By Karen J. Koch and Imran Syed
Putting the EPAct §179D deduction
Here are three proven ways to implement the §179D deduction:
1. Subject to federal income tax, you can take an ordinary deduction.
2. Firms structured as passthrough entities can take advantage of the EPAct §179D tax deduction up to the amount of shareholder basis.
3. Deductions taken in excess of basis are exercised at a reduced amount.
NOTE: If you have clients that are design firms, their returns from the past three tax years can be amended to claim the EPAct §179D deduction, potentially generating a refund.
Two key criteria for selecting projects
Includes new construction, renovations and additions
Projects in which your clients’ firms are primarily responsible for the design
At right is a typical §179D worksheet to gather information to start the analysis.
Real-world case study
A Sec. §179D analysis of a high-rise residential building resulted in a total deduction of $1.20/sq. ft. The project included LED lighting, low-E glazing and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems. Although the project fell short of the 50 percent savings required to qualify for the full $1.80/sq. ft. credit, the interior lighting and HVAC systems qualified for the partial deduction of $0.60/sq. ft. per system, as shown below.
A question that building owners and CPAs often ask us is, “Where do I start?” Owners can get confused when they have so many vendors offering various products to reduce their energy costs. If your clients are considering a major energy upgrade, the best place to start is with an energy audit.
The audit will measure and validate the impact of energy-efficient equipment as it relates to the investment costs.
What Is an Energy Audit?
An energy audit is a component-by-component, system-by-system evaluation of a building’s HVAC systems, lighting or process equipment. Whereas most maintenance activities focus on making things work, an energy audit focuses on making things work properly and efficiently.
Make sure you use a qualified auditor who has the credentials not only to perform the analysis, but to understand the equipment specifications and the impact on overall energy reduction. A professional engineer with experience in various building components is a good person to start with.
5 reasons to help your real estate clients to conduct an energy audit
To maximize and protect the health and productivity of the building’s occupants by maintaining thermal comfort
To maximize energy efficiency and minimize losses
To determine the building’s overall value
To keep up with rapidly changing government guidelines
To use the energy audit results in determining the energy conservation measures
If nothing else, remember that without an energy audit, your clients may end up wasting lots of money on projects that are not really improving their building’s energy efficiency. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) outlines three different levels of energy audits, based on how intensive they are and on the type of outcome expected.
3 types of energy audits you should know
ASHRAE Level 1 – Preliminary audit/walkthrough analysis: This is the most basic audit involving site inspection and interviews. Here you’ll want to review your client’s utility bills and operating data. This is also where you’ll want to prioritize their energy efficiency projects. A Level 1 audit can give your clients and other stakeholders a picture of where the building currently stands, how it compares to similar buildings and which areas need further investigation or improvement.
ASHRAE Level 2 – Energy survey and analysis: Here is where you’ll want to do detailed energy calculations of energy efficiency measures life as well as life cycle cost analysis. This is also where you’ll want to do financial analysis based on the investment costs and savings from the energy efficiency measures. A Level 2 audit provides enough data to justify the implementation of a project without the need for additional data collection and analysis.
ASHRAE Level 3 – Detailed analysis of capital-intensive modifications: A Level 3 audit expands on Level 2, with a particular focus on capital-intensive projects with a high level of accuracy toward cost and savings calculations. This is also where you’ll do detailed field analysis and engineering calculations. Level 3 audits are for clients whose businesses have completed a Level 2 audit and have identified capital cost projects that they want to undertake but need more data before committing to a large investment.
Housing authority utility allowances
If you have clients with low-income housing properties, here are some important considerations:
Utility allowances are payments from housing authorities that pay the utility bills for low- income residents.
They are generally excluded from gross rents under Reg. § 1.42-10.
They are usually based on assistance from Rural Housing or HUD.
For other tenants, they can use an energy consumption model from a licensed engineer to determine the utility estimates.
Reducing utility estimates can avoid overcharging tenants and may allow rent increases.
They are generally required once per year.
Everyone from energy-efficient equipment manufacturers and design engineers to CPAs, contractors and commercial real estate professionals is familiar with EPAct. However, very few professionals design for it or can certify it. For you and your clients to utilize EPAct correctly, we urge you to add an independent provider to your team. Remember, every dollar in operating costs you help your clients save will have a positive impact on the capital worth of their building. A well-qualified team can design the process to include tax incentives to fund the upgrade. The benefit of lower operating costs starts on day one when the install is complete. Further, it assures owners that they are paying the lowest energy costs. Be the leader who drives down operating costs for your clients.
Hear more from Karen Koch at our upcoming Real Estate and Construction Half Day Conference on June 23. Register now.