WASHINGTON – The government is expanding its most highly promoted energy conservation program, aiming to save homeowners at least 10 percent a year on their utility bills.
Now eligible to join the "Energy Star" program are home contractors who advise homeowners how to speed replacement of energy-inefficient refrigerators and air conditioners and how to seal off doors and windows to prevent air from escaping.
For consumers, the Energy Star label serves as a synonym for energy efficiency. Its main focus has been to help businesses develop energy conservation plans and to promote energy efficient appliances, building materials, electric motors and other products.
The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department planned to announce on Monday a centralized effort to improve the program's reach, including the label's use for home contractors.
"In this new program, contractors who help customers identify inefficient uses of energy and determine which projects in the home will fix the problems can market their services as backed by the trusted Energy Star label," EPA Administrator Steve Johnson said in prepared remarks.
Replacing more appliances and sealing off those leaks would save each homeowner $150 from their average $1,500-a-year utility bill, the EPA estimates.
Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the impetus for the program was in part due to rising energy costs. "In this time of high energy costs it's important that the federal government help Americans find ways to reduce home energy use and save money on their energy bills," he said in prepared remarks.
HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson said reducing utility bills, homeowners' second-largest expense behind their mortgage payment, will "reduce the cost of living for the nation's low- and moderate-income families."
All contractors who agree to participate in the "Home Performance with Energy Star" program will have to prove their competency to the EPA. For the time being, the only way to do that is through an EPA-funded certification program with the New York-based Building Performance Institute Inc., which certifies building trade contractors.
Other qualified certification programs could be set up later.
The EPA awarded a $1 million grant last year to BPI to expand its certification program nationally. BPI sets standards and certifies insulation and heating and cooling contractors as well as remodelers, inspectors and builders. For Energy Star, contractors will have to pass BPI classroom and field tests on energy efficiency.