Plenty of Stimulus Money for Energy Improvements


There appears to be a cauldron of federal stimulus money going to waste these days because large numbers of Americans are more concerned about saving their houses than improving them. This isn’t sitting too well with the remodeling industry, especially home-center chains such as Home Depot, which has sent out a reminder that earlier this year, Congress approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Meaning that, until Dec. 31, 2010, homeowners can take advantage of a national tax credit of 30 percent of the cost, up to $1,500, on a variety of energy-saving products. Insulation, windows and doors, roofing, heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, tankless water heaters, and alternative energy programs, such as solar panels and wind turbines, are covered.

Here’s a basic explanation of how the tax credit works, with help from the Internal Revenue Service. What the law means: First, the provision that covers this is the Residential Energy Property Credit (Section 1121 of the act), which increases the energy tax credit for homeowners who make energy-efficient improvements to their existing homes. The law increases the credit rate to 30 percent of the cost of all qualifying improvements and raises the maximum credit limit to $1,500 for improvements placed in service in 2009 and 2010. Didn’t we have this before?

A similar credit was available for 2007. Standards for products that qualify for credit are higher than the ones allowed in the 2007 law. To be helpful, the IRS is advising manufacturers on how they can certify that their products meet these new standards for credit. Homeowners may continue to rely on manufacturers’ certifications under the 2007 law, such as EnergyStar labels, to see if products they bought before June 1 are eligible. Here comes the sun: Then there is the Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit, or Section 1122, of the Recovery Act. This is a nonrefundable energy tax credit designed to help individual taxpayers pay for qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, and wind turbines. What’s new here: The new law removes some of the maximum amounts previously allowed and permits a credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of qualified products. So what should I look for? For insulation to qualify, its primary purpose must be to insulate (for example insulated siding does not qualify). Windows, doors, and skylights: Starting Oct. 1, you’ll see a red or black label, in combination with EnergyStar designations, on these products. The label identifies high-efficiency products that now qualify as EnergyStar but don’t meet the stricter requirements effective April 1, 2010.

Windows, doors, and skylights purchased on or after June 1, 2009, must have U-factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) ratings of 0.30 or less. These ratings must be certified by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). Look for the NFRC label. Storm windows and doors: There is a tax credit. The best way to find ones that qualify for it is to ask your retailer for the Manufacturer’s Certification Statement for them. Roofs? “Metal roofs with appropriate pigmented coatings” and “asphalt roofs with appropriate cooling granules” that also meet EnergyStar credits are eligible – just the materials’ cost, not the labor or roof coatings. Alternative energy: Tax credits are available at 30 percent of the cost, with no upper limit through 2016, for existing homes and new construction, for geothermal heat pumps (they use about 30 percent less energy than a standard heat pump); solar energy systems – both solar hot water heating and photovoltaic power generating; residential small wind turbines with a capacity of not more than 100 kilowatts; residential fuel cell and microturbine systems with at least 30 percent efficiency, and hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, and fuel cell vehicles and electric cars.

Ask your tax accountant for details.