By Cynthia Ramnarace
Uncle Sam is still handing out tax credits, but you had better get moving
While the debate over climate change rages on, energy-efficient features have become a key attraction for today's home buyers.
And why not?
Energy-efficient home features help lower your bills while reducing your carbon footprint. On top of that, Uncle Sam is
still handing out tax credits worth up to
1. Energy-efficiency audit
Before you can make your home more energy efficient, you need to know where you currently stand. A so-called energy audit, in which an energy professional inspects your home to determine where efficiencies can be created, is a great way for homeowners to figure out which parts of their property need attention. "That is the very first step that any homeowner should take," says Karen Thull of the
2. Seal it up
Ensuring that your home is tightly sealed is a key component of energy efficiency. "You can talk about the future of the smart home and all of that," says Meg Matt, the president and CEO of the
3. Insulate upstairs
Adding insulation can help keep your home comfortable year-round. "It turns out that about half of the homes in the United States are underinsulated," Callahan says. "If your home was built before about 1980, you should really look at it to see if you have got the proper level of insulation." For those adding insulation, Callahan recommends starting with an easily accessible part of the house, such as the attic. "In the attic spaces, a lot of times, the insulation over a period of years will reduce down to maybe three or four inches where you are supposed to have like 10 inches of insulation," says Paul Zuch, the president of Capital Improvements. "A lot of the insulation companies promote going in and blowing an additional 10 inches of insulation in your attic. That really helps." Certain insulation products can qualify for federal tax credits.
4. Seal the ducts
Ducts carry hot or cold air to different parts of homes with forced-air heating and cooling systems. But the
5. Programmable thermostat
Another way to cut down on energy costs is a programmable thermostat, Callahan says. These devices -- which can be found for less than
6. Energy-efficient windows
Replacing old, leaky windows with higher-efficiency models can also make your home greener. Zuch recommends that consumers buy wood windows instead of aluminum-framed models, which can allow hot or cold air to pass through more readily. "Wood windows are great because wood is a natural insulator," Zuch says. "It just doesn't allow heat and cold to move through the frame." Energy-efficient windows typically have two panes of glass filled with a gas that works to slow down the heat that passes through it, Zuch says. Qualified energy-efficient windows are eligible for a federal tax credit, but installation costs are not included.
7. Energy-efficient doors
Certain higher-efficiency door models also can qualify for a tax break from Uncle Sam. When looking for energy efficiency, avoid hollow metal doors, Kuperszmid Lehrman says. "Any kind of hollow door is going to be terrible because the air is going to infiltrate right through," she says. Instead, look for a door of insulated steel, fiberglass, or wood. If you'd prefer that a portion of the door be glass, look for energy-efficient components. "If you are going to go for glass, you want to make sure that you get the same sort of insulating features that you would look for in a window."
8. Add storm windows
Storm windows can be a lower-cost alternative to a full-blown window replacement project. "Storm windows are a very inexpensive way to increase the energy efficiency of your current windows," Kuperszmid Lehrman says. But she cautions that the project makes financial sense only if a homeowner's current windows are in good condition, since rotting or leaky windows would need to be replaced sooner or later anyway. "If your interior windows are in good shape, then [installing storm windows is] a quick way to increase your energy efficiency without going through the expense and the mess of ripping out your current windows," she says. Certain storm windows and doors can qualify for a federal tax credit, but installation costs are not included.
9. Energy-efficient heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system
Replacing an outdated heating, ventilating, and air conditioning system with more energy-efficient models can also lower your monthly energy bills. But because the project can be quite expensive, Kuperszmid Lehrman suggests that homeowners take this step only as a last resort. Before considering this project, it's essential to make sure your home is as well-sealed and insulated as possible. "If you upgrade your HVAC system but your house is still leaking, you still are going to use an enormous amount of energy," she said. Only homeowners who have properly sealed homes but old and unreliable heating and cooling equipment should invest in a new HVAC system, Kuperszmid Lehrman says. "I wouldn't call somebody to replace your heating system in the dead of winter," she says. "I would do some research and then call them when people aren't calling them for the emergency calls." Certain heating and cooling products can qualify for federal tax credits.
10. High-efficiency water heaters
These can drive down home energy costs as well. "Water heating makes up anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of the annual energy usage in a home," says Steve Koep of Marathon Water Heaters. High-efficiency water heaters conserve energy by keeping water hot for longer than traditional water heaters. "You start saving money on a monthly basis, and that technology will generally pay for itself in anywhere from three to five years," Koep says. Certain water heaters can qualify for federal tax credits.
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