How To Cash In On Billions In Green Home Improvement Tax Credits And Rebates

On August 16, President Joe Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides some $370 billion in energy and climate spending and tax breaks over the next decade. It’s the most aggressive federal action to combat climate change in the nation’s history and is designed to help the White House achieve its lofty goals for reducing greenhouse emissions.

The result is a grab bag of goodies–for energy producers, electric car and battery makers, other businesses and ordinary households. “There’s something in there for everyone,” says KeyBanc Capital Markets energy analyst Sophie Karp.

While the credits for buyers of electric vehicles (both new and used) have grabbed much of the attention, their cost pales in comparison to the tens of billions in tax credits and rebates for homeowners investing in everything from solar panels to heat pumps to new windows to electric stoves.

According to Goldman Sachs, the act will be “most transformational” in promoting residential battery storage, but it also shores up funds for scores of other products that could save individual households thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. Most of the provisions won’t start kicking in until next year, though a few are already available as enhancements on expiring credits.

All told, Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the government will dole out nearly $37 billion in individual tax credits for green improvements to buildings over the next ten years. There are also potential savings for consumers after those improvements are made. For example, households making the switch from fuel oil or propane to electric heating are projected to save an average of $493 per year, according to nonprofit Rewiring America.

If you’re looking to retrofit your home with climate-friendly home upgrades, here’s what you need to know to make the most of the IRA’s provisions.

Solar Panels & Battery Storage: 30% Tax Credit, Uncapped

Headlining the bill’s home-upgrade provisions is an increase and extension of the tax credit for solar energy systems, which was set to decline from 26% to 22% next year before expiring in 2024. Instead, it has now been hiked up to 30% and extended until 2032. It’s then slated to fall to 26% the next year before expiring in 2035—unless Congress renews it.

That means that beginning this year (effective for the full year, even before the IRA’s passage), homeowners who purchase a $30,000 solar system are eligible for a $9,000 credit ($1,200 more than previously guaranteed for this year). This is a tax credit–not a tax deduction–so it reduces the federal income tax you owe dollar for dollar, as opposed to simply lowering your taxable income.

There’s no maximum to how much homeowners can spend, but these credits are nonrefundable, meaning you can’t get back more than you paid in income taxes. However, any part of this tax credit that can’t be used in the year a system is installed can be carried forward to cut future tax bills.

The credit is available for both systems you buy for cash and those you buy with financing, but not for systems installed and still owned by third-party companies—businesses, not homeowners, get to claim a credit for those leased systems.

Starting next year, this uncapped credit will extend to battery storage installation, which costs an average of $16,000—therefore tacking on an average $4,800 in potential tax savings. If you’re looking to spend on an electrical panel, you can also do so with this credit—but only if it’s upgraded in conjunction with the installation of rooftop solar. Otherwise, you’ll face a cap (more on that below).

Geothermal Heating: 30% Tax Credit, Uncapped

There’s now also an uncapped 30% tax credit to install geothermal heating, which transfers warmth from the ground into your home for space and water heating—instead of producing it through the combustion of fossil fuels. A typical system runs about $24,000, thus yielding average savings of $7,200. Like the credit for solar systems, this credit’s sticking around until at least 2032. It’s also nonrefundable, but can be carried forward.

Heat Pumps, Doors, Windows and More: 30% Tax Credit, Up to $3,200

For homeowners looking to make less dramatic adjustments, the IRA provides a 30% credit for a slew of products including windows, insulation and heat pumps, which are an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners. This credit is capped—with amounts varying by item—but it resets every year, meaning homeowners can spread out their upgrades in order to maximize savings. Warning: It’s not available until next year, so you may want to delay these improvements until 2023.

Note that there’s a $1,200 annual tax credit limit for “weatherization” items—including doors, windows, energy audits and insulation. (Meaning, only $4,000 of weatherization improvements are eligible for the 30% credit each year.) Tacking on the $2,000 limit for a new heat pump gets you to the maximum savings of $3,200.

This credit is nonrefundable, and unlike those for solar, batteries and thermal, can’t be carried forward to future years—another potential reason to space out your weatherization spending.

Home Owner Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) Rebate: Up to $8,000

The IRA also provides two different sets of rebates, which are effectively up-front discounts on equipment, weighted to help those with more modest incomes the most. Under the Home Owner Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) rebate, homeowners who install upgrades that cut energy usage by 35% or more are eligible for rebates of up to 50% of the cost of the project or $4,000, whichever is less.

But lower-income households—meaning those making less than 80% of their area’s median income—can get up to an $8,000 rebate, or 80% of the cost of a project, whichever is less.

As the table below shows, energy-efficient improvements that don’t meet the 35% threshold are eligible for smaller rebates—with the maximum dollar amount again doubled for lower-income households.

One big caveat: Unlike the tax credits, which can be claimed by all those who are eligible, Congress authorized a set amount for the rebate program, which will be implemented by each state. So the timing and exact provisions (such as how homeowners will prove their energy savings) remain unclear—though some experts predict details and rebates could be available as soon as next year.

A handy resource to check the status of both rebates and credits in your state—including any special state-funded incentives—is maintained by North Carolina State University here.

Meanwhile, here are the congressionally set limits for HOMES rebates:

High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program: Up to $14,000

Potential savings are even bigger under this program, which is limited to homeowners making up to 150% of their Area Median Income. (You can look up your area’s median income here.) Under this rebate, a smattering of items, including electric panels and wiring, are eligible for up to $14,000 in potential discounts. This can also be paired with the tax credits for additional savings. However, it can’t be combined with the HOMES rebate.

Here, too, the timing and specific terms will be up to states, so stay tuned.

Households making less than 80% of their area median income will be able to claim the full cost of upgrades, up to certain congressionally set amounts (listed below), while households making between 80% to 150% will be able to take either 50% of the upgrade costs or the maximum rebate—whichever is less.

A couple more caveats here: Don’t try to claim a rebate for an electric stove if you already have one. That makes you ineligible. Similarly, if you already have an electric clothes dryer, you’re not eligible to claim the rebate on a heat pump clothes dryer.

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