For the remodeling of her Key Biscayne kitchen, Patricia Flik is shopping for environmentally friendly products. the recycled countertops she's considering are expensive but the energy-efficient dishwasher she's eyeing just might fit her budget -- particularly if she can score a slot in Florida's appliance rebate program.
``I want to use a lot of green products,'' Flik says, ``and I want to save money.''
If she's one of the early birds, the upcoming state-distributed portion of the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help her buy energy-efficient appliances for less cash.
From April 16 to April 25, Florida will be dolling out $17.6 million worth of stimulus money by refunding to shoppers 20 percent of the purchase price for a select group of appliances -- refrigerators, clothes washers, dishwashers, freezers, room air-conditioners and tankless hot water heaters -- stamped with the government's Energy Star label.
Such a designation assures an appliance's prospective owner that it's built to generate friendlier utility bills.
but the state doesn't expect the refund money to last nearly as long as the two weeks designated for the program, says Brenda Buchan, chief analyst for the Gov. Charlie Crist's energy office. instead, Buchan estimates only the first 66,000 shoppers -- in a state of 17 million people -- will receive a scoop of this stimulus.
the rules require shoppers to go to the store -- no online buying is allowed -- and pay for their products before racing to the nearest computer to reserve their share of the loot. so there's a risk that they won't get a refund if the money has already been extinguished.
``You're not guaranteed a rebate,'' Buchan says. ``People at the store early the first day and serious about the rebates will be more likely to get them.''
the official website for the program is expected to go live on Wednesday, but the system likely won't be taking reservations until the program's opening day, Buchan says.
Before you go hauling your old fridge out from its familiar place in the kitchen, you'll need to be well versed in the economics of this environmental upgrade. because while saving energy is one of the goals, which most all of us agree is worthwhile, buying a new appliance -- rebate or no rebate -- involves spending money.
``We're not interested in having people needlessly toss out appliances in the home that are working,'' says Maria T. Vargas, the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star spokesperson. ``But just like you don't want to leave lights on when you're not in the room, you don't want to use a product that uses more energy than it has to in order to get the job done.''
the EPA's rule of thumb: appliances that are over 15 years old are ready to be replaced immediately, Vargas says.
DO THE MATH
That doesn't mean you can't help your wallet and the world by getting rid of machines 5 and 10 years old. but when deciding the fates of those household fixtures, first carefully consider how frequently you use them.
``A family who washes three loads of laundry a day will have a different calculus than a family who does uses one load a day,'' says Vargas, suggesting that shoppers head to the efficiency calculator at energystar.gov.
Refrigerators, for example, are operating constantly. and the EPA's website claims Energy Star models are about 20 percent more efficient than standard models, cutting your energy bills by $165 over the life of the fridge. and while a quick walk through the appliance aisle might indicate the upfront costs are well above those cash savings, Vargas disagrees.