Getting your hands on some green ... stimulus

At least $8B is designed to help homeowners add insulation, replace windows and get better appliances. Here's how to get your share.

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By Steve Hargreaves, staff writer

How effective will the $787 billion stimulus plan be in reviving the economy?
  • It will help a lot
  • It will help, but more will be needed
  • It's not nearly enough
  • It costs too much

NEW YORK ( -- If you want to green-up your home - and get the government to kick in for part of the bill - now may be the time to do it, thanks to the stimulus.

Depending on how the money is spent, upwards of $8 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package is destined for home energy improvements - things like getting an energy efficient fridge or putting in a solar hot water heater.

Here are the main parts of the plan, some advice on how to get the money and the projected cost to the government:

Home conservation: ($2 billion over 10 years) - The stimulus plan greatly expands tax credits currently in place for doing things like replacing an old furnace or adding better insulated windows.

Currently homeowners can deduct 10% of the amount paid for an energy efficient furnace, better windows or thicker insulation.

The new rules increase that to 30%, although the tax credit can't exceed $1,500.

Just save the receipt for the item you purchased and the deduction can be taken on your income tax return. A special form is needed to claim the refund, available wherever income tax forms are handed out.

But be careful - the items have to meet a certain efficiency level to be eligible for the credit.

While almost all windows that get the government's Energy Star efficiency seal of approval comply, not all Energy Star appliances make the grade, said Lowell Ungar, director of policy at the Alliance to Save Energy.

Ungar recommends consulting the manufacturer's Web site to make sure the item is eligible for the credit.

Backyard renewable energy: ($872 million over 10 years) - Currently, if you buy a small windmill for your field, a solar hot water heater for your roof or a geothermal heating system under your lawn, you can write off 30% of the cost on your federal tax bill, capped at $2,000 for the heating systems and $4,000 for the wind turbine. This bill removes those caps, although the 30% limit remains.

Utility or state-sponsored energy conservation programs ($8.7 billion) - Not all this money will go for energy improvements at home. In fact, most will go to make government buildings more efficient.

But a part of it may be used to offset the cost for utilities that run energy conservation programs.

Those programs include things like performing standard energy audits where contractors come in and evaluate the insulation and appliances in your home, then make the necessary upgrades. They also include more innovative things like things giving consumers a cash reward if they reduce their energy bill by a certain percent.

Ungar said utilities or state governments will typically pick up a third to a half of the cost of an energy audit and fixture upgrade, which can run anywhere from $1,000 to $18,000.

Contact your local utility or state energy office to see what programs are available in your area.

Grants to weatherize low- and middle-income homes ($5 billion) - Money for this goes for things like better insulation and windows and it covers 100% of the bill.

It's a huge increase in this program, up from a current allocation of about $500 million a year currently.

Ungar said the program should go from serving about 100,000 homes year to more than 1 million.

According to the Department of Energy, it can shave $358 a year off an average home's energy bill, at current prices.

Eligibility requirements vary by state, but generally recipients must make less than one-and-a-half times the federal poverty level - so about under $32,000 a year for a family of four.

For more information, see the Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program.

Rebates for energy efficient appliances: ($300 million) - This will provide matching funds for state programs that offer rebates on energy efficient appliances.

Energy efficiency retrofits in public housing projects: ($250 million) - Money for things like lighting upgrades, appliance upgrades and better windows at homes run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. To top of page

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