[Update, 8/18/10: The Home Star Energy Retrofit bill has been included in the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Bill of 2010 (S. 3663), now pending in the Senate.]

You may have heard of the Home Star program that will provide rebates and financing to homeowners for energy improvements on their homes - if it passes Congress. The proposed federal legislation (the Home Star Energy Retrofit Bill of 2010, H.R. 5019) passed the House of Representatives May 6. The Senate bill (S. 3177) is now in the hands of the Senate Finance Committee.

President Barack Obama highlighted the Home Star program in a June 12 letter to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate, encouraging its passage.

Matt Golden, co-founder and president of energy-efficiency/home remodeling firmRecurve, believes the legislation is in a “very good position” to pass the Senate and be signed into law, “because we have such a broad coalition.” Golden’s company is part of the Home Star Coalition, and he has spent much of his time working to get this piece of legislation passed.

Proponents of the legislation include business leaders, construction contractors, building products and mechanical manufacturers, retail sales businesses, environmental and energy-efficiency groups, and labor advocates.

So what exactly is Home Star, and how will it help contractors?

Home Star Basics

If passed, the legislation will make $6 billion in rebates and financing available to homeowners for energy-efficiency improvements. There are two ways to do this:

1. Silver Star level. This level offers rebates for the purchase and installation of energy-saving equipment such as boilers, water heaters, tankless water heaters, heat pumps, HVAC equipment, etc. It also includes home improvements such as insulation and new windows.

Depending on the type of project, homeowners will receive matching funds from $250 to $1,500 (not to exceed 50 percent of the cost), with a cap of $3,000 on rebates.

2. Gold Star level. This goes a step further by providing incentives to retrofit an entire home. A home energy audit is performed by a certified professional, who will work with the homeowner to design a customized retrofit plan and calculate the energy savings that will result from the recommended improvements. Third-party inspections will be required on a percentage of all jobs.

Homeowners will receive $3,000 for projected savings of 20 percent, plus $1,000 for each additional 5 percent of energy savings, with matching incentives of up to $8,000.

Home Star will also allocate up to $200 million to states to be used as credit supports or interest buy-downs, which will help make low-interest financing available to homeowners to cover part of the retrofit costs.

Once the bill passes, the Department of Energy has 60 days to get the rebate program in place, Golden says. The House bill limited the Home Star program to two years; the Senate bill tacked on an additional two years.

Home Star rebates can be used with existing local, state or federal incentive programs.

Contractor Training And Certification

One of the cornerstones of the Home Star idea is to create jobs in the construction industry. Nearly 2.1 million jobs have been lost in the construction trades since 2006, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coalition members estimate that the Home Star program will create 168,000 jobs in construction and related industries over the course of the program.

According to material fromEfficiency First, a nonprofit trade association for the “home performance” workforce, Home Star is “designed to create construction jobs fast by leveraging existing programs and sector of the economy that is currently underutilized.”

Homeowners looking to replace equipment at the Silver Star level are encouraged to hire licensed and insured contractors. No additional training is required, so plumbers and mechanical contractors could get started right away.

But contractors wanting work at the Gold Star level will have to be certified in home performance work, which may require additional training. Those who do not have the required certification could wait about a year before they are able to begin Gold Star work, Golden explains.

Four organizations currently provide the required training and certification, Golden says, although the DOE can add more groups to the list:

The legislation requires the DOE to keep a Web site database of all certified contractors for the Home Star program. There is a small amount of funding for marketing, Golden says, but the construction industry will be mostly responsible for “selling” the idea to homeowners.

It has been difficult to get the industry engaged in energy-efficiency retrofits until recently, Golden notes.

“HVAC systems are the heart and soul of home performance,” he says. “Weatherization is fairly easy, while HVAC is the hard part. But when you combine the two, you get a happier customer and a more profitable business.”

For up-to-date information on the legislation, keep checking our Web site atwww.PMmag.com.