Home & Garden

Get tax credit for windows

I plan to have a couple of major improvements to my house — replacement windows and new siding. Which should I do first? I can’t afford to have both done in the same year. – G. Fadlalla

The best choice for the first improvement is replacement windows. If you put the windows in before Dec. 31, 2010, you can qualify for a federal income-tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost, up to a maximum credit of $1,500. The credit also is available for other energy improvements, including insulation.

To qualify, windows must meet strict standards for energy efficiency. Installing energy-efficient windows might also qualify you for other incentives offered by some states and utility companies. You can get detailed information on the required energy standards for the federal tax credit at www.energystar.gov (enter Federal Tax Credits in the search space).

The thing to keep in mind about qualifying for the federal tax credit is that windows must meet the standards for U factor (control of heat loss from inside the building) and solar heat gain, or a window’s ability to block out the sun’s heat.

If your house has old single-pane windows, without effective storm windows, new windows should give you a significant saving in heating and cooling costs. Replacement windows also often significantly reduce penetration of outside noise into a building, and most have a tilt-in feature that makes them easy to clean.

The metal support columns in my basement developed rust and blisters that leak goo. I have lived in the house for 51 years and we never had basement water and there are no leaks from above. Should I be concerned ? – F. Strauss

The rust is probably caused by high relative humidity and condensation on cold surfaces, a common problem in many basements even if they don’t get flooded. It’s impossible for me to guess whether the support posts have been weakened. You need an inspection by a qualified person such as a structural engineer. If the columns are strong and the rust is just a cosmetic problem, you can solve it by painting the columns. A couple of coats of paint will also help protect the steel against future rusting. A dehumidifier also will help.

If you decide to paint, sand rusty spots and apply a rust converter such as Rust-Oleum’s Rust Reformer, sold at some home centers and hardware stores. The converter will turn any remaining rust into a black, inert substance that can be painted. Apply a rust-resistant primer to the columns and two coats of rust-resistant paint.

Gene Austin, McClatchy-Tribune News Service