Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that there are some government programs that help seniors make home improvements to reduce their energy bills this year. What can you tell me about this?
Thanks to a big financial boost from Uncle Sam, there’s never been a better time to upgrade your home to make it more energy efficient. Here are several programs that can help you save energy and money.
Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus package, the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) received a whopping $5 billion – more than 20 times the normal yearly budget – to help income-eligible people reduce their energy costs by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes.
Around 30 million U.S. households are currently eligible for the WAP, which provides a variety of completely free weatherization improvements to home owners and renters who qualify. These services are done by local agencies and typically include things like installing insulation, weather-stripping and caulking around doors and windows, tuning and repairing heating and cooling systems, and installing ventilation fans.
To be eligible, your income needs to be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2009, that corresponds to an annual income of $21,660 for an individual or $29,140 for a family of two (it’s higher in Alaska and Hawaii). The federal guidelines allow states to give priority to seniors over 60, people with disabilities and families with children. Final eligibility is determined at the local level.
If you qualify, an energy audit is scheduled to see how much energy your home uses, and to determine the weatherization improvements it needs to make it more energy-efficient. To learn more or apply, visit www.weatherization.energy.gov or call the EERE information center (877-337-3463) who will put you in touch with your state weatherization office.
Energy Tax Credits
If you don’t qualify for the WAP, you can still save some money through Uncle Sam’s expanded tax credits – also made possible by the Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
As an incentive to make your home more energy efficient, in 2009 and 2010 you can now cut your tax bill by 30 percent up to $1,500, on a variety of home improvement projects like installing energy-efficient windows, doors, insulation, water heaters, cooling systems and more. See www.energystar.gov/taxcredits for details. And, by the end of the year, there will also be rebates to those who buy ENERGY STAR certified high efficiency appliances.
In addition to the WAP and tax credits, another program that can help many seniors cut their home heating and cooling costs is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This is a federal program that also got a funding boost this fiscal year. Income qualifications for LIHEAP will vary by state.
You should also know that in addition to LIHEAP, some utility companies offer discounts to people in need, and there are various charitable organizations that provide utility assistance, too. To learn more or find out what’s available in your area, visit www.energynear.org, a Web portal that provides a breakdown of LIHEAP, utility and charitable energy programs in each state, as well as qualification details, how to apply and who to contact for more information. If you don’t have Internet access, call the National Energy Assistance Referral project at 866-674-6327.
Savvy Tips: For energy savings tips the Department of Energy offers a handy booklet called “Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home.” To get a free copy, call 877-337-3463 or visit www.eere.energy.gov/library. Also see www.dsireusa.org, a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility, and federal incentives that promote energy efficiency.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.