By Julie Wernau, Tribune newspapers
April 8, 2010
If you’ve been thinking about replacing that energy-hogging refrigerator or outdated dishwasher, now might be the time. A nationwide program that gives rebates for consumers purchasing Energy Star appliances will soon be in full force.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy has doled out $300 million for rebate programs in the U.S. and its territories aimed at reducing home energy usage. The rebates can mean hundreds of dollars off the purchase price of a new appliance but are on a first-come, first-served basis. Individual programs vary; information can be found at energysavers.gov/rebates.
Some programs are offering rebates in specific dollar amounts, while others are offering a percentage off of the sticker price. In some states, rebates can be reserved online. Iowa is among states that allow consumers to use the federal rebates on top of existing state and utility rebates.
According to the Department of Energy, 31 states require that customers prove they have properly recycled an old appliance before receiving a rebate. Information about individual recycling plans can be found at energystar.gov/recycle.
“April is a big month for a number of states launching, particularly around Earth Day on April 22,” Energy Department spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said. “The program has been very successful thus far. It is encouraging people to make investments that will save energy.”
Though about half of states already had a rebate program, Stutsman said, because of Recovery Act funding, this is the first year every state will participate.
In Illinois, there have been appliance rebate programs in the past, but nothing of this magnitude, according to the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. A rebate program for energy-efficient washing machines in 2004 and 2005 doled out about $500,000 in funding as opposed to the $12 million that has been allocated for both phases of the rebate program this year in Illinois.
Each state and territory has selected its own set of products to rebate, based on the Energy Department’s list of recommended appliances: refrigerators, boilers, central air conditioners, room air conditioners, clothes washers, dishwashers, freezers, furnaces (oil and gas), heat pumps (air source and geothermal) and water heaters.
According to the Energy Department, the average homeowner’s annual energy bill is $2,200. Heating and cooling account for about 46 percent of that and appliances 14 percent.
The older the appliance, the greater the savings when it is replaced. A washing machine from the 1970s guzzles about $195 in energy per year, while a 2009 Energy Star-rated washing machine consumes about $55 per year in energy, the Department of Energy said. A homeowner who replaces a pre-1993 refrigerator with a new energy-efficient appliance stands to save about $65 per year.
“I have a feeling people are literally waiting for (the program) to start,” said Barry Krasney, owner of Cole’s Appliance and Furniture in Chicago, referring to the Illinois appliance rebate program, which runs April 16 to 25.
Krasney said customers frequently inquire about Energy Star appliances. “There’s people who are definitely ‘I won’t buy anything except Energy Star,’” he said. There are other people who come in and they ask you questions, ‘Is it really worth it, me buying Energy Star?’”
Those who don’t plan to own their homes for very long sometimes decide the upfront cost won’t pay itself back fast enough, he said. Others see dividends or decide to purchase an energy-saving appliance for the environmental benefits.
“You pay to save,” said Krasney. “If you’re planning on keeping something for a very, very long time, it’s a definite plus. You will save money.”
Homeowner Scott Herr of Palatine, Ill., spends about $900 per year in home heating costs. His furnace was 15 years old when he decided to replace it with a new furnace and heat pump in the first phase of the state’s rebate program, which included rebates for upgrades to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and water heaters.
Herr, an information technology consultant who writes a blog called “The Frugal Nerd,” said his rebates and tax credits totaled $3,950: $1,000 for the heat pump, $350 for the furnace, a federal energy tax credit of $1,500 and a manufacturer rebate of $1,100. He’s looking at saving about $300 in energy costs.
After replacing most of his home’s appliances seven years ago, timing his electricity usage to coincide with less congested times for the grid and replacing his lighting with energy-efficient bulbs, Herr said he has been putting a lot of thought into how reducing his energy usage can help him save money.
“The furnace that we had was getting fairly old — approaching the end of its life — and this program was enough to push me over the edge,” he said.
Illinois appliance rebate program
Rebates for eligible clothes washers, dishwashers, room air conditioners, refrigerators and freezers begin April 16 and run through April 25. Before making a purchase, check for requirements and participating retailers at illinoisenergy.org/appliances.
Energy Star clothes washers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators and room air conditioners are eligible for an instant 15 percent discount off the purchase price at the time of sale. Consumers who purchase refrigerators or freezers are eligible for an additional $75 mail-in rebate when they submit proof that an old unit was hauled away. Appliances must be purchased for personal, residential use in order to qualify for a rebate.
Since the start of the program Jan. 31 with rebates for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems and water heaters, $21 million has been pumped into the Illinois economy from those participating in the program, said Marcelyn Love, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. About $12.4 million was allocated for the rebates, and $6 million is available in Illinois for the appliance portion of the program, she said.