The Low Down On Green Living
December 10th, 2007
Oh yes, there is a Santa Claus. Well, maybe not in the whole red suit, bowl-full-of-jelly way, but there are gifts with your name on them in the form of rebates and tax breaks available for greening your home. But, since they won’t arrive in your stocking on Christmas morning, you’ll need to know what to look for and where to find them.
In general, there are four major areas of incentives for homeowners looking to lower their environmental impact:
+ Energy-saving appliances
+ Energy efficiency through insulation and windows
+ Solar and other alternative power
+ Miscellaneous (water efficiency, mortgages, etc.)
Since incentives vary by location, it can be tough to know what applies to you. Fortunately, several easy-to-use resources exist to help you figure out what incentives are available. The most comprehensive of these is the national Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE). Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, DSIRE lists the renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives available from all levels of government: federal, state, and local. Just select your state and you’re on your way to savings!
If you’ve been thinking about installing new energy efficient appliances, but haven’t been able to make the leap and plunk down the cash, maybe this will help: many state and local incentives exist to give you that nudge.
California probably leads the way in providing all sorts of incentives. In addition to the DSIRE database, a great way to see what’s available to residents of the Golden State is to go to Flex Your Power, California’s statewide energy efficiency marketing and outreach campaign. There, you can search for incentives by zip code. The listing includes rebates on appliances among other things, offered by all levels of government so you can find the best deal for you.
For example, PG&E in San Francisco and the Los Angeles DWP offer residential energy efficiency rebate programs, which provide for rebates on new Energy Star appliances, including clothes washers and dryers, air conditioners, and even pool pumps. A word to the wise: make sure to check the details of the program before making a purchase - though Energy Star is the standard for environmentally-friendly appliances, some may not qualify for specific rebates.
Anaheim Public Utilities offers its customers similar rebates, but then go a step further. They will come to your home to perform an efficiency inspection, recommending energy saving steps and appliances – free of charge. They will also provide customers a free energy-efficient light bulb. Who says you can’t get something for nothing?
In addition to appliances, New York’s Long Island Power Authority’s incentive program includes a focus on geothermal heat pumps in its residential rebate program, as well as rebates for energy-efficient air conditioners. Other areas offer additional rebates for specific items, like ceiling fans (Burbank, CA) and even LED holiday lights (Lompoc, CA). Now that’s what we call the holiday spirit!
There may even be money available for your old appliances. After heating/air conditioning and water heaters, the biggest energy-hogger in a home is the refrigerator. Many areas offer a buy-back program for the old ones – in Los Angeles, you’ll receive $35 and 6 free compact fluorescent light bulbs in exchange for ol’ Frosty. More importantly, recyclers will properly dispose of harmful contaminants like used oil, mercury and refrigerants. So even if there is no money in it for you, be sure to contact your local utility to ask about proper disposal of any used appliance.
In addition to rebates, keep an eye out for other incentives promoting energy efficiency - low interest loans, for example, like those offered in Austin, TX and many areas in Florida. These loans give you the cash you might need to make the switch to energy efficient appliances; and remember, you’ll save money on the back end with lower energy bills.
Some areas of the country entice consumers with tax breaks. For example, if you live in Texas you’re familiar with the sales tax “holiday” – one glorious day when purchases are exempt from state sales taxes. Now, the state is making the event more meaningful by designating a three-day tax holiday over Memorial Day weekend for energy efficient products, like air conditioners, dishwashers, and even programmable thermostats. For all three days, these products are tax-free, so why not start saving now for the washing machine of your dreams?
Insulation and Windows
One of the best things that you can do to increase the energy efficiency of your home is to provide better insulation to keep out the cold and heat in the first place. Many areas have rebates available for adding insulation or energy efficient windows.
In Los Angeles, SoCal Gas offers a rebate of $.15/sq ft. of insulation, and $1.00 for every six linear feet of pipe wrap. Springfield, Illinois’ City Water Light and Power ups the ante with a rebate of 30% of your insulation project costs, up to $500. And just like with appliances, the initial investment will pay you back with lower energy bills all year round.
To help Texans cope with their sweltering summers, Austin Energy and CPS Energy in San Antonio offer rebates on solar screens and film, as well as on radiant barriers for attics. Not familiar with these? A quick primer…
Solar screens cover the outside of a window just like standard window screens. But, solar screens block the heat generated as the sun’s rays passes through the glass windows. Radiant barriers, on the other hand, are reflective sheets usually laid across the top of exposed insulation in the attic. As solar energy is absorbed by the roof, much of the heat radiated from the hot roof is reflected back up, away from the insulation. This makes the top surface of the insulation cooler, thus reducing the amount of heat that moves through the insulation into the rooms below the ceiling. Pretty cool, in that “How did we not know about this sooner?” kind of way, huh?
Though we always think of insulation and windows when it comes to making our homes more energy efficient, don’t forget the nature’s candy of insulation - trees. Strategically placed trees can maximize the amount of sun that hits your home in the winter, and minimize it in the summer. Utilities in some cities, including Los Angeles and Anaheim, CA, will recommend the best types of trees and locations for planting, and will even give you one or more trees for free.
Solar and other alternative power
With more and more interest and investment going towards alternative energy, states and municipalities have enacted several types of incentives to encourage residential adoption of its production. Illinois, among other states, offers a rebate program for solar equipment including solar water heaters and even solar pool heating. At 30% of costs up to a maximum of $10,000, the rebates are nothing to sneeze at.
Several programs in California provide payments for installing alternative energy sources. The state has adopted the California Solar Initiative to reach its goal of providing 3,000 MW of solar capacity by 2017. By providing a payment ranging from $2.50 to $3.50 per Watt of power generated, the program is designed to increase the use of photovoltaics in the state. Rebates are also available statewide on solar water heaters, and on the purchase and installation of photovoltaic systems through local utility programs.
In addition to solar, California also supports the Self-Generation Incentive Program, which offers incentives to those resourceful folks who produce electricity with micro-turbines, gas turbines, wind turbines, fuel cells and internal combustion engines. The incentive payments range from $1 - $4.50 per Watt, depending on the type of system used. Retail electric and gas customers of San Diego Gas & Electric, Pacific Gas & Electric (San Francisco), Southern California Edison or Southern California Gas are eligible for the program.
In New York, the state has enacted a personal income tax credit for residential photovoltaic systems and solar-thermal equipment. New Yorkers can claim a credit equal to 25% of the cost of the equipment and installation. Credits like this one are more valuable than tax deductions, as credits are deducted directly from your tax bill, not just your income. In addition, some local municipalities have granted an exemption from sales tax for these types of systems.
Loans are also available to customers looking to finance home improvements using green technology, like in south-central Pennsylvania and parts of Georgia. These loans might be low- or no-interest, but terms vary so make sure you understand the details before signing on the dotted line.
As the Southwest and other parts of the country struggle with long droughts, programs to conserve water are more important than ever. In Los Angeles, for example, homeowners can receive a $100 rebate on an ultra-low-flush toilet. San Francisco residents can receive free low-flow aerators and shower heads. Even if your utility doesn’t provide these for free, consider purchasing them for your home. They are an inexpensive way to save a scarce resource.
And finally, a gift from your favorite uncle, Sam. Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEM) help homeowners finance energy efficiency measures, like renewable energy technologies, in both new and existing homes. As some EEMs are insured through FHA or VA programs, they provide a measure of security to lenders for customers whom they would usually deny, and thus allow borrows who might otherwise be denied loans to pursue energy efficient improvements. I knew that he would come through.
Whatever path you choose on your way to lowering your home’s impact, spend a little time researching the incentives available. Though your mom may have said that it’s better to give than to receive, receiving ain’t too bad either.
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