Appliance Rebates Running Out

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If you have an old clothes dryer that goes thumpety-thump, a rusty washer or antique furnace like something from a Stephen King novel, this is for you: a federal stimulus program offering rebates on purchases of energy-efficient appliances.

Programs like Mass Save, which was launched today, are taking advantage of federal stimulus benefits and getting shoppers into stores.

But don’t dawdle. The money is running out, even though the program just got started a few weeks ago. The program, part of last year’s economic-stimulus measure, provides $300 million to 56 states and territories. A handful of states have spent it all: Texas, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Rhode Island and South Dakota.

Each state has its own program, but Pennsylvania’s shows how much the homeowner can get: up to $500 for a new gas boiler, $300 for an oil furnace and $200 for a tank-less gas water heater. Californians can get a $50 rebate on a window air conditioner, $100 on a clothes washer and $200 on a refrigerator.

To qualify, appliances must have a high Energy Star rating from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which lists qualifying products on its site. Locate your state program on the U.S. Department of Energy site.

A rebate, of course, is not the only thing to consider in deciding whether to replace an older appliance. Equipment that qualifies for a rebate is intended to be more energy efficient, producing additional savings by reducing operating costs. But high-efficiency units often cost more than other equipment that will heat, cool, wash or dry just as well.

The Energy Star site has calculators for estimating the savings. To use them, you have to know how much you pay per unit for electricity, gas or heating oil. Look at your latest bill.

On a purely financial basis, replacing an older appliance is an easy decision if it’s on its last legs. Why not do it while you can get a rebate?

It’s a tougher decision if your appliance has years of life left. If money, rather than environmental issues, is your only concern, it probably does not make sense to spend thousands on a new furnace even if you can get hundreds back. With expensive items, it usually pays to keep them running as long as possible even if you have to pay for an occasional repair or don’t get maximum energy efficiency.

But the math may be different for an inexpensive item like a window-unit air conditioner or low-end washer or dryer. If your service folks charge $50 or $100 just to come look at a unit that can be replaced for a few hundred dollars, it can pay to replace rather than repair, especially if the unit has reached that stage where it needs attention pretty often. In that case, a stimulus-package rebate may be enough to tip the balance, making this a good time to get a new appliance.

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