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Tax-free sales lure shoppers to save energy and water
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Lowe's manager Frank Anderson talks to customer Bradley Martin, a telephone technician from Gainesville, about low-flow toilets Friday. Martin says he is taking advantage of the tax-free holiday, which allows consumers to purchase certain water- and energy-saving products without paying sales tax. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Several times in the 32 years since his home in the Sardis area was built, Bradley Martin has replaced parts on toilets.

But a sales tax holiday on water- and energy-efficient products gave Martin a reason to consider replacing the toilet with one that uses less water per flush.

"I saw it in the newspaper and thought I’d give it a look," said Martin, who was browsing the selection at Lowe’s Home Improvement Center on Friday.

Georgia’s fourth annual Energy Star sales tax holiday began Thursday and runs through midnight Sunday.

The event allows consumers to pay no state or local sales tax on certain products carrying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star and WaterSense labels.

Georgia’s sales tax is 4 cents on the dollar; Hall County’s is 3 cents. On an item costing $1,500, a consumer could save about $105 in sales taxes.

The tax waiver applies only to residential purchases, not to contractors or retailers.

There is no limit on the number of items that can be bought, but to qualify for the tax exemption, each item can’t cost more than $1,500.

Eligible items, all of which must have an Energy Star or WaterSense label, include dishwashers, washing machines, air conditioners, ceiling fans, fluorescent light bulbs, dehumidifiers, programmable thermostats, refrigerators, energy-efficient doors and windows, high-efficiency toilets, bathroom sink faucets and faucet aerators.

Frank Anderson, manager of Lowe’s, said he expects increased traffic today as do-it-yourselfers consider a possible weekend project.

The event is similar to Georgia’s sales tax holiday in summer for back-to-school items. In 2006, the state tried combining the two events, but retailers asked that they be separated.

"Through the Energy Star and WaterSense sales tax Holiday, Georgians can save money, conserve energy and water and show their commitment to the stewardship of our environment," said Chris Clark, executive director of the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.

Many Energy Star qualified appliances use 30 percent less energy than conventional models without sacrificing features, style or comfort. Some products, such as energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, save as much as 80 percent.

The Environmental Protection Agency created the WaterSense program to recognize major water-consuming products that are 20 percent more water-efficient and perform as well as or better than conventional models. Currently, 264 high-efficiency toilets and 209 bathroom faucets and faucet accessories meet the designation and can be found at a variety of price points at retailers across the state.

"WaterSense is an opportunity for Georgians to make an important choice to help the environment," said Carol A. Couch, director of the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "The rewards are many, but the most immediate one is the savings you see on your water bill."

For toilets, the key requirements are using no more than 1.28 gallons per flush and solid waste removal of 350 grams or more, ensuring that people won’t have to flush multiple times.

Faucets limit flow to 1.5 gallons per minute while still delivering 60 psi of pressure.