A quick, cheap and easy strategy to increase efficiency is simply to save energy. And one of the best solutions is to weatherize older homes. While homes built in the last few years are far more efficient than those built even 10 years ago, many older residences are huge energy thieves.
Since 1976, the U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has provided help to 5.6 million low-income families – enabling them to permanently reduce their energy bills. But help doesn't come in the form of a check, which might be misused. It contracts for weatherization services on the homeowner's residence.
Upgrading or replacing a home's old furnace, sealing leaky heating ducts, fixing or replacing leaky windows and adding insulation reduces the average home's heating bill by anywhere from 20% to 40%, and results in an overall annual savings of $358 at today's energy prices. Replace old appliances and change out incandescent bulbs for florescent ones – and the savings get even more impressive.
Obama plans to expand this program, as nearly 28 million U.S. homes remain eligible for assistance. His goal under the Energy for America plan is to weatherize an additional one million homes every year.
Of course, the largest energy user in the country is – you guessed it – the good old Federal Government, which spent a whopping $14.5 billion on energy use in fiscal 2008.
Obama plans to lead by example: All new Fed buildings will have a 40% increase in energy-efficiency within five years. The new administration wants all federal buildings carbon-neutral by 2025 and he ultimately expects to achieve a 15% overall reduction in government energy use in just six years (2015).
Weatherize your Portfolio: 3 Ideas
When looking for ways to play the energy efficiency/savings angle, the field narrows. Adversely affected by the general housing downturn, many companies that would be a consideration under Obama's plan are off the table.
There are a few we can consider, however.
Apogee Enterprises, Inc. (Nasdaq: APOG) designs, services, installs and sells glass walls and window systems that make up the outside skins and entrance areas of large commercial and institutional buildings.
Through its subsidiaries, it's engaged in the design and development of numerous glass products, services and systems. Apogee's glass will be in high demand for weatherizing the nation's windows.
Earnings have held up remarkably well, particularly in the face of the housing slowdown. It's had little real effect on the company since it's exposed more to the commercial side of the building business. At current levels, the stock has a yield of around 6%.
CEO Ron Huffer had these forward-looking observations in a recent press release:
We believe that our markets offer significant longer-term opportunities, due to the increasing importance of green building, a sector demanding energy-efficient products that we supply and the overall growth in the use of value-added products in commercial construction projects.
A good blue-chip play that stands to benefit as well is 3M Company (NYSE:MMM). 3M is a diversified technology company engaged in industrial products, transportation, and numerous other sectors. Its industrial products division makes hundreds of items for the construction industry like window and door materials, including adhesives, tapes, films and abrasives.
And let's not forget General Electric (NYSE:GE), perhaps the best, safest energy and infrastructure play in the world. It has exposure to nearly every area of engineering and manufacturing that we use to build and power our country.
Infrastructure and green energy continue to be focal points as spending in these sectors could jump-start the global economy back to life. GE is better positioned than perhaps any other firm to profit from this spending influx. And at prices of around $13 a share, it's a steal – especially when you consider its nearly 10% dividend yield.
As Obama's New Energy for America plan comes up to speed, investors could see a huge slug of cash – perhaps as much as $1 trillion – being thrown at the energy and infrastructure sectors.
And taking stakes in the above mentioned companies will make sure you get in on the action.
Disclosure: no positions