You’re Missing Free Money—Here are 5 Places to Look

published Oct 16, 2018
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(Image credit: Sylvie Li)

What would you say if I told you I stumbled across $2,000 in free money that I’m using to go to France? It sounds like the beginning of an email scam you’re too smart to click on, right? Well get this: It’s a true story.

This summer my husband and I replaced the decrepit roof on our 128-year-old house. As part of a big push to keep our third floor cool and get a handle on our horrifying utility bills, we had all the old roofing layers torn off and replaced—and after consulting with our roofer, we opted to upgrade from standard asphalt shingles to an Owens Corning product called a Cool Roof. It looks like a regular roof, but has granules that reflect the sun back up, instead of absorbing it and basically roasting our house. It’s a similar principle to the white roofs you see in the hottest parts of the Mediterranean. Not only do these help keep your own house cooler, they reduce the heat island effect, something that’s particularly bad in my city of Louisville, Kentucky.

Which is where the free money comes in.

One day a NextDoor thread about a “cool roof rebate” caught my eye. I clicked through and felt like I’d just struck gold: As part of my city’s efforts to manage urban heat, they were offering rebates of up to $1 per square foot to property owners installing Cool Roofs. Our large and tricky roof was big enough to hit their max of $2,000. I quickly emailed to confirm—it did seem too good to be true—and sure enough, we were eligible. A couple pieces of paperwork, some photos, and a receipt later and my check is in the mail.

It was pure happenstance that I learned about this rebate, so I started to pay it forward, telling friends and neighbors about it—and now, you. Sometimes you can totally get free money, you just have to know where to look.

Here are some places to start if you’ve recently purchased anything energy-saving. We’re talking anything from a thermostat to water heaters, roofs to appliances, insulation to windows.

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Start with your local government

If you’ve recently made a purchase or are in the market to, head to your local government’s website and search for “rebate” and/or “incentive” (or if their website isn’t the greatest, just Google your city/county name + those terms). Hopefully you’ll find something like this! Or even like this rebate on swapping your lawn care equipment for something cleaner. Repeat with your state government to see if there are any state-wide rebates to claim.

Think IRS tax time

Some incentives may not be instant gratification like our roof rebate was; we’ll also be able to claim a federal tax credit of $500 on the roof. A full list of products eligible for rebates is on the Energy Star website—you’ll also find things like insulation, windows, central air, water heaters, and more, each offering a certain percentage of the product cost. There’s an IRS form to complete and you’ll need some product details, so hang on to your receipt and info like model and serial number wherever applicable. Take note this is for property owners on their primary home, only.

If you’re going all in with renewable energy you can also claim some good-sized rebates on things like geo-thermal systems.

(Image credit: Carley Knobloch)

Check your utility

Your local gas and electric provider can be a surprising source of a lot of rebate programs. We’ve gotten money for having Louisville Gas & Electric come haul away an old fridge we weren’t using, and friends have gotten cash for having an energy audit performed and implementing some suggestions (like replacing bulbs with LED or reducing the water heater temperature).

Your city or county might offer cash back on what you paid for your energy-efficient home appliances, too—I’ve benefited from it in the past when they’ve offered, say, $50 on a dishwasher and $75 on a clothes washer. It’s worth actually getting on the phone to call up and ask your utility provider what they offer.

(Image credit: Emily Billings)

See what individual brands and stores offer or steer you toward

Manufacturers want to make it easy for you to buy their product so many will have a rebate search on their website. There’s a page on the Nest website that lets you search by zip code to discover rebates that will bring down the effective cost of that $250 smart thermostat you’ve been eyeing (including discounts like the one they give Airbnb superhosts). I’ve heard of $75 and $100 rebates in participating areas, with the chance to get even more if you enroll in a conservation program. Ecobee thermostats have a similar feature on their site.

If you’ve bought an appliance just google the name and “rebate.” Doing that on my new KitchenAid fridge took me to a page that let me check local home and hardware stores for offers. You could also just start with the store where you bought the appliance: Lowes has an online rebate center where you can check what’s available, as does Home Depot.

Don’t forget word of mouth

I found my free money by happening upon a social network post, so keep your eyes peeled for that kind of thing. Also ask neighbors if they’ve scored great rebates and any contractors doing work on your house if they have any leads. A few minutes’ investment like this can pay big dividends.