Snug as a bug, with a few extra bucks

Contractors, retailers and manufacturers urge homeowners to take advantage of the weatherization tax credit

The 2009 federal stimulus added $132 million to Minnesota’s Weatherization Assistance Program. The question is, are homeowners taking advantage of it?

Barb McMickle, general manager at Scherer Window and Door Consultants, says yes.

Businesses like Hopkins-based Scherer Window and Door Consultants have run advertisements that encourage homeowners to take advantage of this credit, and McMickle says people are definitely calling about the weatherization act.

“I would say about 70 percent of people who call are calling about weatherization and are aware of [the stimulus money],” she said.

Minneapolis-based Castle Building & Remodeling also alerted their clients of the tax credit in 2009. According to owner Loren Schirber, the company mailed all of their 2009 clients a letter letting them know that they provide documentation for the incentive. Schirber said that only two homeowners have requested the paperwork thus far, but he expects an increase once people finish their taxes.

“For companies that just do windows and doors, the weatherization credit has probably been a boost. I’m sure that it really helps them,” Schirber said. But for companies that do larger remodels and construction projects, the tax credit is more of a “nice to know while you’re at it,” sort of project they tell homeowners about.

Many homeowners may be not be aware of other work that qualifies for the tax credit, leading them to focus on windows and doors and call specialists in that area when weatherizing their home.

The Department of Energy has found that adding insulation in attics and walls is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase energy efficiency, and homeowners can get credit for the materials used for such projects.

In addition to existing doors and windows, skylights may also be replaced. Homeowners can add insulation to walls, ceilings and other parts of their homes, as well as seal cracks in the ducts and building shell. Pigmented metal roofs qualify for the tax credit as well.

Around 38 million households are eligible for the weatherization tax credit under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The credit is available for work placed in service from Jan. 1, 2009, through Dec. 31, 2010. The goal of the tax credit is to lower energy expenses for homeowners facing other serious financial pressures right now.

To qualify, homeowners must have incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level (this was raised from 150 percent) and must follow the procedures put in place by the Department of Energy in order to receive the tax credit.

Homeowners must first call their local agency, which is the Minnesota Office of Energy Security, for an up-to-date list of local weatherization agencies. Homeowners must then provide proof of wages in order to be eligible.

Next the homeowner must arrange a professional energy consultation that includes an analysis of past energy bills and a blower-door test, which measures the infiltration of outside air. During a blower test, a fan is mounted to the frame of the door on the exterior. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure. The high pressure air on the outside flows through all of the unsealed cracks, exposing the leaks.

Lastly, the weatherization agency schedules the work for the homeowner and the workers arrive. To receive a tax credit, homeowners must file the IRS Form 5695, and keep all receipts and copies of manufacturer’s certification.

The average energy bill savings per year are $350 and $5,505 over the life of the work, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.