Homeowners ramp up improvements before tax credit expires

Energy-saving deals expiring

Staff WriterDecember 14, 2010 

  • A $1,500 federal tax credit for energy-efficiency upgrades, enacted as part of the federal stimulus package, is about to expire after two years.

    The federal tax credit is capped at $1,500. Homeowners were able to take it in two installments - on their 2009 and 2010 tax returns.

    Homeowners typically combine the federal incentive with local rebates and discounts for greater savings. For example, in North Carolina conservation incentives are offered by natural gas utilities, electric utilities, rural cooperatives and municipal power agencies.

    Additionally, the N.C. State Energy Office paid out $10 million in conservation incentives this year, but the money has all been claimed and the agency is putting people on a waiting list for rebates that homeowners have signed up for but may end up not using.

    Qualifying items include heat pumps, central air conditioners, water heaters, furnaces, storm windows and storm doors. Items that qualify for the federal incentive typically qualify for state and local incentives as well.

    For a complete listing of what qualifies, go to www.energystar.gov/taxcredits.

The drone of power tools in attics and crawl spaces typically falls silent this time of year. But in the midst of this holiday season, homeowners throughout the state are rushing to schedule installments of furnaces, heat pumps, water heaters and other equipment.

Their motive: a $1,500 federal energy conservation incentive that's set to expire Dec. 31.

Area contractors and installers say the looming deadline has boosted business by about one-third in recent weeks. Many expect busy installation schedules as the deadline approaches, and some say scheduling slots are getting scarce.

Home improvement chains have featured the tax credit in their advertising campaigns, and one local contractor has played up the expiring incentive on billboards.

"We are marketing it fairly aggressively," said Dave Dombrowski, a manager at ARS Heating & Cooling in Raleigh. "We've had to add a significant number of crews and move people from other departments to handle some additional workload."

The federal tax credit covers 30 percent of the cost of conservation upgrades, up to $1,500. Congress created the financial incentive in 2008 as part of the federal stimulus package.

The full benefit of the $1,500 incentive comes from combining the federal tax credit with local rebates and discounts. In the Triangle, for example, a high-efficiency central air-conditioning unit with a natural gas furnace can qualify for $1,500 from the feds, $300 from Progress Energy and $100 from PSNC Energy.

Marc Chambers, an architect who lives in Cary, has been talking to contractors since last year about getting his 18-year-old heating and cooling system replaced. He finally had two new units installed last week and expects to save more than $3,000, using a combination of incentives, on the twin units, which cost him about $12,000.

Why not grab savings?

"Why not be pre-emptive and take advantage of the incentives now instead of waiting for a crisis?" he said. "The last few summers we had lived in dread that one hot day when you crank up the system, the air conditioner was going to blow out."

It's hard to tell how popular the federal tax credit is, because the Internal Revenue Service doesn't track claims for it.

But had the credit been extended by Congress, congressional staff estimated it would have cost the government $2 billion over the next two years, which represents 1.3 million claims for $1,500.

Congress is considering a smaller incentive for next year, however, as part of a bigger tax package. As currently proposed, the new credit would cover 10 percent of the cost of conservation upgrades, up to a maximum of $500. The measure is in the Senate now, but with no guarantee of passage, many homeowners aren't waiting.

Using whole tax credit

Bill Delbridge, an insurance claims manager in Zebulon, had planned to replace his 25-year-old central air conditioner for some time. Delbridge, who learned about the federal tax credit from his tax preparation software program, had used $750 of the federal tax credit last year to buy an energy-efficient front door and didn't want to let the rest of the incentive to slip through his fingers.

Knowing he'd have to make the investment anyway, he made the move last week and spent about $13,000 on an air conditioner, new insulation and other upgrades, with a savings of more than 10 percent from a combination of incentives.

"I just moved my time line up," he said. "My wife loves it - this unit is so much quieter."

john.murawski@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8932

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