Often, major-appliance replacement gets done in a hurry because there's no time to consider the alternatives. But if you know you're living with an older, energy-inefficient appliance, doing the homework in advance can yield not just a more intentional purchase, but also unexpected bonuses for the homeowner in the form of rebates and other rewards.
Likewise, if you have home remodeling projects in mind, it is worth your while to check if there are rebates or tax incentives available for energy-efficient components.
Even if you didn't win Wisconsin's "Oldest Fridge" contest, which ended Aug. 31, you can still get some cold, hard cash for recycling your outmoded fridge. Focus on Energy will come pick up your old, cold beast and pay you $50 for the privilege (which beats the $35 the city of Madison will charge you to pick up a refrigerator curbside). Refrigerators must be between 10 and 30 cubic feet and still work. They must also be empty, clean, still plugged in and running when Focus on Energy arrives to collect them. Call 855-398-5226 or go to focusonenergy.com/residential/efficient-products-appliances/appliance-recycling to schedule a pickup. Focus on Energy will see that the refrigerator is recycled properly piece by piece, keeping nearly all of it out of the landfill.
There are discounts available for investing in new Energy Star-certified washing machines, CFL lighting, and low-flow showerheads. This is a matter of checking for participating retailers at focusonenergy.com/residential/efficient-products-appliances/lighting-and-appliances. The discount should be applied at the time of purchase, with no additional applications or paperwork.
Focus on Energy also offers cash-back rewards for energy improvements made on existing homes, including for furnaces and a/c, water heaters, sealing and attic insulation. There's a regular reward program and an enhanced program for households that meet certain income requirements.
Details on the heating and cooling, insulation and water-heater programs, plus downloadable application forms, can be found at focusonenergy.com/residential/efficient-products-appliances/residential-rewards. Or call 800-762-7077.
Federal energy tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements including new windows and skylights, exterior doors, roofs, insulation, HVAC and water heaters (non-solar) have been extended through 2013 but are set to expire at the end of this year. The product must be "placed into service" by Dec. 31, 2013.
An energy-efficient, Energy Star-qualifying roof can yield a tax credit of up to $500. (New products, both asphalt and coated metal, can reflect more sunlight, which lowers roof temperature and inside temps as well.) Credit for insulation or adding insulation to your home also goes up to $500. A new qualifying energy-efficient water heater can gain homeowners a $300 tax credit.
Now could be the time to replace an aging central air-conditioning system. A Madison Gas and Electric summary of federal energy tax credits (PDF) suggests the best way to find a system eligible for the credit is to ask an HVAC contractor, because not all Energy Star-labeled systems will qualify. And older a/c units use a now outmoded freon and are more expensive to run. Furnaces can earn a credit of $150.
Windows, doors and skylights qualify up to $200, and even storm windows and storm doors can be part of the deal. Again, not all products labeled Energy Star will qualify for the credit, so be sure to ask questions before you buy.
Although several Green Madison programs ended on June 15, a partnership with the Summit Credit Union to provide low-interest financing to homeowners committed to energy-saving improvements does continue. Details on this program are available through Green Madison at 877-399-1204 or Summit at 800-236-5560.
Solar energy is the next frontier. Programs from Focus on Energy and federal energy tax credits are both available.
Savings can be substantial, but so can costs. Solar is a step to take after other energy-efficient options have already been taken. In fact, receiving a cash-back reward for installing a solar electric system through Focus on Energy requires that the homeowner has already completed energy-efficiency procedures, including installing an approved HVAC system or at least two Energy Star appliances.
This is also true for installing a geothermal heat pump. Requirements for a solar hot-water heater are even more complex, but Focus on Energy is happy to help interested homeowners understand the requirements. Federal credits for geothermal heat pumps, solar energy systems and solar water heaters are also available. They offer 30% of cost for qualified products, before Dec. 31, 2016. Go to energystar.gov/taxcredits for a complete rundown.
Who ya gonna call?
Focus on Energy
MGE home energy
Energy Star Hotline
888-782-7937 or 703-412-3086, energystar.gov
Two helpful in-home programs
Home Performance with Energy Star assessment program