By timestaff
August 1, 2011

Investing in energy-efficient home technology is like buying a home gym: Though you may be tempted by the promise of a long-term payoff, it’s easy to be turned off by the upfront cost. “That’s really what the challenge is — to move customers to action,” says Stephen Cowell, CEO of Conservation Services Group, a company that works with utilities and conservation groups to improve energy efficiency.

You can overcome this inertia, however, by taking advantage of numerous strategies and programs that both ease the financial pain of energy-saving home improvements and make it possible to keep cool for the rest of the summer. Here’s a sample of what’s available:

Federal help

Currently, you can get a federal tax credit for energy-efficient home improvements (such as sealing your house better to keep the cool air in): 10% of your cost, excluding labor, up to $500. The program expires at the end of the year. More advanced energy-efficient improvements – such as geothermal heat pumps, solar water heating, photovoltaic systems and small wind turbines – lead to a tax credit worth 30% of the cost, with no maximum credit. This arrangement lasts through 2016.

State funds

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, states were allocated money they could distribute to customers in the form of rebates on purchases of energy-efficient appliances. While most of the states have distributed their money and ended their rebates, you can still find an official list of states with active programs (or at least waiting lists). Beware of fake rebate websites. A total of 21 localities — states, territories and the District of Columbia — still have open programs. Massachusetts, for example, recently reinstated a rebate program covering room air conditioners and refrigerators.

Company discounts

In the hopes of drumming up business, private companies are cutting prices, too. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning manufacturer Lennox, for example, is running a promotion offering up to $1,400 in rebates on selected systems this summer. It’s also possible to find relevant discounts in Groupon’s Home & Garden category, launched earlier this year and available in several cities.

Your local utility company is likely offering rebates linked to energy efficiency: Roughly two-thirds of Americans, estimates Cowell, have access to such a program. To find what your utility may be offering in the way of rebates or loans, you can start at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (where you can also learn about other public and private programs). The summer-related products most often covered by utility-run rebate programs are air conditioners and pool pumps, says Cowell.

At home

Finally, some energy-efficient moves don’t require much spending, or any at all, to save you money over the rest of the summer:

  • Switch off your air conditioner in favor of ceiling fans or portable fans, which use less electricity and can make you feel five degrees cooler.

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