Happy Flag Day 2007
Don't forget to file your taxes today!

Summer energy savers ... and expenditures

I hate summer. Actually, I guess the more accurate statement would be I hate hot temperatures, meaning a warm spell in the fall or winter also irritates me.

Thermometer_hot Many of you are asking, why then did I return home to Texas, a state whose pride in excess seems to also extend to thermometers that regularly hit triple digits by July? It's a two-part answer.

First, I missed home enough to deal with it. And secondly, our move was made possible by the best modern convenience ever: air conditioning.

The best modern convenience, that is, until it goes out. Which is what happened this week.

OK, it's not like we've been sent back to pioneer days. Our house, being a two-story residence, has dual A/C units. So we have a back-up system.

But since that second unit cools our upstairs, it is the recipient of the heat-rising phenomenon. So, in addition to sweating when the A/C died, I immediately began worrying.

Was that second A/C unit running too much now that it was cooling on its own? Would it blow out, too? Does it feel a bit warm in here, honey?

Just where in the heck is that A/C repair guy!?!

Financial heat, too: Of course, the unit gave up the ghost on a weekend. Which meant we spent a couple of marginally uncomfortable days.

Now we're going to spend a couple of more than marginally uncomfortable financial days, as we're replacing the whole damn thing.

Unfortunately, our equipment was at that point where it might have a few more years left in it, but just how many, especially if 2007 repeats the heat waves of '05 and '06, is anybody's guess.

Plus, by the time you took into account the labor costs to tear the thing apart and find exactly where the leak is even before you get to the actual repairs, we're talking almost a quarter of the new unit's cost.

Then you have to consider the efficiency factor. While our unit that broke was not that old, it's a typical builder unit; i.e., not the top line. And in the past few years, upgrades have been made.

So taking into account how long we plan to live here (forever; as I've said before, I'm never moving again!) and the potentially (hopefully) lower utility bills, we should one day see the return on our investment shift to our favor.

Surely any bit of improved efficiency will help us avoid a repeat of the $300+ electric bill we got last summer. (Do you know hard it was to type that last sentence with my fingers crossed?!)

Emergency expenses, unexpected rebates:
So we bit the bullet, made the A/C sales guy day (hell, month!) and by this time next week, we should be luxuriating in wonderful cool indoor breezes.

But the unexpected demise of our A/C underscores the need to have an emergency fund. Still, I hate spending that money.

At least we get a bit of a surprise financial break. We're getting a $600 rebate from the A/C manufacturer and another $600 one from Austin Energy since the new unit meets the utility's energy-efficient standards. We'll use that cash to start rebuilding our emergency account.

Then in 2008, the A/C will pay off again and we don't have to wait until it gets warm enough to turn it on. Our new unit also qualifies as an eligible energy-efficient home improvement for purposes of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 tax credit.

So the hubby and I will be claiming a $300 credit for the A/C when we file our 2007 return next year. Heck, I might even head to Lowe's before 2007 is over for enough approved insulation to stick up in the attic so we can claim the $500 credit maximum!

Hot in the heart of Texas: In addition to offering rebates for more-efficient air conditioners, our local electric utility also is rewarding customers for other reduced energy use efforts.

Austinenergylogo_2 Austin Energy is looking for Power Saver Volunteers this summer. Participants agree to use less energy between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. That's peak power time here in the Lone Star State's capital, so the utility company is trying to reduce the drain on the system.

Ways customers can help include:

  • Turning off all unnecessary lights. A good idea any time of the day.
  • Washing and drying clothes and running the dishwasher during early morning or late evening. We turn ours on when we head to bed.   
  • Using a microwave oven to cook supper rather than your electric range. We've got a gas stove top, so no problem there. And once temperatures hit 80 degrees, my oven, which is electric, isn't turned on until they drop into the low 70s again.
  • Turning up AC thermostat 2 to 3 degrees. That's definitely going to be our plan when the new unit is working its energy-efficient cooling magic.

When you sign up as a Power Saver Volunteer, in addition to Austin Energy's gratitude the utility will send you a free home weatherization kit that includes weather stripping, outlet sealers, two compact fluorescent bulbs and an energy saver night light. I'll let you know how cool it is when I get it, which according to my confirmation notice, will be in approximately four weeks.

Kwchallenge_logo_2 In addition, Austin Energy and the Austin Chronicle are encouraging residents to take the Kill-a-Watt Challenge. The goal is to get every utility customer -- homeowner, renter or business -- to use less energy this June through September, as compared to the wattage used last summer. The biggest saver each month in each category wins prizes.

The utility promises that "at the end of the challenge, after Austin has single-handedly saved the planet, we'll be giving even bigger rewards to those with the most impressive four-month energy savings."

I signed us up, but I suspect the hubby and I blew our June prize chance what with the inefficient running of our one A/C unit before it croaked and the overworking of the second one during that time. But maybe once the replacement A/C is installed, we'll do better later this summer when it gets really, really hot.

Across the rest of the country: The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has released its State Energy-Efficiency Scorecard for 2006. My other tax blog, Eye on the IRS over at Bankrate.com, has details on which states were on top, overall and when it comes to tax breaks for energy efficiency.


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