shell out thousands of dollars before they know for sure what's covered and how to time their expenses to catch the rebate.

In meantime, homeowners and even renters can get started right now. Here's a checklist of of energy improvements that cost almost nothing, from water saving fixtures to caulk. The list was designed for apartment landlords, but they'll work for any home. Grab a caulking gun!
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