Julie Warner was prepared for a circus on March 1. Last fall, the marketing assistant at appliance retailer Warners’ Stellian, in St. Paul, Minn., started collecting e-mail addresses for a “stimulus update” e-newsletter. More recently, media outreach days helped inform the public of appliance rebate availability. Under the State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program (SEEARP), Minnesota had nearly $9.6 million to put toward rebates for certain Energy Star appliances. When a website and telephone hotline for the state program went live at 9 a.m. on March 1, both crashed. By 10:30 a.m. on March 2, all $9.6 million had been claimed.

“We were expecting the mad rush, and we had been trying to communicate that to consumers as much as possible,” Warner says. “A lot of people still had expectations left over from the Cash for Clunkers auto program that were unrealistic. We’re still trying to sell people on the fact that even if you weren’t able to reserve your rebate, there are still other ways to save.”

Because SEEARP programs across the states are geared toward homeowners, Warners’ Stellian and other companies know that remodelers and trades have little ability to leverage the incentives in kitchen and bath sales. As such, Warners’ Stellian is continuing to educate trade partners about rebates available from local utility companies, which can help to slightly reduce costs for some remodeling clients. Also, Whirlpool has created a Rebate Finder on its Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and Maytag websites to help visitors identify available SEEARP and local utility rebates in their states.

“Because most remodeling projects are a more methodical process, it’s unlikely that remodeling clients would be able to take advantage of the rebates,” says JB Hoyt, director of regulatory affairs and state government relations for Whirlpool. “If you miss the state program, the Rebate Finder can really come in handy by identifying other savings opportunities. It also builds awareness of the benefits of Energy Star, and that’s a main goal of the rebate programs.”

With rebates unlikely to coincide with a remodel, contractors should instead have clients consider the big picture when it comes to purchasing appliances. The longer an outdated appliance remains in use, the more wasted energy the client pays for. “The homeowner needs to consider how much they’ll save on their utility bills by switching to an Energy Star appliance,” Warner says. “Even if it means paying an extra $150 on the sticker price, they can make that up quickly by getting rid of inefficient products.”

—Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING.