"Before you start thinking about using solar energy or any of the other high-tech options available," says Karlenzig, "the first thing is to do an inventory."
Most local utilities will perform one free. The inventory highlights the spots where the energy is being wasted. This often windows and doorways - improvements that in the past haven't been tax deductible but now carry credits if they if the materials are Energy Star-certified. Exterior windows and doors, including skylights, which meet Energy Star requirements currently have a 10% tax credit up to $200. Additionally, roofing and insulation or sealing that meets efficiency requirements earns a 10% credit up to $500.
The Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star programs and products help save the environment and save consumers money by using less energy through advanced design or construction. For more information, check out www.energystar.gov.
In addition to Energy Star, two new sets of national residential guidelines have been introduced to the marketplace: the National Association of Home Builders’ Model Green Home Building Guidelines and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes initiative. The national programs are intended to encourage the mainstream homebuilding industry to adopt sustainable practices.
"It's all connected--you save money, you save energy," says Karen Schneider, an environmental protection specialist at the EPA. She points out that the average American home emitted 22,000 pounds of carbon last year. "Credits are paid for 2006 and 2007, but the payoff will be for the life of the product."
The EPA observes that the benefits to be twofold. Efficient materials can reduce energy costs by 30%. – that’s an average annual savings of $600 to the average American, who spent $1,900 on energy bills last year.
Green often costs a little more upfront—roughly 2 percent to 5 percent more -
but the savings appear immediately. For example, stepped-up insulation means you can install smaller, more efficient, and heating and AC units. Buyers and builders can also save by opting for recycled materials, according to the Green Building Initiative.
“Green-built homes don’t have to cost so much more,” observes architect Peter L. Pfeiffer. “They just have to be better thought out.”
If you're looking for the most consistent long-term green solution, the answer lies at your local nursery--trees. Summer heat flows through the east and west of a North American house, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that mature trees planed on eastern and western exposures can reduce temperature by almost 10 degrees in summer months. In some cities, like Sacramento, Calif., the local government gives trees away in order to reduce strain on the grid.
At the moment, there are no tax deductions for planting trees.
For more information regarding green energy savings, please consult your accountant.