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Energetic tax breaks

It seems there are plenty of questions regarding the tax credit for installing new energy-efficient windows.

Wondering how to take the $1,500 tax credit on your income taxes, even if you don't itemize?

The energy tax breaks are tax credits, not deductions, so it doesn't matter whether you itemize or not. Credits are much better than deductions. Credits result in a dollar-for-dollar reduction of tax liability.

A $1 credit means that your tax liability will be reduced by $1. Deductions will only reduce your tax liability by a fraction of a dollar. (If you are in a 15 percent tax bracket, you lower your taxes by 15 cents for every dollar you claim as a deduction. If you are in the 25 percent bracket, you get 25 cents on the dollar, and so on.) Also, in most instances, an individual must itemize to benefit from a deduction; credits generally apply regardless of whether you itemize or claim the standard deduction.

To claim the tax credit for your windows, use Form 5695, Residential Energy Credits. (A taxpayer can claim 30 percent of the cost of all qualifying improvements to a maximum of $1,500 for improvements placed in service in 2009 and 2010. That's a $1,500 maximum over the two years - so a taxpayer could claim, say, $1,000 one year and $500 another year; not $1,500 each year.)

The credit applies to improvements such as adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems. More information on the energy credits (and other tax breaks in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) is available at

Finishing touches

Caulking around the outside perimeters of doors and windows to close air gaps is an important energy-saving step, but some do-it-yourselfers neglect to paint the caulk.

Newly applied acrylic-latex caulk, which is an excellent choice for outdoor caulk, can pick up dirt and mildew in time and become black and unsightly, even though the caulk might still be doing its job of sealing gaps. Dirt-mildew pickup can happen even to high-quality acrylic caulks with long warranty periods.

The best bet is to wait for the time specified in the instructions - usually no more than a few hours - and apply a coat of exterior paint with a small brush. Silicone caulks, which are not as popular for do-it-yourself caulking because they are more expensive and don't have the easy water cleanup of acrylic caulks, can't be painted but are available in several pre-colored formulas as well as a clear version. Silicones hold up well and are a good choice for those who want to avoid painting.

Beautiful bathrooms

Bathrooms really have come a long way since the times when they were used only for hygiene.

Today's lavatories, as you will find in "150 Best Bathroom Ideas" (Collins Design; $29.99) by Daniela Santos Quartino, can be as lavish as any spa and as sophisticated as a five-star hotel.

Take a look at the hundreds of photos in the book. Designs for lighting, flooring, walls, window treatments, bathtubs, showers, toilets and sinks are all produced by the pros.

Home-buying seminars

Free home-buying seminars will be offered to teach potential buyers about the process.

Professionals will be available to answer questions about home buying, mortgages, grant money and the closing process. The seminars are free, but RSVP is suggested.

Here's the schedule:

- Monday, Irmo library, 6:30-8 p.m. Call Jeff Riley for details, (803) 467-6440.

- Oct. 5, Lexington library, 6-7:30 p.m. Call Edwin Gerace for details (803) 957-5566.

- Oct. 12, Irmo library, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Call Jeff Riley, (803) 467-6440.

- Oct. 13, Forest Lake Travel, 6-7:30 p.m. Call Chad Jones, (803) 957-5566.

- Oct. 19, Lexington library, 6-7:30 p.m. Call Edwin Gerace, (803) 957-5566.

- From Staff and Wire Reports