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Cash for Caulkers

It makes sense to weatherize homes. Beefing up insulation and sealing leaks means less energy gets used to heat a house and less of that heat...

It makes sense to weatherize homes. Beefing up insulation and sealing leaks means less energy gets used to heat a house and less of that heat escapes. That translates to lower energy bills and a smaller environmental impact for homes.But weatherization doesn't always look good from the consumer's perspective. Dave Leonhardt tried to get his home weatherized and wrote about the experience in his New York Times column this week:For $400, an auditor spent hours scouring our house, with the help of a big fan he set up in our front door and an infrared camera. He produced a full-color, 13-page detailed report, informing us of the leaks in our house, and he was also willing to tell us which changes were usually a waste of money (new windows). Even so, we are still trying to figure out which weatherization projects we should do. The whole package would probably cost $4,500 and save us something like $400 a year. We may not stay in the house nearly long enough to justify the investment.Such concerns are typical. How do you find an auditor? How do you know whether you should seal a few ducts or pay $2,000 for new insulation? Which of the existing subsidies-state and federal-might you qualify for?Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias both note that if the government kicked in some money with a "cash for caulkers" program, that could make weatherization financially attractive for people like Leonhardt and create jobs at the same time. That's true, and there are some creative ways of solving the financial hurdle. One proposal would add the cost of weatherization to a home's future property taxes so that if you decide to weatherize, and then decide to move, you split the investment with any future owners.But it's not just the money that makes weatherization such an obstacle. Many of Leonhardt's concerns have to do with the complexity of the process, rather than just the cost. Here, the case of buying a home solar energy system is a good analogy. That's a process that is at least as complicated for the consumer as weatherization. The technology is new and complicated. How do you compare the offers of different solar panel providers? How do you forecast how much money solar panels will save?There's an opportunity here for a company to step in and do what 1BOG has done for solar: Get an entire neighborhood interested in weatherization, negotiate with providers for group rates, and act as an broker and advisor for the group. This pooled purchasing ends up being cheaper for consumers because they're buying in bulk, and more comfortable because they have experts guiding them through a complex and unfamiliar marketplace. With 1BOG, the broker takes a flat commission regardless of who gets the contract, so homeowners can be pretty certain of impartiality.

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