Karen Towson could save $375 a year on her energy bills if she makes efficiency improvements to her Columbia home, according to a free energy audit conducted last week by a Burtonsville-based company.

Enticed by the prospect of saving money and making her home more energy efficient, Towson plans to make the improvements.

Howard County officials are hoping a new energy audit program will prompt more county residents to do the same.

Under the program, announced by County Executive Ken Ulman Tuesday, June 14 at Towson's home, 1,669 Howard residents will be able to receive free energy audits. The program, which is being funded through $659,000 in federal stimulus money, is a part of the county's efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.


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"The tricky part is to get to the citizens," Ulman said. "Government can only do so much."

The county published a greenhouse gas inventory in 2010 that showed residential electricity and gas account for more than 25 percent of the of the county's overall footprint. The audit program, officials say, will help residents find ways to reduce their footprint while also saving money.

"Energy audits provide homeowners information and options to manage their energy use and expenses," David Ross, the U.S. Department of Energy's block grant program chief, said. "This program is a win-win for the county and its residents."

Towson's two-story, four-bedroom home was built in 1976. She moved into it two years ago, but said the home's heating and cooling system was updated three years ago.

Still, the audit found several energy inefficiencies and recommended several changes, including insulating and sealing her attic, replacing the weather stripping on her rear door and installing water-saving devices in her bathrooms and kitchen.

"I didn't realize how much insulation I was missing in my attic," Towson said.

Tony Crane, a managing partner of Efficient Home, the company that conducted the audit of Towson's home, said the improvements she needs will cost about $1,800. But with rebates from the state and Baltimore Gas and Electric, Towson would only have to pay about half of that amount, he said.

"In three years, all that is going to be paid for" through her savings, Crane said.

Towson said she feels the savings and the comfort the insulation will provide during warm weather make it a good investment.

"The rebates make it an even better investment," she noted.

'Good all around'

County Council member Jen Terrasa, a Columbia Democrat who represents the area Towson lives in, lauded the energy audit program.

"It's good for the environment; it's good for residents; it's good for jobs," she said. "It's good all around."

Residents who wish to apply for a free home energy audit, should visit the county's Green Central Station website. Registration opened at 9 a.m. on June 14, and within the first five hours, more than 100 people had applied.

As applications come in, the county will sort them into different "buckets," Office of Sustainability Director Josh Feldmark said. The bucket categories include home type, age, size, location and building material.

"From those buckets, we will select randomly," Feldmark said. On June 20, the county will select about 10 of the applicants to receive audits, he explained. Each week after that, the county will selected another 50 or so, depending on the number the auditors can handle, until they have completed all 1,669 audits.

The county will own the data collected through the energy audits. Feldmark said his office plans to process the data and use it to create fact sheets based on the various bucket categories, so that homeowners who do not get to participate in the program can use them as a resource for identifying improvements they can make.

"We will really have a cross section of homes across Howard County," Feldmark said.

Betsy Singer, a member of the county's Environmental Sustainability Board and the Climate Change Initiative of Howard County, called the program an "extremely productive idea." She said she especially liked that the county would be using the information collected as a resource for other residents.

A lot of people want to make energy efficient improvements, Singer said, but "you don't know what to do to your house until you know what the problems are."