Visions Of Energy Efficiency Danced In Their Heads Homeowners hoping to save on utility bills may want to ask Santa for a storm door or insulation. Dec. 31 is the deadline for the energy tax credits that could cut your tax bill by up to $1,500. Science Friday runs down how to save some green this winter.

Visions Of Energy Efficiency Danced In Their Heads

Visions Of Energy Efficiency Danced In Their Heads

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Homeowners hoping to save on utility bills may want to ask Santa for a storm door or insulation. Dec. 31 is the deadline for the energy tax credits that could cut your tax bill by up to $1,500. Science Friday runs down how to save some green this winter.

Annette Heist, senior producer, NPR's Science Friday, New York, N.Y.


You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow.

Up next this hour, we're going to...


FLATOW: Oh, Annette. Annette Heist, our senior producer has joined us. Oh, you snuck right into the studio.

HEIST: Sorry. I hate to interrupt, but there's a deadline approaching and I think our listeners want to hear about it.

FLATOW: A deadline?

HEIST: A deadline. Some energy efficient tax credits are set to expire on December 31st this year, and I think this is some news you can use for our listeners.

FLATOW: Now I know why you're interested in this, because the people who follow your blog, they watch you fixing your house out there in Pennsylvania, right?

HEIST: Right.

FLATOW: And you're trying to find the most energy efficient way to recoup your dollars.

HEIST: Yeah. That's right. I'm interested in trying to cut my electric bill. I've been at this project for a couple of years, and I'll brag a little bit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HEIST: I've - since I started, I took 200 kilowatt hours out of my monthly average bill.

FLATOW: Wow. Wow. And saved money doing that. And you...

HEIST: No. I didn't save money.

FLATOW: You didn't?

HEIST: My electricity rates went up by almost the same amount. So my bill is even.

FLATOW: What a day for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Well - so now you're looking for a new way and you say there are things that we should do before the end of the year.

HEIST: Yes, that's right. That's right.

FLATOW: Like what?

HEIST: Well, if you have a couple of extra dollars to spend, I would recommend a storm door. You can...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HEIST: If you install a storm door between now and the end of the year...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: can get back 30 percent of the cost of that storm door, and so if you - up to a certain amount. So if you pay, say, $300 for a storm door and you file the paperwork with your taxes, you can get back about 90 bucks.

FLATOW: Wow. That's pretty good money.

HEIST: Yeah. It's not bad.

FLATOW: Yeah. And so there - and what else? Give me something else.

HEIST: Okay. So...

FLATOW: So if I don't want the storm door under my tree, what else can I do?

HEIST: These credits are going to expire on December 31st. You can - if that's a little bit too much money to spend for you...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: can pick up some insulation for your house, and that includes weather stripping, spray foam in a can. You can...

FLATOW: Good stocking stuffer?

HEIST: Good stocking stuffer. Stuff your stocking with some insulation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Well, I mean, that can of spray, you know, that you put into these wall sockets or something, they really...


FLATOW: ...seal up the place.

HEIST: If it's a product designed to make your home more energy efficient, to seal up, you know, drafts around the door...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: ...then yes, it qualifies for the tax credit.

FLATOW: So even if it's like a 10-buck item...


FLATOW: ...I can still get that - save three bucks or something.

HEIST: Yeah. If you're willing to, you know, keep your receipt and do the paperwork so you can get 30 percent back, up to $1,500 dollars, and that $1,500 is for 2009 and 2010 combined.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

HEIST: So if you took good credit last year, you can't do it for 2010. And I should add also that that this has to be your primary residence for these credits. And if you share a house with somebody, it's $1,500 for the house. It's not...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: ...per person. So...

FLATOW: Right. Right. Right. What else? What else have you got on your list of things that I could do?

HEIST: Well, it might be a little late in the year for you to do this, but a new roof would qualify.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: We're having a barn-raising at my house between now and the end of the year.

HEIST: And that includes metal roof or asphalt roofs. Also, heating systems, air source heat pumps, propane furnace and - this is a doable one, a biomass stove. That's a stove that burns corn or wood pellets. And if you get that in your house and up and running by December 31st, you can get 30 percent back up to $1,500 for that. So basically, if you spend $5,000 on these improvements, you're going to maximize this tax credit.

And I should add that some these are going to be extended until next year in the bill that was just passed by Congress, the new tax bill that was just passed. And the president is signing, I think, in five minutes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HEIST: But it's my understanding that the new credits are not going to be as beneficial as these are, so act now. You want to get - and these things have to be in place by December 31st.

FLATOW: So while you're - you're not going to be popping that champagne. You're gonna be caulking that window, right?

HEIST: I'm going to multitask on New Year's Eve. I will have a glass of champagne in one hand and a caulk gun in the other.

FLATOW: Now we hear about the credits for things like solar panels and stuff like that.

HEIST: Right. Those are still in place, and those don't expire until 2016. Now that's for solar panels, geothermal heat pumps, small wind turbines - if you're thinking about putting one of those in your backyard.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

HEIST: And there is no upper limit on that, so that doesn't stop at $1,500.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

HEIST: And you have a little bit more time to plan ahead for those.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. And - okay. What else? Now, I've got the stocking stuffers. I've got the storm door under the tree. What else can I do?

HEIST: Well, if you're looking to cut your electricity bill in a way that you don't even have to spend any money, you can unplug that second refrigerator that you might have in your basement.

FLATOW: That's got that one giant pizza in it that fits no other fridge, right?

HEIST: Right. Right. Maybe a turkey in there. You had one - a turkey in there at Thanksgiving and a bottle of soda.

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: Get rid of it, because according to everything I read, that's one of the - a common thing that a lot of people have in their house and it really just sucks energy up.

And I did a little calculation. If you go to, which is a great website for figuring out how much it costs to run your dryer or should you watch in cold water or any appliance that you have in your house, you want to know how much it costs to run it, go to and they have tons of information. They have one of my favorite things is the refrigerator retirement savings calculator. So it's like it's actually a little refrigerator. You pick your model, whether you have side-by-side or the freezer on the top, you put in the year that you bought it and it will tell you put in how much you pay for your electricity per kilowatt hour...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: ...and it will run a calculation and tell you how much it's costing you to keep that second refrigerator going in your basement. And here's what - I calculated it for my for what I pay: $835 for five years, which is about 167 bucks a year to keep that refrigerator going. So almost the whole electric bill.

FLATOW: Wow. A whole month of wow.

HEIST: That's for an older refrigerator. That was - the one that I got rid of when I replaced my refrigerator recently was about a 1990 refrigerator.

So says if your refrigerator is made before 1993, that it's probably a good idea to say goodbye.

FLATOW: If you got that old Crosley remember those Crosley, with the handle that opens up or any old refrigerator, because they were so energy inefficient in those days.


FLATOW: Just sitting there and running, I think it's probably one, along with the air conditioning system, which are not they're not running here in the winter time...

HEIST: Right.

FLATOW: probably the single biggest user of electricity, right, in the house?

HEIST: In your house right now, if you have electric heat, that's probably it. And also your water heater. Those are the things...


HEIST: ...that really suck up the energy.

FLATOW: And if we replacer our water heater, we get credit for that?

HEIST: You don't. If you replace it oh, you're testing me now. I think if you if it's a heat pump water heater...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: ...there are credits. But you might also qualify for some credits that vary by state. And you can find out if you can get that if your if there are credits in your state by going to the same website where they have a map, you click on your state and they'll tell you what is what qualifies. And I have to say, for my state, Pennsylvania, they ran out of money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Because so many people who wanted to do this. Wow.

HEIST: So many people wanted to do it. They have a waiting list now for rebates. But I did go to my electricity provider and they also give rebates. And I've found that you can get, for instance, $50 back on a refrigerator, $75 back on a clothes washer, $10 back on a dehumidifier...

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

HEIST: ...and a couple of other things. A programmable thermostat, they'll give you $50 back if you install one of those. And those just have to be Energy Star qualified.

FLATOW: Wow. And you can put that in yourself. And that's what's that's about it pays for itself...

HEIST: Right. That's about what they cost. I have priced them at a couple of the big lot stores and they cost between 30 and a hundred bucks, depending on how fancy. If you want it to be...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: ...different on the weekend...

FLATOW: Right, right.

HEIST: ...or just Mondays or Fridays.

FLATOW: But 50 bucks is a wash.

HEIST: Yeah.

FLATOW: And it's a wash. Now, for folks who are still buying those Christmas tree lights...

HEIST: Yeah.

FLATOW: ...can you save money there if you get the right kind of light?

HEIST: You can get LED lights now. And there I was looking at those the other day, and they are about 12 bucks for a string of 60. They used significantly less energy than the regular Christmas lights that we're used to. But they're expensive. You know, you're putting out some money up front, but they do use a lot less. And I think another added bonus to those is that they burn not hot.

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: So they're not a fire hazard.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Anything else that people can do to lower their bills?

HEIST: Well, I brought you a present.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: (unintelligible) a little...

HEIST: Happy Hanukah. (unintelligible)

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: It's a Kill A Watt...

HEIST: It's a Kill A WattEZ.

FLATOW: It's a electricity usage monitor. Oh, this is the thing you plug your appliance in.

HEIST: Right. You plug that into the wall, the Kill A Watt...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: ...and then you plug your appliance into the Kill A Watt. You program in how much you pay for electricity and it'll tell you how much it's costing you to run that thing...

FLATOW: Right.

HEIST: ...your laptop, your fan, your...

FLATOW: Because there's something draining all the time even when it's off, right?

HEIST: Well, you can check it.


HEIST: You can check it with the Kill A WattEZ plug it into there and see how much is it truly that when you leave that cell phone charger in the wall that it's, you know, contributing a lot to your energy bill? You can do a test.

FLATOW: Well, thank you very much, Annette.

HEIST: My pleasure.

FLATOW: I'm going to take this home and try it out tonight.

HEIST: Okay.

FLATOW: Senior producer Annette Heist, you can follow her blog. She is out there saving energy for us all, learning how to do it. Thanks a lot.

HEIST: You're welcome.

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