Howard County residents can get free home energy audits paid for with federal stimulus money, county executive Ken Ulman announced Tuesday.

Visiting a recently renovated home in Columbia where an audit was performed, Ulman said the county will use $659,000 of the $2.6 million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funding to pay for the 1,669 audits over the next six months. "This program gives us the opportunity to offer homeowners the information they need to make smart energy decisions which will reduce the county's overall carbon footprint, and save homeowners money," Ulman said in a statement.

The county did a survey last year that showed residential electricity and gas for heating comprised over 25 percent of the county's overall carbon footprint. The program is to help people reduce that. Residents can fill out an application online and winner will be selected at random each week in a way that allows the county to get a random sampling of homes by size, building material and type.

The result, said Office of Environmental Sustainability director Joshua Feldmark, will give the county a trove of information with which to map out the best ways for people to save both energy and money. People selected must submit a 12-month energy history of their home, be present for the audit and complete a survey six months later to report what they've done to correct problems.

The test house, in the 6500 block of Robin Song, was built in 1976 but renovated in 2009 with new heating and cooling equipment, but the audit showed more attic insulation, weather stripping the doors, and other measures costing $1,800 could save up to $375 a year in electricity costs. Available rebates would lower the break even time to 2.5 years.

larry.carson@baltsun.com