In the beginning, the movement toward greater energy efficiency brought with it a bounty of rebates and tax incentives to spur American creatures of habit toward more earth-friendly and energy conservative ways. However, as energy efficiency has become the standard, most of the populace embraces just about any “green” technology in the hopes that it will conserve not only power but also a little cash.

No longer in need of a carrot to lure homeowners into replacing gas or electricity guzzlers with ones that sip delicately from the power grid, the federal government has cut back considerably on the green incentives available to residential homeowners. Most savings at the federal level are now reserved for corporations and industries. However, a few credits remain intact.

Homeowners who purchased new, energy-efficient home improvement upgrades in 2011, 2012, or 2013 can be eligible for a personal tax credit of up to $500. The credit applies to water heaters, furnaces, boilers, heat pumps, central air conditioners, building insulation, windows, roofs, and heaters that comply with federal performance and safety standards. However, this tax credit expires on December 31, 2013, and has not come up for renewal by Congress, so homeowners who have not cashed in only have a few more months to take advantage of it.

For homeowners who are even more ambitious in their efforts to upgrade to the newest technology, one available tax credit relates to more advanced energy-saving systems—solar, geothermal, solar-electric, wind, and renewable fuels. For upgrades like these, the tax credit is 30 percent of the homeowner’s cost of upgrades, and besides a $500 maximum cap on fuel cells, there is no cap on the credit. However, the initial cost of these upgrades is high, and there are a number of criteria to be met in order to earn the tax credit:

  • Solar water heating equipment must be certified by the Solar Rating & Certification Corporation (SRCC) or a comparable entity endorsed by the state where the system is installed. At least half the energy used to heat the dwelling's water must be solar.
  • Geothermal heat pumps must meet federal ENERGY STAR criteria.
  • Fuel cells must have an electricity-only generation efficiency greater than 30 percent.

While green upgrades represent a huge investment in the house, the savings in utilities as well as the tax credit—which doesn’t expire until 2016 and may have a chance at being renewed—can mean money back in your pocket over the long term.

More rebate and incentive programs for homeowners can be found at the state, county, and city levels as municipalities seek to relieve the pressure of a growing population on their local power grid and water supplies. Many utility companies offer cash-back incentives for green upgrades around the home. Some incentives are even sponsored by the equipment manufacturers to encourage homeowners to upgrade older models of heating and cooling systems or household appliances to modern devices that work better and more efficiently.

To see which incentives you might be eligible for, check the fully sortable list of rebates at the US Department of Energy, where you can filter by state, type of upgrade, or provider and see the criteria for each offer.

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Sources: ENERGY STAR; Sierra Club; US Department of Energy; US News & World Report.

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