Texas is waiving sales tax on some Energy Star products, from light bulbs to air conditioners, this weekend -- but that should be just the beginning of your savings.
Add air conditioner rebates from manufacturers and Oncor, sale prices at local retailers and tax credits -- not to mention the real savings on your energy bills this summer and fall -- and it's easy to make a case to go out and buy.
Americans bought more than 300 million Energy Star products in 2009, according to the latest data from the Environmental Protection Agency, which runs the Energy Star program. Energy savings on these products range from 15 to 75 percent.
The Energy Star label is recognized by more than 80 percent of Americans and can be found on more than 60 household products.
This is the fourth year the state has waived sales taxes on eight types of Energy Star products over the Memorial Day weekend, said R.J. DeSilva, spokesman for the state comptroller's office. Last year, consumer tax savings totaled $3.2 million over the three-day weekend, which begins at midnight tonight and runs through Monday. (That's just a drop in the bucket compared with the $65.7 million in tax savings on back-to-school items bought over two days in August.)
But by doing a little homework, you can save on more than just sales tax this weekend.
The best deal available may be a central air conditioning unit, for which savings as high as $3,150 can be realized. Homeowners can take a $500 federal tax credit for buying an efficient air conditioner, and manufacturers like Carrier, Lennox, Trane and American Standard are offering rebates of $1,000 to $1,200.
On top of that, Oncor, the wholesale electric retailer for North Texas, has recently funded an air conditioning replacement program that will offer up to $1,150 in rebates for equipment and installation that meets Energy Star standards, spokeswoman Jamie Melina said. The program doesn't have income limits, but the air conditioner must have a 16 seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), she said. Homeowners also must live in Oncor's territory.
"We've only done one air conditioner replacement under this program so far this year," she said. "There is still a lot of money in the program."
To take advantage of this program, which is funded through a small fee on monthly electric bills, customers must use one of the participating local contractors. Call Oncor at 866-728-3674 or go to the website www.TakeALoadOffTexas.com. (Click on the Homes tab, then scroll down to Air Conditioner Performance Programs. Scroll down to "click here" after the question "Are you ready to replace your air conditioner in your existing home?" and on the next page you'll find a list of participating local contractors.)
The contractors actually get the Oncor rebate, but they often pass most if not all of the savings on to the homeowner.
Rob Summerlin, owner of AC and Heat Solutions in Hurst, says the various incentives make units more affordable.
"You can save from $300 to $500 on taxes, and with the tax credit and rebates from Oncor and the manufacturer, it is a good time to buy," he said.
Summerlin said he passes about 70 percent of the Oncor rebate to his customers.
"The program includes extra paperwork and extra installation standards that are inspected by Oncor," he said.
DeSilva said that as long as the unit is bought this weekend, delivery and installation can be done later, and the labor costs can be included in the sales tax waiver.
Appliance retailers are also gearing up.
Texas Appliance, with stores in Arlington and Fort Worth, has several deals on Energy Star dishwashers, refrigerators and clothes washers, said Jimmy Etling, retail division manager.
"Last year we did about a third of a month's business on that weekend," he said. This year could be even better because of pent-up demand for new appliances after the recession, he said.
Among his deals are a Bosch dishwasher for $388 and a 4-cubic-foot Frigidaire front-loading washing machine for $444.
"I look at competitors' prices every day," he said. "We won't be undersold."
The big retailers are also offering discounts on Energy Star appliances this weekend. Lowe's is offering 15 percent off all Energy Star products, and Home Depot is offering 10 percent off products costing $397 or more.
DeSilva said that customers who start a layaway plan on a qualified Energy Star appliance this weekend will also save on sales tax, as will those making qualified online purchases.
To get an idea of how much you could save on energy costs with a more efficient appliance, go to www.EnergyStar.gov, click on products and pick a category. On the left of that category page, look for a savings calculator.
It will show that a 20-year-old central air conditioner, for example, with an 8 SEER that is replaced with an Energy Star product (14.5 SEER or higher) will save you about $500 a year.
Similarly, you would save almost $100 a year replacing a 20-year-old refrigerator with a model that meets Energy Star standards.
Teresa McUsic's column appears Fridays.