Heat just one home this winter

Maryland's state government desperately wants you to plug up your leaky house in order to use less electricity. To get homeowners on board, the Empower Maryland program is offering 50 percent rebates of up to $3,150 on retrofit projects that make your home more energy efficient. The goal is simple: reduce electricity usage while reducing Maryland's greenhouse gases.

Many homeowners would be surprised at how much they can save on their utility bills – and how quickly their up-front investment gets paid back.


Under the program, Greg Baggan of Canton learned he had been heating the equivalent of three homes, when he only owns one. An energy audit revealed that all the leaks in his home, when combined, equated to a 4 square-foot hole in his small row house. His large electricity bills were caused by poor insulation, holes in heating ducts and some funky construction.  "I knew the house had issues because my bedroom was so hot in the summer, I couldn't sleep in it," he said.

Like Baggan, you too can pocket up to $3,150 in Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® rebates to fix your leaky home.  These leaks are literally sucking money right out of your home. Baggan fixed his home's energy issues, and his electric usage fell 20 percent.  And, he now sleeps comfortably in his bedroom, even during the excessive heat of summer 2012.


Empower Maryland is a four-year old state initiative aiming to reduce Maryland's electricity usage 15 percent by 2015. Whether you realize it or not, you're already participating. Each month, all Maryland electric customers pay a small surcharge (based on usage) that funds the Empower Maryland demand reduction and energy efficiency programs. These programs are managed by Maryland's five utility companies.

The upside is that Marylanders can take advantage of lighting discounts, appliance rebates, heating and cooling system rebates and, the biggie - the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® half-off rebate for projects like insulation, air sealing and duct sealing.

You might ask: Do U.S. homes waste a lot of energy?

Sadly, yes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most homes can save at least 25 percent by homeowners getting "energy wise".  Maryland homes likely can top that because most are energy hogs. Nearly 60 percent of Mid-Atlantic homes were built before 1960; on average, they are two-thirds less energy efficient than those built after 1990.

The top 3 problem spots in Maryland's older homes are usually poor insulation, leaks in air ducts and cracks in walls and around windows and doors.

"Though improving your energy efficiency by adding insulation and programmable thermostats isn't glamorous, these fixes are incredibly effective, often reducing your energy use by 25 percent to 50 percent," according to Fritz Eisenbrandt, owner of Smart Home Services, a certified energy contractor in Cockeysville, Maryland.

So how do the rebates work?

A smart first step is to check out this excellent booklet from the U.S. Department of Energy on how homes resemble "energy sieves."  Then follow the six steps below to get the $3,150 in rebates.


(The guide below is for BGE customers, but the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® retrofit program is identical for all Maryland residents. If you are not a BGE customer, click here to find your utility's Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® web site.)

Step 1: Complete a certified home energy audit

In order to participate in BGE'S Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® rebate program, your home needs to be inspected by a participating BGE energy auditor who will perform an in-depth energy efficiency inspection.

"The term 'energy audit' may sound dry and technical, but they're pretty cool. Unlike your home's real estate inspection, energy auditors are sleuths looking for air leaks, toxins, drafts and how well your heating and cooling systems perform," according to Eisenbrandt.

The detailed energy audit and report usually cost $400, but BGE will rebate $300 of the audit cost. Your out-of-pocket cost is only $100.

Step 2: Review Energy Audit report


Your energy auditor will generate a report outlining your home's energy issues and provide recommended remedies and estimated costs.

Step 3: Fix it: Decide what to fix. Most likely, your energy auditor can complete the home retrofit projects. If not, consult this list of participating contractors.

Step 4: Test out: Once the work is done, your energy auditor will return and certify the work was completed.  Your energy auditor will submit the final paperwork to BGE for you to get your rebate.

Step 5: Cash check: Your rebate check arrives 6 weeks after your final paperwork is mailed.

Step 6: Be happy: Enjoy a bit of happiness as you open your utility bill to see it's lower than before.

Channel your inner financial tycoon

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While adding insulation or installing a new thermostat isn't free, improving your home's energy efficiency is a smart financial decision. The key though is to make the go/no-go decision based on hard information reason, not guesses and emotion.

Just ask Mary McPherson of Baldwin, Maryland. "I knew my BGE bills were outrageous, but I assumed it was because my house is large," she said. McPherson's energy audit revealed her 7,000 square-foot home was "super drafty".  Her home's blower door test, which measures the air leakage rate of a building, was 61 percent above normal levels.

"After the house was insulated and the ducts were sealed, my monthly energy bill has dropped $400," said McPherson.

To put this in financial terms, McPherson's project realized a profit of over 40 percent based on her $5,500 out-of-pocket investment, and her costs have been paid back in less than two years.

Baggan's $2,500 upfront investment made him a 9 percent profit, and he will recoup his investment in 5 years.  Even Wall Street traders would salivate at these types of profits.  Click here to see the Baggan and McPherson energy audit photos and case studies.

"I realized I'd be crazy not to fix everything suggested on my energy audit because half the cost was covered by the BGE Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® rebates, Baggan said.  Other than an employer who contributes to a 401k, where can you find a deal like this?"


Consider adding your home to the Baggan and McPherson case study list - it's a win-win for your checkbook, comfort and the environment. Or, if you have already made your home more energy wise, share your story in the comments section below.