The Great Energy-Efficiency Payback

Incentives to Upgrade and Save Money

The biggest obstacle to retrofitting our home with energy-saving upgrades and technologies—from storm windows to stellar insulation and rooftop solar panels—is often the cost. Even though we’re paying higher electric, gas and water bills due to leaks, drafts and outdated systems, these incremental penalties somehow seem more manageable than the upfront investment of installing say, a new geothermal heat pump.

Fortunately, Americans today have access to a range of federal and state incentives, loans, mortgages and tax breaks for those who want to improve their energy use while reducing the initial cost. It’s now possible to make everything from solar heating to efficient air conditioning or a new furnace more affordable.

Find the latest federal, state and local utility deals listed online at, a service of the U.S. Department of Energy.

1.       Energy-Efficiency Tax Credit: Energy-efficient water heaters, furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, air conditioners, insulation, windows, doors, roofs, circulating fans and biomass stoves are eligible for a 30 percent tax credit of up to $1,500. Expires December 31, 2010.

2.       Renewable Energy Tax Credit: Geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines and solar energy systems are eligible for a 30 percent tax credit with no upper limit for existing homes and new construction. Expires December 31, 2016.

3.       Fuel Cells and Microturbine Tax Credit: Residential fuel cell and microturbine systems are eligible for a 30 percent tax credit of up to $500 per .5 kW of operating capacity for existing homes and new construction. Expires December 31, 2016.

4.      Federal Housing Administration Energy-Efficient Mortgages: Through an FHA program, lenders can borrow up to 100 percent of energy efficiency improvement costs to add to an existing mortgage loan. Loan amounts cannot be greater than the projected savings the improvements will bring.

5.       Conventional Energy-Efficient Mortgages: Private lenders sell loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that allow homebuyers to borrow up to 15 percent of an existing home’s appraised value for energy-saving improvements as documented by a certified Home Energy Rater (search for one by state at Fannie Mae also lends up to 5 percent for Energy Star-rated new homes, including applicants who might not be income-qualified, by allowing lenders to adjust borrowers’ debt-to-income ratio by 2 percent.

6.    Energy-Efficient Appliances Rebate: Consumers can receive rebates to purchase new, Energy Star-rated appliances when they replace used appliances—including boilers, air conditioners, dishwashers, refrigerators and clothes washers—using $300 million distributed through the government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Start and end dates plus amounts vary by state. 

Brita Belli is the editor of E – The Environmental Magazine, and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Renewable Energy for Your Home.

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