By the time you read this, Congress may already have passed the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act of 2010, a bill that provides about $5.4 billion for rebates to homeowners for two different classes ? Gold Star and Silver Star ? of improvements.

Gold Star projects require testing the home for energy efficiency, prescribing measures such as air sealing or replacing appliances to improve that efficiency, then testing once more to determine how effective those retrofits are. The testing and the work must be performed by accredited individuals and companies, and a sliding scale of rebates only follows if energy loads are reduced by 20% minimum. Rebates top out at $8,000. Most of the work will be done by companies that specialize in improving building performance.

Silver Star projects require that the homeowner select approved products and have them installed by a licensed and insured contractor. The lion's share of Home Star dollars are earmarked for Silver Star. Those rebates are awarded for purchase of an individual product or service and top out at $3,000. How long the money will last is anyone's guess.

Many replacement companies are waiting to see whether or not the legislation passes and what it looks like in final form. More important is what this legislation says about the future of the home improvement industry. Few home improvement companies are ready to go for Gold Star. They don't have Building Performance Institute-accredited people on staff, nor do they provide labor-intensive services such as air sealing. But increasingly, homeowners want to see proof that the work they hired a contractor to do actually produces results, and that proof is in the test-in/test-out procedure used by home performance companies. Those companies argue that simply replacing windows does little to weatherize a house, since heating and cooling a building involves many systems ? door and window openings being only one part of that. And, thanks to the Internet, more and more U.S. homeowners will also be raising this objection.

Probably the best response is to do that testing yourself. There are a few home improvement companies that have invested in BPI training and in testing equipment. It takes time, commitment, and some (but not much) money to do that. But the future is in energy efficiency and, to succeed, companies may have to become energy efficiency companies rather than simply window replacement companies.

?Jim Cory, Editor