Home improvements that increase energy efficiency are appealing on many levels, from saving you money on heating and cooling costs to the confidence you get from knowing you're doing something good for the environment. They're even better when you can get some money back from the initial investment of making those improvements.
Heating accounts for 29 percent of a home's total energy use, cooling consumes 17 percent and water heating another 14 percent, according to EnergyStar.gov. Reducing energy consumption in those three areas through energy-efficient home improvements can help lower utility bills. Some improvements may also qualify for tax credits and rebates.
But how do you find that hidden money? Where do the rebates come from, who awards them and how can you get yours?
The U.S. government offers tax credits for certain energy-efficient home improvements. Alternative energy equipment such as solar water heaters, solar electricity equipment and wind turbines are eligible for a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of the qualified improvement, according to the IRS. The credit is available through the end of 2016 and can be claimed on your federal tax return. If you think these systems are too expensive, keep in mind the long-term payback. Solar water heating, for example, repays your investment much faster than you might think - in as little as three to six years. The average solar water heater has a 15-year usable life, so once you've recouped your initial investment it's like getting free hot water for the life of the heater.
Some state, county and municipal governments also have credit programs for energy-efficient home improvements. Visit www.dsireusa.org to view a clickable map of U.S. states where such rebates are available. Choose your state, and you'll see a list of county, municipal and state programs that may be available to you.
Your local utility company may also offer incentives for energy-boosting upgrades. If you still receive paper bills, take a moment to check over the inserts that come with it. Often, they provide information on money-saving programs, including any available rebates. Or, go to your gas or electricity provider's website and search for rebates. If all else fails, pick up the phone and call.
We've probably all passed up on a rebate opportunity for a lower-cost product because it was a hassle to send in the paperwork. But when it's a rebate for a new HVAC system or water heater, the savings can be significant. If you're in the market for a new energy-efficient appliance, water heater or HVAC unit, look for manufacturer's rebates. For example, Rheem, a manufacturer of eco-friendly HVAC systems, water heaters, pool and spa heaters, and boilers, offers a cash-back incentive twice yearly when homeowners purchase a qualifying HVAC system from the company.
Choose products that provide the maximum savings
When you're considering what energy-efficient product to buy, the energy savings are only part of the picture. Keep in mind available credits and rebates and look for products that maximize those benefits. The savings will mount when you choose options that qualify for not only the federal tax credit, but also local credits, manufacturer's rebates and utility company rebates. Products like Rheem's Hybrid Electric Heat Pump Water Heater qualify for incentives like utility rebates. This unit is nearly 2.5 times as efficient as a standard electric water heater and it costs only $18 a month to operate. Visit www.Rheem.com to learn more about energy-efficient products and the manufacturer's incentives.
When it comes to improving your home, nothing beats the satisfaction of knowing you've made a long-term cost-cutting decision. But tax credits and rebates can sweeten the deal and provide a more immediate return on your investment.
Devereaux Van Dyne, Certified Professional Home Inspector