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New Tax Credit, New Windows

I have been meaning to replace a couple of 60-year-old rusted-shut basement windows for years, but other priorities always nudged the job lower on my to-do list. Now I'm thinking that it would be a shame not to take advantage of the 30 percent federal tax credit for energy-efficient windows and finally get that job done. Here's how the search for the right windows is going so far.

The tax credit covers up to 30 percent of the window's cost (but not the installer's labor), up to $1,500. But they have to be super-efficient windows to qualify. The standards for the tax credit are higher even than the government's Energy Star rating. For the Washington area, where blocking summer sunshine is as important as reducing winter chills, we need windows with a "U-Factor" (for keeping cold out) of 0.40 or less, and a SHGC (short for solar heat gain coefficient) of 0.55 or less. Windows show these ratings on efficiency labels like the one shown here.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find these ratings shopping Home Depot or Lowe's online. You can sort their selections for Energy Star windows, but not for the higher standards that qualify for the tax break. If you do find a specific window, however, you can look up its ratings on the Web site maintained by the National Fenestration Rating Council.

It's easier, of course, to just ask a salesperson. And you have to get a certificate from the manufacturer to keep on file to back up your tax deduction claim, anyway. Brian Whitehouse, a salesman at Hodges Windows & Doors in Falls Church, said the tax break is typically more than enough to cover the extra cost of upgrading from a lower-quality window. I have more research to do, though, to find out just how pricey these super-efficient windows can get. It sure would be easier if retailers highlighted the ones that qualify on their Web sites. I'll let you know how the search goes, and whether I can find any retailers that sell qualifying windows off-the shelf for installation by a homeowner or handyman.

Extra Point Pop Quiz: What the heck does fenestration mean? I had to look it up, so no bonus points for me. Although it sounds like a horrible medical procedure, it simply means any opening in a building, including windows, doors and skylights.

Have you already upgraded windows or doors to take advantage of the new tax break? Is the tax break enough to justify the extra cost?

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  March 25, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Remodeling and repair  
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"Defenestration" is even better - the act of throwing someone out of a window. Maybe it will come to mean switching to a Mac.

Posted by: crunchyfrog | March 25, 2009 7:24 AM | Report abuse

Good one! I needed a laugh.

Posted by: Erazzi | March 25, 2009 9:45 AM | Report abuse

If a condo building replaced all its windows with qualifying windows, would the unit owners be entitled to the tax break? Does anyone know?

Posted by: rb-freedom-for-all | March 25, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Is there an income limit on these credits?

I am VERY tired of hearing everyone push the first time homebuyer credit of 8,000 without mentioning the limits... perhaps it's that I'm living in a higher income ghetto, but I don't know anyone who both makes so little that they could get the whole amount and yet makes enough that afford to buy a SFH in the DC metro area.

Posted by: burkemic99 | March 25, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Elizabeth -- where did you get the numbers for the window qualifications? I've been told (and seen in print in several places) that the cutoff was 0.3, not 0.4/0.55, and that's what the link you included says.

And, yes, it's very hard to find. As I understand it, the purpose of this was to stimulate demand for even more energy-efficient windows than are out there now, which will in turn provide an incentive for manufacturers to improve their products. Which means that right now, the pickings are pretty slim. We're working with Marvin, since windows were going to be our next big home purchase; they have only one kind of glass that qualifies, and that glass isn't even available on most of their windows (yet).

I doubt that you're going to find many qualifying replacement windows among the cheap options.

Posted by: laura33 | March 25, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I just came from the Pella showroom, and their fiberglass window, which is made in the style we want, doesn't qualify for the credit. The wood window qualifies, but doesn't come in the style we want. Are manufacturers doing anything to expand their selections?

Posted by: webbrats | March 25, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

webbrats -- we found the same thing. Marvin didn't have the "right" glass on the wood-framed window we wanted (ironically, they offer it only on their slightly cheaper fiberglass series; since that's what you want, you may want to check with them -- ask about their "Infinity" series). From talking to our guy, they are currently scrambling to figure out how to address the issue, but I imagine it's going to take some time to make the changes.

Posted by: laura33 | March 25, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Very interesting -- I'll follow up on some of these questions with manufacturers. And when I checked the Energy Star web site, I found the qualifying U Factor and SHGC to be 0.3. Make sure you're looking in the correct climate zone.

Posted by: Erazzi | March 25, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse

My apologies...I see that in the post I listed the wrong U Factor and SHGC. Correct for the DC area is 0.3.

Posted by: Erazzi | March 25, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

I just checked with a friend who works for Andersen Windows. He said they offer the ratings in just about all product categories. (You do have to check, because some only meet the SHGC if yoiu have grilles). Other wise most of the units with "SmartSun" glass meet the requirements. He said Andersen has a link on it's website to find a dealer and info.

Posted by: coops3 | March 26, 2009 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I'm the editor of Door and Window Manufacturer magazine, a trade puiblication for the industry, and many window manufacturers are doing a great job of promoting the tax credits and the fact that they have windows that meet those requirements.

We have a started a list of those commpanies that qualify on our website. Click here and look on the right to see the list:

Posted by: ttaffera | March 27, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I just spent about 5,000 to get 8 new windows for my townhouse. The windows do qualify for the tax credit and they were about $900 more than the lower grade which does not qualify. With the tax credit, it was cheaper in the long run for us to get the better windows and we were able to support a good local business instead of Lowes or Home Depot. This is who we bought them from:

Posted by: danaks14 | March 28, 2009 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Can someone clarify whether the credit is for replacement windows and doors only? We are doing a small addition across the back, so our existing windows and door will go and we will buy new ones, but they will be new construction windows and doors, not replacement models. I've seen conflicting information online. We need to place our orders within a couple weeks.

Posted by: S8thRd | March 31, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

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