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Clean up with green tax credits

While the $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit is scheduled to expire next month, there are ways that everyone - not just first-time buyers -- can collect thousands of dollars in tax credits by installing or upgrading eco-friendly elements to their homes.

This Wall Street Journal article
details several different types of credits available this year and next year for eco-upgrades. For starters, there's a federal credit of up to $1,500 available for switching to energy-efficient doors, windows, air-conditioning, insulation, water heaters and roofing. The credit is good for 30% of the purchase price, up to the $1,500 cap if spread between this year and next year. It's only good for your primary home, so if you have a vacation home you planned to trick out, that still has to come out of your own pocket. The Department of Energy has a webpage with more details about the credit program.

Another, larger credit program, also administered by the Department of Energy, lets homeowners deduct up to 30% of the cost of fuel cells, solar cells or solar water heaters, wind energy and geothermal energy generators. These credits have no cap and are in place until 2016. Also, all but the fuel-cell credit can be used for non-primary residences.

Two caveats to be aware of, the Journal article cautions: The items for which homeowners file for a credit can only be used inside a house, so implements to heat a pool or hot tub don't qualify. Also, keep in mind that some of these credits just let you count the cost of the new items, not their installation. The details of which items qualify for installation credits are available on the Energy Department's website. There are also variations to the rules if you're building a new house as opposed to upgrading an existing one.

To consumers who are overwhelmed by the possibilities, the Journal article offers a bit of sound advice: Start small. Upgrading windows and insulation is almost always a good investment, even without the added incentive of the tax credit. These two relatively quick fixes can even be tackled by a relatively handy amateur.

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