If you're thinking about replacing your windows this year with more energy efficient options, Washington just upped the incentive to actually get the job done.
As part of the "fiscal cliff" agreement earlier this year, federal lawmakers agreed to reinstate the energy efficiency home improvement tax credits that had expired in 2011.
Homeowners who did not claim the full credit from 2006-11 can now receive 10 percent of the cost, up to a $200 tax credit, for Energy Star qualifying replacement windows purchased between Jan. 1, 2012 through the end of this year. Homeowners can also claim up to a $500 tax credit for other energy efficient home improvements from heating and cooling systems to insulation. More information on the program eligibility can be found at www.energystar.gov.
High-performance, low-emissivity vinyl windows are the top choice for homeowners looking for maximum energy efficiency. They help keep the heat out during the summer and the warm air in during the winter.
"They've come so far," said Dennis Ewton, owner of King County Window & Glass, LLC in Federal Way, Wash. "The standard [vinyl window ] is two coats of the low-E [glaze], but now they have three coats of low-E, so that's a real plus. The low-E is what really works as far as the performance of the window . During the summer, the high performance low-E, the max, will reflect 94 percent of those ultraviolet rays that come in and fade the furniture, carpet and floors, and really heat the place up. It slows that heat transfer down in the winter. A standard low-E reflects about 84 percent."
Though the lure of tax savings can be appealing, replacement windows are a significant investment. Don't neglect your due diligence and rush into this or any other home improvement project. To start, take time to find a reputable and qualified company that is going to explain your options and provide information on which windows do qualify for the tax credit. There are a variety of sales tactics companies use, the most notorious is the high-pressure sales job in which they offer a "discount" on inflated prices in exchange for an immediate decision.
"I don't like people to do high-pressure sales on me," said Jamie Schaffer with Superior Replacement Window & Door Inc. in Cutler Bay, Fla. "It really turns me off. In my business, we operate on a consultative approach. We try to give our customers as much information as possible, so they can make an educated decision. We don't ever want them to feel pressured to make a decision right there on the spot." Another approach is to offer a super-low price quote only to start tacking on extra charges once they get in the house.
"Don't go by price alone," said Jeff Wright of Atlas Window & Siding Co. of Lexington, Ky. "There are companies out there that advertise really low prices. Those really low prices are gimmicks to get their foot in the door, then once they're in there, people find out it's a really low-end product. It's like a bait and switch almost." Get bids from at least three different window companies and ask the salesperson to provide the pricing and the ratings for each window type in writing. Also, if your home was built before 1978, be sure the window installers can provide proof of EPA certification for lead paint renovation.
If you plan to claim the credit, consult your tax professional to be sure you're due the credit, buy the correct materials and have the documentation you need to claim your savings.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List (www.angieslist.com).