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  Sunday, April 20, 2014  
   
 

 
Green With Envy
Some luxurious options in home comfort are more affordable than ever!  

It’s the little things, the personal touches and small luxuries that make our homes unique and cozy.  Our choices reflect our personal style and speak of who we are. On the other hand, it’s the big things, like our home’s comfort systems that have the greatest impact on the quality of time we spend in our homes. There are few mechanical devices, including our cars, which can endure the 24/7 run time that we demand of our heating and cooling system. With the recession officially decreed, the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 has been designed to jump start our ailing economy. This aggressive program, along with a confluence of some uncommon opportunities, positions the homeowner to invest in some luxurious and affordable choices in energy wise-heating and cooling systems.

Financial relief, in the form of a 30% tax credit (up to $1500) rewards us when we spend our home improvement dollars in energy efficient air to air comfort systems such as heat pumps and air conditioners. Even fossil fuel burning systems, such as furnaces, boilers and water heaters, are eligible for the energy tax incentives.

When making this important invest­ment, the tax credit will hinge on a number of factors.

In most instances, the comfort system must be “put into service” before the end of 2010. Moreover, unfamiliar terms and phrases like SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) and EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) are key to qualifying for the tax credit. Much like a car’s MPG, or miles per gallon, these engineering acronyms are universal formulas which rate a system’s energy efficiency. Moreover, they reveal important distinctions in the system’s cost of operation.

In terms of efficiency, the spectrum is broad. For comparison sake, if your comfort system predates the Reagan era, it probably measures about 5 SEER.  In the present day, the bottom rung of efficiency is the lowly 13 SEER. 13 SEER is the minimum efficiency standard which can be manufactured in the United States and is not eligible for the tax credit. Surprisingly, even many systems touting the esteemed Energy Star distinction, including 14 SEER, do not necessarily meet the tax credit guidelines. With some exceptions, most systems must meet a minimum 15 SEER rating to meet the efficiency specifications of the tax incentives.

To ensure the equipment’s eligibility for the tax credit, especially at the minimal SEER level, the homeowner should rely upon a trusted, professional heating and cooling contractor to help guide them through the process of equipment selection. Reputable companies should offer written documentation itemizing the energy performance data. To support the tax credit claim, Peninsula Heating & Air, for instance, provides a Certificate of Product Ratings. Generated by the highly regarded Air Conditioning & Refrigerant Institute, this certificate specifies energy data including SEER. Most importantly, the document plainly states whether the equipment purchase meets the criteria.

With a bold nod to green technology, engineering expertise and innovation has taken living comfortably far beyond the ranks of 13 SEER. The efficiency hierarchy now exceeds 20 SEER and offers the maximum value in terms of energy conservation and comfort. For comparison sake, a 20 SEER system is four times more efficient than the Reagan era 5 SEER system. The disparity can result in a notable difference in what we spend toward energy costs, to the point where upgrading to a higher ranking SEER can help off-set the initial equipment investment.

There are more positive changes in the air for homeowners who are interested in reshaping our energy future. As the government pushes us to lessen our carbon footprint through the investment of green heating and cooling technology, many quality manufacturers, such as York and Trane, are wooing homeowners with generous purchase incentives and rebates, some up to $1700. A deal-maker for many, the incentives give homeowners more buying power in regard to equipment selection.  Moreover, they allow us to indulge in a little luxury making some sophisticated comfort options more affordable. Two-stage gas heating, variable speed motors, zone controls, even remote/wireless communication can assist in maximizing energy savings while also making us oh so comfortable! In addition, provided a licensed, qualified contractor performs the equipment installation, even the manufacturer’s “limited” warranty protection has been broadened. In many cases to 12 years’ of peace of mind warranty coverage.

Of all the incentives to replace or upgrade the home’s comfort equipment, super-efficient geothermal, or water source heating and cooling, presents the greatest opportunities in both tax credits and savings. Geothermal is a heating and cooling system which does not consume fossil fuel. Instead, it taps into the free, renewable supply of solar energy stored in the ground.  Similar to SEER, EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) is the formula used to measure geothermal’s effectiveness. In terms of energy efficiency, it could be said that geothermal rules sovereign in the heating and cooling kingdom as it offers efficiency ratings that can exceed 30 EER, an echelon that leave most conventional heat pump systems “green” with envy. In addition, geothermal can also provide most, if not all, of the home’s domestic hot waters needs and can be integrated with other systems such as radiant floor heating and solar panels. Using about 30% less energy than standard heat pump systems, the tax credit is congruent with the energy savings. An astonishing 30% can be claimed on the total cost of installation, with no dollar cap. Pursuant to the stimulus package, the installation perimeters are generous as well as the “put into service” deadlines are retroactive from 2008 and extend into 2016.

Surprisingly, a tempestuous ecological situation was disregarded when the authors of the stimulus package took up their pens. Long before our economy took a nosedive, world powers convened in 1987 in response to the growing pressure to preserve the earth’s ozone layers. The refrigerant, R-22, was targeted and the convention required that it be phased out by 2010. This is significant to the common man in terms of the fact that over the past 40 years, 95% of all residential comfort units have been manufactured using R-22. Although R-22 is a refrigerant which can be recycled, the concern is its long term availability. Many will remember when R-12, the refrigerant used by car manufacturers, was phased out in the late 1980s. The consumer paid dearly to further that decade’s environmental movement as the price of R-12 soared from $80 to over $600 for a 30-pound cylinder.

Manufacturers of comfort equipment were catapulted into developing R-22’s earth-friendly counterpart. R-410, is the 21st century’s solution to an ozone friendly refrigerant and is abundantly available for those systems which have been engineered for its use.  Contradictory to the green technology efforts of the 2009 stimulus package, however, the tax credits do not hinge on the refrigerant selection. Qualifying systems that use either R-22 or R-410 are both included in the tax credit legislation. But buyer beware, the 2010 environmental mandate is eminent as is the escalating concern of R-22’s price and long term availability. The refrigerant is a choice we now have, and we should choose wisely.

For many, the cautionary counsel of those who lived through the Great Depression now embodies our 21st century lifestyles. We are learning to live judiciously in an era where every dollar counts. Luxury never seemed more aloof. Yet, if we choose energy-wise heating and cooling technology, the homeowner is set to score a grand slam as they can enjoy a generous tax credit, manufacturer rebate and expanded warranty protection, some pretty lavish comfort and savings on energy bills for years to come.