By Doug Dill, President, BFS Heating & Cooling
When life throws you challenges, the smart person looks for opportunities. In these recessionary times, there’s a sizable opportunity to save money and create energy efficiencies by taking advantage of the new Tax Credit Act.
So what is the Tax Credit Act all about? From January 2009 to December 2010, residential tax credits are available if you install or upgrade heating, ventilation or air conditioning (HVAC) units and attain a 95+% efficiency level. 95% of those benefiting from the credit are replacing older units with newer models. Others are installing a new part on an existing furnace – such as a GE “Evergreen” blower motor with high efficiency – that accounts for a 25-75% energy savings. To optimize their savings and do the most for the environment, at least one in four homeowners are replacing both their furnace and air conditioner at the same time. It’s the combination of your HVAC energy ratings that earns you the credit.
Roof insulation and new windows are some of the other ways that you can take advantage of the Tax Credit Act.
All HVAC manufacturers have energy star-rated equipment that will qualify. Each is given an Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) certification number for such equipment. As a consumer, you need to a) ask your contractor for this number or get it from the AHRI web site (http://www.ahridirectory.org); b) after installation get documentation from the manufacturer that your equipment qualifies for the program and keep this info with your IRS records; c) ask your HVAC contractor for heating/cooling load calculations, which ensures that the correct size of equipment was installed for your particular space needs.
Install a geo-thermal heat pump and you’ll get an even better tax credit. Only 5% of the market uses such systems now. Combine the tax credit and the CenterPoint Energy rebate and the result is great savings now and payback on your equipment investment in seven years or less.
A tax credit to the extent provided by this Act has never been offered before. It translates to $1500 back or up to 30% of your installation cost on furnaces, air conditioners or both. Plus your monthly cash flow benefits from the savings on utility bills. For example, there’s typically a 15-30% monthly savings going from a 20-year-old furnace to a new one. On old furnaces that haven’t been properly maintained, the savings can be up to 50%.
If you don’t need to replace your HVAC systems currently, what are other ways to save energy and dollars? One easy approach is to install a programmable thermostat. You’ll especially see noticeable savings if you leave the house during the day for work. Another is to have your ductwork checked for leaks. In typical houses, about 20% of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks. This can cause hot and cold spots in your house and make your heating and cooling systems work harder. Compared to installing a bigger blower motor for $1000, we have been able to correct such leaks for only $300.
If you’re remodeling and adding square footage, consider adding a zone control system. This system provides different thermostats and dampers to modulate airflow in different areas of a house. (Example: a basement needs less cooling in the summer). Customers of ours have saved $2000 on their energy costs by using a zone control system.
Of course, common sense maintenance is always recommended. Cleaning your AC condenser unit every spring so that air can get through properly will prevent under-performance and expensive repair bills. Change your pleated filter at least every three months. Bring in fresh air with an air exchanger so your house can breathe better and you can alleviate allergies and prevent mold. You’ll save on energy and possibly healthcare bills as well!
If you haven’t already done so, get a free Saver Switch from Xcel Energy. This will lower your June – September energy bill by 15%. Also consider the $35 energy audit offered by CenterPoint. They can point out energy loss issues that you may not have known about. Another option is to get a 10-point maintenance check on your equipment from an energy solution provider. You get such a check done on your car every year to proactively prevent problems. It’s the same logic with your HVAC systems.
The ideal time to review your energy savings options is right now because rebates are available from both the utility companies and manufacturers. These are time sensitive and budget based, so get yours while you can. If you replace a 60% energy efficient furnace with a new model that is 97% efficient, you’ll get a payback on your initial cost in five years or less. And you’ll be better positioned if you choose to put your house on the market. So do what makes sense for both you and the environment by optimizing your energy efficiencies today. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.