Energy efficiency is a smart financial move. Who pays you money to save money?

The question that I’m most often asked is: What can I do to live more sustainably? Check off 2 of the 3 ideas below, and cut your greenhouse emissions by 50 percent:

1. Switch to clean electricity at home.

2. Buy a hybrid, electric or fuel efficient car.

3. Weatherize your home (a.k.a energy efficiency).

In my experience the reason that most people – at any income level – cite for not taking on home weatherization, a.k.a. energy efficiency, projects is money. We assume it will be too expensive. Turns out we’re all wrong.

Marylanders have access to many rebates, free grant programs and low cost loans that it’s almost overwhelming. Even better, there are many free weatherization programs for low income households families. 

The reason there are deep “energy efficiency” pockets is that Uncle Sam and Maryland seriously want homeowners and businesses to reduce their energy waste. That waste is estimated to be at least 25 percent.  In my experience that estimate is low; real-world energy waste is closer to 40 to 50 percent.

Lower income families fare better with no out-of-pocket programs. These programs cover all the work insulate attics, repair or replace heaters and air conditioning units, fix leaky duct work, install energy efficient lightbulbs, to name a few. 

My advice to tackling home energy efficiency projects is to manage your expectations. Obtaining free rebate and grant money and completing weatherization projects requires patience, organization and time. Give yourself six months to one year to tackle energy efficiency. Don’t give up if you hit a voicemail – energy efficiency governmental agencies aren’t consumer companies – though their customer service has improved. Stay organized, have a positive attitude, and you’ll soon be saving money by saving energy.

Weatherization defined

Home energy efficiency is living in a comfy, workable house which requires as little electricity and natural gas as possible. Energy efficiency projects include: Lighting your home with low energy light bulbs. Using less water. Ensuring your home’s heater and air conditioning units are efficient and working. Owning a tighter, well-insulated home that holds in expensive heated and cooled air rather than it leaking out into the big blue sky. Ensuring the duct work delivering expensive heated and cooled air isn’t riddled with holes. Fixing those hard-to-solve rooms that are either icebox-cold or Hades-hot. Finally, making sure you have no hidden mold, water issues, or gas leaks.

Here are a half-dozen home energy efficiency programs to consider:

One benefit in reducing your utility bill is more spending money
One benefit in reducing your utility bill is more spending money

1. Baltimore Energy Challenge

Who: Baltimore City residents

At a minimum, call Baltimore Energy Challenge at 443-869-2614 and schedule a home visit.  At no cost, the team will install a programmable thermostat, energy-efficient CFL or LED light bulbs, water-saving fixtures, hot water pipe wraps, power strips, CO2/smoke detector, and more. Another benefit is that the Baltimore Energy Challenge team members have in-depth understanding of the rebate programs listed below. Any Baltimore City homeowner or tenant residing in a house or apartment can participate. This program is a joint partnership between Civic Works, Baltimore Community Foundation and the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability.

2. BGE Quick Home Energy Check-up

Who: All BGE customers

If you live outside of Baltimore City, a similar program to the Baltimore Energy Challenge is BGE’s Quick Home Energy Check-up. Call 877.685.7377, or fill out this form, to schedule a visit.  After an energy walk through, your check-up rep will install at no cost up to 12 CFLs (all types), one LED, four faucet aerators, two efficient-flow fixed or handheld shower heads, a water heater pipe insulation and tank wrap, Smart Strips and ShowerStart shower head adapter. Be sure to ask your energy consultant about the more comprehensive Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program which is described below.

3. Baltimore City LIGHT program

Who: Baltimore City homeowners in specific income levels (income chart below)

Call 410.396.3023, mention weatherization, and get connected to a LIGHT program coordinator. After a quick assessment of your situation over the phone, your case coordinator will explain the free programs available to weatherize your home. LIGHT is the main intake call center for the many low income grant-based programs available to city residents. Baltimore City’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is run from this office, and the WAP application gives homeowners an idea of the LIGHT weatherization services provided. Please note the potential “big deal” fix available for free – if supported during a home energy audit, replacing HVAC units is part of this program.

A snapshot of income requirements for LIGHT program.
A snapshot of income requirements for LIGHT program. Levels are up to each amount based on how many people live home 18 and older.

4. Maryland Low Income Energy Efficiency Program

Who: All Md. homeowners outside Baltimore City in specific income levels (chart above)

Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development is the lead administrator for low income energy efficiency programs for homeowners living outside of Baltimore City. Call 855.583.8976 to reach an energy efficiency consultant who can help you access the EmPOWER Maryland low income, Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), and other grant-based energy efficiency programs. 

If you live in Baltimore County, check out Baltimore County’s Weatherization Assistance Program. This team closely coordinates with its state counterpart, the Maryland Low Income Energy Efficiency Program.

5. EmPOWER Maryland – BGE Smart Energy

Who: All BGE customers

If you are above the income levels for the LIGHT or Maryland’s Low Income Efficiency programs, all Maryland utility customer can access EmPOWER Maryland-funded rebates (maximum rebate is $4,300, see chart below).

EmPOWER Maryland is a state initiative aimed at reducing Maryland’s electricity usage 25 percent by 2020. 

Each month, all Maryland utility customers pay a small surcharge (based on usage) that funds EmPOWER Maryland demand reduction and energy efficiency programs. Each of Maryland’s five utilities manage the initiatives. BGE’s program is BGE Smart Energy program

Take advantage of lighting discounts, appliance rebates, heating and cooling system rebates, and the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program.

It’s wise to invest the $100 in the whole house energy audit. Most likely, you will be floored when you learn how much air conditioned air is continuously leaking out your windows, attics, joints and duct work. Your energy report will suggest fixes which you can pay with the EmPOWER Maryland rebates available for insulation, air sealing and duct sealing.

The EmPOWER Maryland rebates may not cover the full cost of some retrofit projects. If you’re tight on cash, consider Maryland’s Be SMART Home loan program that offers homeowners 4.99 percent loans up to $30,000 for weatherization projects. Most energy efficiency projects have short payback times. 

6. Be SMART Home loan program

Who: All Maryland homeowners

If you meet the eligibility standards (verification of income, credit score of 640+, and a debt-to-income ratio of up to 50%) you can borrow up through the Be SMART Home program up to $30,000 at 4.99% interest to pay any balances needed to complete weatherization  projects. Often the energy savings from newer and more efficient HVACs can pay the loan balance down over time. 

Not Sure? Check out a few real-world examples

If you’re at all skeptical, and think that weatherization projects may add up to nothing in the end, check out these two Baltimore case studies.

The larger suburban home retrofit saves about $4,000 per year. The Canton row home saves about $550 per year, but the bigger benefit is the homeowner is now able to sleep in the master bedroom which was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer.

Laurel Peltier writes the weekly Baltimore Fishbowl Greenlaurel environmental column. A graduate of the University of Los Angeles and the University of Virginia’s Darden MBA program, Laurel was a brand manager for a several large consumer companies. A long-time Baltimore City resident, mom-of-three is at the top of her resume. Her work has been published in the Baltimore Sun, CBS Media and Ecowatch. Her email is

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Laurel Peltier

Laurel Peltier writes the environment GreenLaurel column every Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.