This year may be to appliance buyers what 2009 was to car buyers: time for government rebates. • Modeled after the popular Cash for Clunkers program, which was intended to get cars with low gas mileage off the road, a federal appliance rebate program is launching in early 2010. It offers a boost to people buying energy-efficient clothes washers, refrigerators and other appliances — those that qualify for the federal Energy Star designation — and to manufacturers, whose sales fell 10 percent in 2008 and another 12 percent through mid December.
The program has $300 million, one-tenth as much as Cash for Clunkers, or about $1 per U.S resident, so it could run out fast. States are receiving roughly the same amount per capita.
Here's what to keep in mind as you decide whether to swap your washer or your old refrigerator.
For state by state information, visit the federal Web site energysavers.gov and click on "state appliance rebate program" on the right.
Florida residents can get 20 percent rebate off of the price of a new Energy Star refrigerator, freezer, washing machine, dishwasher, room air conditioner or gas tankless water heater.
The state's program will run from April 16 to 25, in conjunction with Florida's Earth Day events. The Energy Star appliances must be purchased during this period.
Consumers may receive an additional rebate with proof of recycling the old appliance.
The limit on rebates is $1,500.
(Also in effect through Dec. 31 is a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost up to $1,500 on equipment for a primary residence.)
Is it a deal?
Joe McGuire, president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, said buying Energy Star appliances can mean hearty power savings. But it's important to make sure you save enough in water and energy bills over time to justify paying for a new unit.
"A good example is a 10-year-old clothes washer," he said. "With Energy Star, you could reduce utility costs by $145 a year and save 5,000 gallons of water a year."
At that rate, a typical $500 to $700 dishwasher would pay for itself in four years.
It's probably not worth replacing appliances less than five to seven years old just because rebates are available. But switching from a top-loading to front-loading clothes washer could cut water use enough to make it worthwhile.
The older the appliance, the greater the possibility of saving money by buying a new one. McGuire says a 20-year-old refrigerator uses three times as much power as Energy Star-approved units made today, some of which run on less than 60 watts.