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Missouri incentives encourage 'green' homes

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | 4:35 p.m. CST

IMPERIAL — Visitors to the Crary home walk on renewable hardwood floors, and when they leave the room, many of the fluorescent lights automatically click off. They check out kitchen appliances designed to use power effectively and tour a basement whose systems save a bundle on utility bills.

The new Victorian-style home just outside the quaint eastern Missouri town of Kimmswick drew visits last year from about 100 builders and environmentalists.

Tips on going green

ST. LOUIS — Jean Ponzi, the green resources manager of the EarthWays Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden, offers the following tips for saving energy at home:

1. Adjust your thermostat to 68 degrees for winter and 78 degrees for summer and dress for the weather at home. Change settings 1 degree per week to acclimate gradually. Install a programmable thermostat to efficiently manage indoor comfort control.

2. Wash and dry efficiently. Wait to run washing appliances until you have full loads. Let dishes air dry in the dishwasher and dry clothing on wooden racks or a clothesline. Today's laundry detergents and fabrics are made to clean well in cold water, so keep your machine's wash cycle set on cold. Turn the thermostat on your water heater down to 120 degrees.

3. Switch off phantom power. Plug any electronic equipment and appliances with clocks or timers into power strips you can conveniently turn off. As much as 75 percent of electricity used by home electronics is consumed when devices are (supposedly) turned off. Look for the Energy Star logo and choose the most efficient model you can when buying new appliances.

4. Lighten up energy use. Let the sun light your indoor spaces. You'll feel better, especially in winter, and daylight is free. Replace incandescent, halogen and other types of heat-producing light bulbs with cool-burning, long-lasting efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, and try LED lighting products when possible.

5. Weatherize your home. Identify and seal up leaks around windows, doors — even switch and outlet plates on exterior walls. Find easy to use, inexpensive "do it yourself" weatherization products at any home center. And invest in a "home performance with Energy Star" audit before making any major home improvements.



"There are a lot of people who are merely curious," Don Crary said. But the hope is that initial interest will encourage more "green" homes in the region.

Not every house is going to end up as energy efficient as this one, with systems that help keep utility costs about 40 percent lower than surrounding properties. But this year, Missouri has new incentives aimed at encouraging residents to make their own homes a little more environmentally friendly.

The new tax breaks have pushed Missouri into a widening effort among states to reward residents for going green. The U.S. Department of Energy said Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia had sales tax holidays in 2008 for Energy Star-qualified appliances. Some states like Oregon and Virginia offer state income tax deductions for the purchase of certain Energy Star appliances.

"We're catching up," said Jean Ponzi, the green resources manager for the Missouri Botanical Garden's EarthWays Center in St. Louis. The center is housed in a three-story former home that was retrofitted in 1994 as a showplace for energy efficiency.

Missouri has relatively low utility rates and landfill fees, Ponzi said. The result is residents here don't have as much economic incentive as those in some states to make homes more energy efficient.

But starting this year, Missouri is offering a tax deduction for residents who have their homes audited for energy efficiency. An audit acts like a home checkup to determine energy use and suggests ways to improve efficiency. Also, a state sales tax holiday is planned in April on purchases of certain energy-efficient appliances.

Don and Jill Crary won't need the state's help with their residence, designed and constructed for energy efficiency by Jill Crary's father and his business partner through Applied Energy Solutions, a high-performance home design company.

But they think the new measures could help others incorporate some features into their homes that would lower energy bills.

Don Crary said it's clear that Americans need to be more energy efficient, but people resist change.

"It takes us a while to get going," he said.

A home energy audit looks at everything from air ducts to drafty windows to attic ventilation, performing tests with specialized equipment to measure energy leakage. It checks the efficiency of furnaces and water heaters. An infrared thermal scanning tool detects spots where insulation is lacking.

The audit usually costs from $250 to $800, said Scott Mosby, whose Kirkwood-based Mosby Business Arts performs the tests.

"It's like wrinkles on your face," Mosby said. "You don't know exactly where they are, but you know where to look."

Repairs or improvements can cost thousands, but Mosby said the audits inform residents what they could save on lower energy bills if they make recommended changes. Even small improvements, like switching to compact fluorescent lights, can yield quick results.

The new tax deduction will allow Missourians who get a home energy audit to receive a deduction of up to $1,000 the first year and $2,000 total for individual or joint filings over multiple years, for the audit and resulting improvements.

Residents must submit proof they've paid an auditor or firm certified by the state's Department of Natural Resources to do the audit. "It can't be the guy across the street saying, 'Hey, I think you need some insulation,'" Missouri Department of Revenue spokesman Ted Farnen said.

Those who buy such Energy Star-certified appliances as washers, dryers, refrigerators and furnaces can take part in a state sales tax holiday if they purchase them between April 19 and 25. The state sales taxes won't be charged on qualifying appliances that cost up to $1,500 each on those dates.

The Energy Star logo shows the appliances meet energy-efficiency standards set by the federal government.

Ponzi suggested those who are interested in improved energy efficiency also check with their utility companies which might offer rebates for installing high-efficiency heating systems and thermostats or financial packages to support measures like improved home insulation.


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