Angie's List: How to use federal tax credits for home improvement projects

If you were thinking about replacing those drafty windows or a leaky water heater, you may want to do it by the end of the month. Because once the new year rolls around, several federal tax credits will come to an end.

Those tax credits could mean hundreds of dollars in savings on home improvement projects you've been putting off, but time is of the essence.

Making your home more energy efficient is something Uncle Sam will pay you to do, but his checkbook is only open a few more weeks.

"Time is running out to take advantage of federal tax credits. A lot of credits expire at the end of this year. The credits relate to home efficiency opportunities, so making those improvements now before the end of the year is going to be important," says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.

And you're not alone if you've been thinking about doing something about that old furnace or drafty front door.

Hicks explains how many other people have taken advantage of the tax breaks, "We're hearing consumers are taking advantage of the tax credits by installing new windows and installing new doors, insulation, even heating and cooling. In a recent Angie's List poll 40 percent of the respondents had taken advantage of these credits."

Tax credits are also available for a new roof, water heater, even a biomass stove, but don't assume every home improvement mean a tax credit.

"Consumers need to be in the driver's seat when they are shopping because not every product is going to qualify for the tax credit. Don't rely solely on the company doing the installation - also check with your tax consultant," says Hicks.

Here's how the tax credit works: the tax credit is 10-percent of the total cost of qualifying energy-efficient home improvement up to $500. Or a specific amount from $50-$300.

A more energy-efficient model may cost more up front than a less efficient model. But you can recoup 10-percent of the cost through this tax credit, as well as the long term savings you'll see in your energy bills.

Money Saving Tax Credits
A more energy-efficient model may cost more up front than a less efficient model, but you can recoup 10 percent of the cost through this tax credit, as well as the long term savings you'll see in your energy bills.

1. HVAC Systems : Heating and cooling account for more than half the energy used in a typical home. If your heating or cooling unit is more than 10 years old, and you have had substantial repair costs, it may be a good time to think about replacing.
2. Insulation: A home should we well-insulated, from the roof to its foundation. If not, it could easily lose nearly half of its heating and cooling energy. How to tell if you need insulation? Look in your attic for exposed 2-by-4's. For the walls, find a spot, preferably in the closet where it's not seen, and make a small puncture hole with a wire. You should feel resistance and insulation. It's a good idea to have an energy audit done to determine areas in need of insulation.
3. Water Heaters: Water heating can account for up to a quarter of the energy consumed in your home. Maintained properly, water heaters will last for years and deliver gallon after gallon of hot water. But if your water heater is more than ten years old, it's probably operating at less than 50 percent of its efficiency.
4. Roofing: Industry experts say qualified roof products reflect more of the sun's rays; lowering the roof surface temperature by up to 100F, thus decreasing the amount of heat transferred you're your home. Curling, crackling and blistering of the shingles and/or a leaky roof are indicators that you need a new roof.
5. Windows: By replacing your windows you can expect a return on your investment of at least 80 percent. If you notice condensation and drafts on and around your windows, or rotting or warping frames, you might be in need of an upgrade.
6. Doors: The front door is a great way to increase curb appeal, and today's styles are more energy efficient. If your door is 15 years or older, splitting, or cracking - then it's likely time to replace.
7. Biomass Stoves: Biomass stoves burn renewable sources to heat a home or heat water. The stoves burn pellets made from wood, corn, straw and other agricultural resources. Many new stoves come with EPA-approved standards that burn off most of the polluting gases and increase your stove's efficiency by as much as 10 percent.

Angie's List Buying Tips:
It pays to do your research: It's important for homeowners to research the credits for home improvement products before buying. Each item has its own requirements in order to qualify. For example, the tax credit for insulation does not include installation costs. Don't rely solely on the company doing the installation• also check with your tax consultant. A great place to start your homework online is through Energy Star .
• Save for tax time: Homeowners need to save receipts and the signed statement from the manufacturer certifying the product qualifies for the tax credit with your records for tax time.

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