Ask a dumb question and — contrary to the old adage — you might just get a smart response. Take this question, first posed a quarter-century ago to American consumers: “In choosing between similar products close in price, would you prefer the one that saves you money every time you use it?”

The obvious affirmative answer gave rise to the federal Energy Star program that now spans more than 60 categories — from household appliances, lighting and electronics to office equipment and new homes. Energy Star helps consumers find efficient products, typically those performing in the top 25 percent of their category.

If you’re contemplating a home renovation this summer — replacing windows, upgrading a heating system or remodeling a kitchen, chances are you’ll be considering Energy Star products. Nearly 90 percent of American consumers recognize its electric blue logo, and know it can translate to long-term cost savings.

Energy Star, jointly administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy, is a far-reaching partnership — linking some 18,000 private companies, public utilities and governmental agencies.

The program is voluntary, but manufacturers have found that Energy Star fosters domestic sales and helps their products meet the high-efficiency standards that many export markets require.

Energy Star nudges manufacturers to continually ratchet up efficiency so their products remain eligible as program standards shift higher. “What was cutting-edge efficiency just 10 years ago … is now standard efficiency — offering energy savings for everyone,” writes Sue Coakley of Northeast Energy Efficient Partnerships.

Consumers, organizations and businesses annually save about $34 billion in electricity costs from a program that requires less than $60 million to administer. And each year Energy Star prevents an estimated 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is about one sixth of what U.S. passenger vehicles emit annually. Christine Todd Whitman, EPA administrator under George W. Bush, recently described Energy Star as “a no-brainer;” “it worked, and it hardly cost any money.”

Proven success holds no sway, though, with a president intent on dismantling all climate-related programs. President Trump’s budget blueprint seeks to eliminate Energy Star, lumping it with 50 other EPA programs deemed “lower priority or poorly performing.”

Also slated for elimination is an efficiency program that has helped low-income families for 40 years: the Weatherization Assistance Program. This federal program targets vulnerable households (like Mainers living in drafty older buildings with outdated heating systems), offering them increased comfort and safety while lowering heating bills and carbon emissions. More than a third of private homes and nearly half of rental units in Maine were constructed more than 60 years ago, according to U.S. Census data.

A decade ago, when a private initiative involving banks, foundations and businesses collaborated on an energy initiative in eastern Maine, it found that “weatherization pays off five times more than bulk heating oil purchasing for the average low-income family.” It also discovered a shocking disparity: only 300 homes could be weatherized in that region each year, yet 8,000 were in need.

Federal support helps roughly 2,000 Maine households each year with fuel-saving upgrades like added insulation, replacement windows and more efficient heating systems. No state funds currently support these services.

The contractors who provide weatherization are part of an industry that employs 1.9 million people nationally, twice the number of jobs supplied by coal, oil and gas industries, says Stephen Cowell, president of the nonprofit E4TheFuture. Add in renewable energy, and clean energy employment outstrips fossil fuel jobs by 3 to 1. Why would a president who tweets about “JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!” deliberately undermine clean energy programs?

Cowell notes that many decision-makers overlook the economic value of efficiency jobs because 80 percent of them are in small businesses with few resources for marketing or lobbying. In Maine, E4TheFuture reports that 8,850 Mainers are working in jobs related to energy efficiency — putting the industry on par with the state’s largest private employer, Maine Health.

The economic benefits that efficiency programs provide don’t stop with the initial homeowner or consumer. A household that saves money on electricity or heating fuel will likely spend the difference on other consumer goods, stimulating the local economy.

Despite all their far-reaching economic and environmental benefits, long-established efficiency programs like Energy Star and weatherization are at risk. Congress must protect them if they are to survive a short-sighted president.

So in the weeks ahead, take time out from yard work and spring cleaning to advocate for programs like weatherization and Energy Star. This season calls us to think of home improvement in planetary terms.

Marina Schauffler is a writer in the Midcoast whose work is online at