Cash for Caulkers – The Definitive Guide To The Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010


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"Cash for Caulkers" is nearly here. Last month the House of Representatives passed H.R. 5019 – also known as the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010 or "Cash for Caulkers" – to kick-start construction, create jobs and cut back carbon emissions. While the bill still needs to clear the Senate, supporters predict it will pass this summer.

This is great news for homeowners and contractors alike. The bill provisions $6 billion for energy-efficient or "green" retrofits. It is expected to fund renovations for 3 million families, create 168,000 new jobs and save consumers $9.2 billion on energy bills over the next 10 years.

But in order to cash in on upcoming rebates, homeowners and contractors will need to do their homework. There are 13 types of retrofits eligible for funding. Each retrofit has unique eligibility requirements and set rebate amounts. You can read the full text here.

We made it really easy to wade through the legalese. Below is a table that breaks down the 13 retrofits of the bill, along with the requirements and rebate amount for each. In addition to the requirements we listed, each retrofit must comply with Building Performance Institute (BPI) standards or other procedures to be approved by the Secretary of Energy.

RetrofitRequirementsRebate Amount
Air sealingRebate covers both interior and exterior sealing and includes use of the following products: sealants, caulks, insulating foams, gaskets, weather-stripping, mastics, and other building materials.$1,500
Attic insulationMust meet the attic portions of the Department of Energy (DOE) or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thermal bypass checklist. You must add at least R–19 insulation to existing insulation, and it must result in at least R–38 insulation in DOE climate zones 1 through 4 and at least R–49 insulation in DOE climate zones 5 through 8. Finally, it must cover at least 100 percent of an accessible attic or 75 percent of the total conditioned footprint of the house.
Duct replacement and sealingSealing must be installed in accordance with BPI standards or other procedures approved by the Secretary of Energy. For duct replacement, you must replace and seal at least 50 percent of a distribution system of the home.$1,000
Wall insulationInsulation must be installed to full-stud thickness or add at least R–10 of continuous insulation. It must covers at least 75 percent of the total external wall area of the home.$1,500
Crawl space or basement insulationInsulation must cover at least 500 square feet of crawl space or basement wall and add at least R–19 of cavity insulation or R–15 of continuous insulation to existing crawl space insulation; or R–13 of cavity insulation or R–10 of continuous insulation to basement walls. For rim joist insulation, you must fully cover the rim joist with at least R–10 of new continuous or R–13 of cavity insulation.
$250 for rim joist insulation
Window replacementMust replace at least 8 exterior windows, or 75 percent of the exterior windows in a home, whichever is less, with windows that are certified by the National Fenestration Rating Council. Must comply with criteria applicable to windows under section 25(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 or, in areas above 5,000 feet elevation, have a U-factor of at least 0.35 when replacing windows that are single-glazed or double-glazed with an internal air space of 1/4 inch or less.
Door or skylight replacementMust replace at least 1 exterior door or skylight with doors or skylights that comply with the 2010 Energy Star specification for doors or skylights.$125 per door or skylight with a limit of 2 doors and 2 skylights
Heating system replacementSee second table below$1,000
Air-source air conditioner or heat pump installation
Must be installed in accordance with ANSI/ACCA Standard 5 QI–2007. The air-source air conditioner must meet or exceed SEER 16 and EER 13; or SEER 18 and EER 15. The air-source heat pump must meet or exceed SEER 15, EER 12.5, and HSPF 8.5.
Geothermal heat pump installation
Must be an Energy Star qualified geothermal heat pump that meets Tier 2 efficiency requirements and that is installed in accordance with ANSI/ACCA Standard 5 QI–2007.$1,000
Water heater replacement
See third table below$1,000
Storm windows or doors installation
Must be installed on at least 5 existing doors or existing single-glazed windows. Must comply with any procedures that the Secretary of Energy may set for storm windows or doors and their installation.
$50 for each window or door with a minimum of 5 windows or doors and a maximum of 12
Window film installation
Window film that is installed on at least 8 exterior windows, doors, or skylights, or 75 percent of the total exterior square footage of glass in a home, whichever is more, with window films that are certified by the National Fenestration Rating Council. Must have a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.43 or less with a visible light-to-solar heat gain coefficient of at least 1.1 for installations in 2009 International Energy Conservation Code climate zones 1–3; or a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.43 or less with a visible light light-to-solar heat gain coefficient of at least 1.1 and a U-factor of 0.40 or less as installed in 2009 International Energy Conservation Code climate zones 4–8.$500

We also decided to combine these retrofits into three packages that will help homeowners get the best bang for their buck. But first, let's review the program details.

Who is Eligible and How to Qualify?
The Home Star bill offers two rebate programs, the “Silver Star” program and "Gold Star" program. Here are details for each:

  • Silver Star – Unless another amount is specified in the "Rebate Amount" column above, homeowners will receive a $1,000 rebate for each retrofit listed in our table. The maximum amount of rebates paid out will be $3,000 or 50% of the total cost, whichever is lower. For example, if a homeowner spends a total of $4,000 on eligible retrofits, they will get $2,000 or 50% back as a rebate. If they spend $8,000 on eligible retrofits, they would only receive $3,000 in rebates instead of $4,000 (which would be 50% of the cost).
  • Gold Star – To qualify for the Gold Star program, homeowners must reduce their total home energy consumption by 20%. A $3,000 rebate will be rewarded for this reduction. Homeowners can receive an additional $1,000 for each additional 5% reduction, up to a total rebate of $8,000 or 50% of the total retrofit cost. Rebates may be provided for any of the retrofits listed under the Silver Star program, or for any other energy-saving measure, including: home energy management systems, high-efficiency appliances, highly reflective roofing, awnings, canopies, and similar external fenestration (window) attachments, automatic boiler water temperature controllers, energy-efficient wood products, insulated vinyl siding, and mechanical air circulation and heat exchangers in a passive-solar home.

The Home Star bill also includes rebates for do-it-yourself (DIY) homeowners that are confident in taking on the renovations themselves. DIY'ers can get up to $250 in rebates for products purchased without installation service. This rebate is limited to attic insulation, crawl space insulation and/or air-sealing retrofits.

Seal Your House Envelope and Improve Insulation
Before carrying out any serious retrofit, homeowners need to weatherize and seal their house "envelope." The envelope includes outer walls, windows, doors, floors and the ceiling. If the house is not properly sealed and insulated, then subsequent HVAC retrofits won't be as effective.

In some cases, savvy do-it-yourselfers may be able to handle these projects themselves. There are plenty of books and great online resources (e.g. that provide instructions. However, you should seriously consider hiring an auditor beforehand. Special diagnostics equipment will show where air is escaping and to what extent. For example, thermal imaging devices detect areas in walls that are poorly insulated and dispersing heat. This information would be unavailable without such devices.

So how much does it cost to seal all the air leaks in a home? Prices will obviously vary based on where you live, how big your property is and the scope of the retrofit. But it will likely cost a few thousand dollars to hire a contractor for this type of renovation. In this example from the New York Times, the author spent $3,760 for insulating and sealing the envelope of his 1,200 square foot home.

How much can homeowners expect to save? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that homeowners can save 20% on heating and cooling costs by sealing leaks and adding insulation. In New York – one of the most expensive places to heat a home with an average annual cost of $1,513 – this would be a yearly savings of $300 just for heating.

Continuing with the example from the New York Times, the Silver Star program would provide $1,880 (50%) in rebates for their retrofit. At an annual savings rate of $300, the renovation would pay for itself in six years (or less if you include cost savings from reduced air conditioning bills).

Repair and Replace Leaky Ducts
Ducts are notoriously leaky and inefficient. They are one of the usual suspects in a crime of high utility bills, or when rooms are difficult to heat and cool. The EPA calculates that 20% of air moving through ductwork is lost due to leaks, holes and poor connections. Other sources put estimates closer to 40%. So while suffering from "leaky ducts" may sound innocuous, it can have a big impact on the efficiency and costs of heating and cooling your home.

Fortunately, duct replacement and sealing is eligible for funding under the Home Star bill. Many homeowners will want to outsource this project to a qualified HVAC contractor. Contractors have equipment to detect leaks that otherwise may not be immediately visible. They also have methods to seal ducts that are inaccessible. For example, by spraying an adhesive or sealant through the duct work.

Replacing and sealing ducts can also be a DIY project, especially when ducts can be easily accessed in an attic or basement. Leaks should be sealed with mastic sealant or metal tape (not duct tape), then insulated to reduce heat loss and to further improve efficiency. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has an excellent guide on how to seal and insulate ducts.

Upgrade Your Furnace and Water Heater
Heating is the largest energy expense in homes, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). In colder parts of the country, it makes up 30 to 50% of annual energy bills. So improving the heating efficiency of your home will have the biggest impact on lowering your energy costs. Sealing air leaks is a good start, but replacing your heating system could provide real leverage towards cost savings.

If your furnace or boiler was purchased before 1990, then it is time to consider an upgrade. Modern furnaces are much more efficient than those that are older than 20 years. You can use rebates from the Home Star bill to replace your furnace, but you will need to meet their guidelines:

Type of ReplacementRequirementsRebate Amount
Replacement with a natural gas or propane furnaceThe furnace must have an AFUE rating of 92 or greater; or an AFUE rating of 95 or greater. Must be installed in accordance with ANSI/ACCA Standard 5 QI-2007.
Replacement with a natural gas or propane boiler
Boiler must have an AFUE rating of 90 or greater. Must be installed in accordance with ANSI/ACCA Standard 5 QI-2007.$1,000
Replacement with an oil furnace
Furnace must have an AFUE rating of 86 or greater and use an electrically commutated blower motor. Must be installed in accordance with ANSI/ACCA Standard 5 QI-2007.
Replacement with an oil boiler
Boiler must have an AFUE rating of 86 or greater and temperature reset or thermal purge controls. Must be installed in accordance with ANSI/ACCA Standard 5 QI-2007.

Replacement with a wood or pellet furnace, boiler, or stove
The new system must meet at least 75 percent of the heating demands of the home; and in the case of a wood stove, but not a pellet stove, replace an existing wood stove, but not a pellet stove, and is certified by the Administrator of the EPA. The home must have a distribution system (such as ducts, vents, blowers, or affixed fans) that allows heat to reach all or most parts of the home. In the case where an old wood stove is being replaced, a voucher must be provided by the installer or other responsible party certifying that the old wood stove has been removed and rendered inoperable or recycled at an appropriate recycling facility. An accredited independent laboratory recognized by the Administrator of the EPA must certify that the new system has thermal efficiency (lower heating value) of at least 75 percent for wood and pellet stoves, and at least 80 percent for furnaces and boilers; and has particulate emissions of less than 3.0 grams per hour for stoves, and less than 0.32 lbs/mmBTU for outdoor furnaces and boilers.
$500 for a wood or pellet stove that has a heating capacity of at least 28,000 Btu per hour. $1,000 if it provides 75% of the heating demands of the home.

Water heaters are typically the second largest energy users after home heating and cooling systems. Replacing convention oil-fired water heaters with high-efficiency gas or electric heaters can save homeowners thousands of dollars over a 10 to 15 year period. The Home Star bill includes a variety of replacement options eligible for rebates.

Replacement optionsRebate Amount
Replace with a natural gas or propane condensing storage water heater with an energy factor of 0.80 or more, or a natural gas or propane storage or tankless water heater with thermal efficiency of 90 percent or more.
Replace with a tankless natural gas or propane water heater with an energy factor of at least 0.82.
Replace with a natural gas or propane storage water heater with an energy factor of at least 0.67.
Replace with an indirect water heater with an insulated storage tank that has a storage capacity of at least 30 gallons and is insulated to at least R–16; and is installed in conjunction with a qualifying boiler described in the previous table.
Replace with an electric water heater with an energy factor of 2.0 or more.$1,000
Replace with an electric tankless water heater with an energy factor or thermal efficiency, as applicable, of .96 or more or a thermal efficiency of 96 percent or more, that operates on not greater than 25 kilowatts.
$250 each for a maximum of 4 electric tankless water heaters
Replace with a solar hot water system that is certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation or that meets technical standards established by the State of Hawaii.
Replace with a water heater installed in conjunction with a qualifying geothermal heat pump - as described in our first table - that provides domestic water heating through the use of a desuperheater or year-round demand water heating capability.$500 for a desuperheater

An alternative to furnaces and boilers are ground source heat pumps (GSHPs). Also known as geothermal heat pumps, GSHPs are one of the most efficient systems for heating and cooling buildings. According to the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, GSHPs are 50 to 70% more efficient than other heating systems, and 20 to 40% more efficient than traditional air conditioners. They can also be used as an alternative water-heating system and save up to 50% on water-heating bills.

Ground source heat pumps are more economical than using oil or air-source heat pumps, but there is still a lot of debate over GSHPs versus natural gas. Homeowners will need carry out their own due diligence beforehand.

Year over year, a ground source heat pump is more cost effective than natural gas. It's the initial cost that really drives down the return on investment (ROI) and makes natural gas a more attractive option. However, there are several rebates and tax credits available that help subsidize the upfront cost.

Additional Financing Resources
With other legislation in the queue, it might take weeks or months to hear the Senate's final decision on the Home Star bill. In the meantime, homeowners can receive funding from other sources to pay for green renovations. The federal government, state governments, local municipalities and even utility companies offer several options.

For example, homeowners can still receive a federal tax credit for 30% of the cost of energy-efficient products (up to a total credit of $1,500). This includes the purchase of central air conditioning systems (both the product and installation), electric heat pumps, furnaces and boilers, and whole-house ventilation fans. Visit the US Department of Energy Energy Savers website for more information.

Another great resource is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency or "DSIRE" website. This allows you to view rebates, loan and grant programs, financing options and tax credits offered in your region.

Finally, new home buyers should consider an energy-efficient mortgage or energy improvement mortgage. These mortgages allow consumers to count savings from energy bills as additional income, ultimately giving them more buying power. Home Energy Magazine has a helpful article here.

  • Tony

    Great article – thanks!

    Do you happen to know when the bill is scheduled to go to the Senate? I’d like to know when I can plan to start looking at these home improvements.

    • Houston Neal

      Hi Tony. Thanks for your feedback. I haven’t found any information about when the Senate will review the proposed bill. Though I do plan on updating our article to reflect any changes if/when it’s approved by the Senate.


  • Michela

    So how do people go about getting their rebates. What do people have to do or who do they go to to get their credits. As contractors what can we tell our clients to ensure they will get a credit?

  • Shane Matteson

    That’s the most comprehensive piece that I have scene about Homestar. Very cool. Will it ever get through the perennial gridlock in the Senate? It’s a terrific proposition for the homeowner as well as those of us in the energy conservation and sustainable building fields. Thanks for the heads up Houston.

  • Jim Mikel

    Houston, I must say that is the best article I have seen on Home Star. I am coordinating the energy auditing for Home Star. I would suggest sending your article to, and to other newspapers – I think it will get picked up quickly.
    I am also an Austinite, but live in Mo. right now (still have a home there).
    I keep up with Home Star daily, and legislation.
    Send me an email, and I will keep you informed on what is going on:

  • Garreth Wilcock

    Very thorough article about the proposed changes which will allow people to greenify their homes!



    • Houston Neal

      Hi Mike,

      The bill still needs to be passed by the Senate before any rebates will be available. I will be updating my post if and when this happens. The update will information about amendments to the bill, along with instructions on how to apply.

      Thanks for your interest.

  • Sarah

    Hi Houston!
    I understand that this bill still needs to be passed, but do you happen to know if this is a completely national offer, or are there going to be restrictions depending on what state you live in, similar to the Cash for appliances program?

    • Guest Blogger

      Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your message. I believe it is a national program. I have not come across any information on restrictions or extra requirements for certain regions of the country.


  • Misty

    Nice job. Thank you for the break down.

  • Stephen B.

    Love the idea, just a bit late as I have spent the last three years doing ALL of these things to my home. Any chance of these rebates being retroactive at all?

  • Allison A. Bailes III, PhD

    Great article, Houston. I’d make a couple of different recommendations, but overall, you’ve covered the basics of Home Star and the needs of homes pretty well.

    Regarding diagnostics, you mentioned an infrared camera as the only example of a tool that a home energy rater/auditor might use. There are a lot of yahoos with IR cameras who don’t know what they’re doing who’ll try to sell you things you don’t need. A Blower Door and a Duct Blaster are the most important diagnostic tools home energy auditors/raters.

    Regarding duct sealing, you’re absolutely right that duct tape is not an option. Although it’s allowed by code, metal tape is not a good sealant either. I’ve been in plenty of attics and crawl spaces and seen the failed adhesive allowing lots of air to move out of or into the ducts.

  • Allison A. Bailes III, PhD

    Mike Givens: Unfortunately you won’t be able to get the Home Star rebates if you’ve already bought the windows and had them installed. The rebates will apply only to work done after the program starts.

  • Walt Stachowicz

    Houston, you have pretty much covered all of the key points of the bill. However, at the present time, any Gold Star work needs to be performed by a BPI Accredited contractor, Only one exists in the State of Florida. Other States are similar. Either contractors have to jump on the BPI bandwagon (not cheap or easy), or our Senators will have to find another way of certifying the work. I understand the concern about combustion appliances, but we don’t have many of them in our area. Please help to eliminate this monopoly. (I thought that thet were illegal.)

  • BPI Training

    BPI isn’t a monopoly. Gold Star rebates are for comprehensive, deep energy reductions. For these type of reductions you must use the whole-house approach which is what BPI preaches.

  • C Stig

    Houston – can you take a look at the New York Times example again? I don’t believe, based on both the Senate and House versions of the Bill, that the attic insulation portion of the job would actually qualify for a rebate. The provision in the bills specifies adding at least R-19 to achieve a minimum of R-38. Ten inches of blown insulation (assuming it is fiberglass) would be ~R-22 which alone would not meet the minimum criteria. Also, the contractor’s invoice would need to be broken out differently to actually determine the appropriate rebates since attic air sealing is required with attice insulation in both versions of the bill (but the breakout lumped attic air sealing in with whole-house air sealing).
    With that said, I think its important to point out that contractors will need to be very careful how they break out invoices under HomeStar to ensure that rebates are calculated correctly and submitted correctly to earn the rebate dollars back from the government.

  • Bill Lange

    Thanks for this great write-up, Houston. Very down-to-earth and easy to understand. We’ll be sharing this article with our customers.

  • James Hartsell

    Great Article Those rebates will pass the Senate But don’t forget about the rebates that are here now. In NC a Solar, Wind Energy System is 97% paid for by Incentives check them at or email me at James Hartsell

  • Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel

    Great article and summary of the Home Star Bill! It is important to note that Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has proposed a water efficiency amendment that would provide rebates for WaterSense certified products and their installation. This is a very important amendment that all of us should support since water efficiency can result in enormous energy savings in addition to the direct water savings.

  • Rich Schwerin

    Great summary, thanks!!!

    RT @Greencognito @RecurveUS Ca$h for Caulkers: $1.2 Trillion Savings at Stake lower energy costs, lower emissions, jobs! #oilspill

  • Jim

    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD wrote: “Unfortunately you won’t be able to get the Home Star rebates if you’ve already bought the windows and had them installed. The rebates will apply only to work done after the program starts.”

    Allison, can you point to where in the bill this is written? I’ve been wading through it but can’t seem to find where it says that.

  • Solar Installer

    This is a great explanation of the benefits available. I’m going to save your post to send to customers and I also really like the link you have on financing from Home Energy Magazine.

  • Sandra Brown

    If this should happen to pass in 2010, will people be eligible for both the rebate under this program as well as the tax credit currently in place?


    Hi, I just want to clarify. If I have eight new windows installed in my home at a cost of approx. $8,ooo.oo,which would fall into the 75% of my total homes window total. Would my maximum rebate back to me be $1,000.00 or $3,000.00? Thanks for the great info.Joann

  • Benjamin

    I was wondering where RESNET comes into play? Their “envelope” approach and HERS scores are extremely useful for monitoring improvements to homes and helps to model renovations. What are the Home Star requirements for home energy audits pre and post energy improvement?

  • Randy Danziger

    Many thanks!
    Is there information yet as to how contractors may be approved to perform this work? I have been familiar with, and advising homeowners on crawlspace issues and appropriate contractors for various improvements for several years in my area of the country.
    What documentation will a homeowner need to provide to qualify for this crawlspace area rebate as it applies for instance to perimeter wall insulation or duct sealing?

  • Brenda

    MIKE GIVENS: Although you won’t qualify under Home Star, if you had your windows installed in 2009 or 2010, existing legislation should apply with a tax rebate of up to $1500.

  • Jeff Wilson

    Great Home Star resource, Neal. We’ll encourage folks to contact their elected officials and help to push this through via our blog at

    Also, I’ll be encouraging the reputable contractors I know to get certified to perform this work – I know plenty who would welcome the chance to do this type of work.

    Keep up the great work!


  • Karen

    If this gets passed, I’d love to share your article! Do keep us informed. Great job.

  • Tim Volk

    Houston, these are helpful matrices. Now we need to wait and see what the Senate does. Our lone Vermont representative, Peter Welch, was a sponsor of the House bill. I’ll post about your analysis.

  • Marc Kleinmann

    Great article. One comment I’d like to make: In order to qulify for rebates under the Gold Star performance path, the contractor performing the work must be accredited by the BPI. I have written a short write-up on your article on our website

  • Kim

    Thank you for this excellent synopsis. According to the Financial Times, via the Cash for Caulkers blog, Harry Reid will be presenting the bill TODAY hoping for it to be passed before the summer recess. My post today has all the details how to contact your Senator.

  • Murray the Estimating Man

    One of the biggest problems I see with this bill is in leaving the public to deal withe the red tape. With the the Car program the numbers were high enough and the profits great enough for dealers to step in and deal with the paperwork. Here that just isn’t the case, so home owners will be stuck dealing with the red tape and taking the risk of doing work and getting no money. Hopefully the bureaucrats will be understanding. Otherwise this program will only be useful to the few willing to do the work, some of whom will take advantage of the system.

  • Harry Duncan

    Just a comment on energy efficiency. We installed window tint film from SnapTint on our west facing windows and it really helped with the heat and glare during the summer.

  • Gary Walker

    Great job on the article, Houston. The way you organized the features into a grid certainly helps, because for many homeowners, the topic might otherwise overwhelm them. I wrote some additional comments and encouraged our readers to read your full article on our blog at

  • Ed Poss

    Will this be available for landlords??

  • MJ

    Anyone knows what is status of this program now ? I’m eagerly waiting to do some updates on my house but not sure when this will come and what is procedure to claim rebates from government.

  • sokwdc

    What is the typical pricing of an pre- and post-work energy audit? Who does this sort of work and are they certified?

  • phil

    Great Article. Just Remember this Bill puts BPI as a single source for accreditation. The more you look into this aspect of the the program, the more suspicious you will become.

  • Lynn

    I work with an energy cooperative in Massachusetts. We’re getting our contractors BPI certified and it has been a good process for us. I recommending the training and the certification process. There’s a lot that can go wrong if you air seal or insulate a building improperly. BPI certification will help us all ensure the work that’s done with our public dollars is done well.

  • L C Z

    We’re wondering if you can enlighten us as to the current status of the proposed Home Star program. Thank you.

  • Bela Simo

    are tax credits/rebates available for homeowner installed products ;ie/winows,doors,insulation,etc.thanks,Bela

  • Attorney Una Monsees

    You are a very thought provoking speaker. This is a brilliant article.

  • Una Monseesaretard

    this was an article, not a speech. informative, not brilliant

  • http://none Mike Tipton

    Will this rebate apply to NEW skylights being installed – either in 2009 or 2010?

    Also, I found out as little something about another tax ccredit that will expire in 2016, but it cannot find the exact details. Have you heard of this and will it cover skylights?

    It was a very good article, but my situation is very specific and I did not see anything about it.

  • Mary

    Great post! I’m glad I found your blog.

  • Kannan

    Any one knows the address for sending the receipts to claim $ 500 for the home windows tinting?


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