Better-insulating your home can save money and is good for the environment. So why doesn’t everyone do it? David Leonhardt explains: “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.”
The rationale of a “cash for caulkers” idea is that a short-term government subsidy to have this kind of work done would work as stimulus, and also solve some other problems, while getting around this issue. But the problem of people under-insulating their homes is really something that deserves a long-term solution. After all, the weird thing about Leonhardt’s explanation is that while he may not stay in his house the 15-20 years or so it would take to really make the full weatherization package worthwhile, the house will almost certainly still be there. In principle, having money-saving improvements to the house made ought to increase its resale value and be worth doing no matter how long Leonhardt stays in the house. In reality, when people are shopping for houses the question of how energy efficient it is tends to be an extremely low-salience issue and exactly the sort of thing someone is likely to overlook.
One potential solution to this would be to make an “energy audit” of some kind a necessary part of the process of selling a home. Make the basic factsheet include some information about both the relative and absolute energy efficiency of the home. That way people who invest in efficiency would have a better chance of getting rewarded for it.