Two years of the Residential Energy Program!

Two years of the Residential Energy Program!
Energy Infographic - 2 Year of the County Residential Energy Program  

Watt’s Up with Montgomery County’s Residential Energy Program?

In 2016, the Residential Energy Program launched. After 2 years, it is well on its way to energy and greenhouse gas emission reductions!
  • 14,237 residents engaged
  • 229 events, including:
    • 25+ congregations
    • 21 libraries
    • 16 senior centers
    • 4 regional service centers
    • 10+ schools
    • 10 MANNA food distribution sites
  • 4,583 CFL + incandescent light bulbs collected + recycled = >$16,557 in energy savings for County residents
  • Quick Home Energy Checkups are energy audits offered through your utility. They are at no additional cost to you!
    • 472 County referrals for QHECs led to 135,700 kilowatt hours saved which equals the CO2 emissions of 10.9 homes for 1 year!
With more to come!

Saving energy and taxpayer dollars through continuous improvement of County operations

Saving energy and taxpayer dollars through continuous improvement of County operations
Montgomery County’s Department of General Services (DGS) often works behind the scenes to ensure that the County is operating efficiently, both in terms of cost and utilities, through innovative programs and processes.

Improving performance through continuous improvement

In 2018, DGS launched their Continuous Energy Improvement Program. This Program is exactly what it sounds like – an ongoing system of monitoring and adjusting County facilities to improve energy efficiency.

The program works by a combination of detailed review of energy and water data, and in-person walk throughs of the facilities. Energy data is collected every 15 minutes electronically, then processed using powerful analytical tools available through EnergyCAP utility bill management software. The in-person site visits known as “Energy Sweeps” collect more detailed information on savings from HVAC equipment, lighting, and operations. In each facility, the Energy Sweeps process includes:

  1. Inventory existing HVAC equipment, lighting fixtures and bulbs, and water fixtures to understand where energy and water are being used.
  2. Speak with Facilities Management staff and building occupants to fully understand the building’s day-to-day operations and any outstanding issues.
  3. Make general observations that can lead to energy-saving opportunities, such as unnecessary lighting during daytime hours or malfunctioning equipment.
  4. Use the information gathered to determine appropriate energy and water conservation measures to implement.
  5. Repeating the Energy Sweeps process at the same facility at regular intervals (e.g., once every year) or more frequently if the building is performing poorly.

Evaluating Energy Data

DGS staff evaluating building energy data


Ambitious Energy Sweeps already seeing savings

The continuous energy improvement program is an ongoing system of identifying ways to save on energy usage throughout Montgomery County’s 430 facilities. Odohi Ettah, Energy Engineer in DGS’ Office of Energy and Sustainability, explains that “County staff conduct detailed audits of the highest-priority facilities and make recommendations for no-cost, low-cost, and capital-intensive energy and water saving opportunities that can yield $12,000-$50,000 in annual savings per facility, while also helping the County meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. Projects are currently being scheduled for implementation.”
Silver Spring Civic Building

Silver Spring Civic Building

As of March 2018, program staff have completed Energy Sweeps audits at nine facilities. The County expects to conduct Energy Sweeps audits on 20 facilities in 2018, identifying potential annual savings of as much as $1 million. Cost-savings realized from many of these projects can be reinvested in additional energy saving improvements, multiplying the benefits to the community.

There is such a wide variety of buildings under inspection, ranging from libraries to recreation centers that it’s hard to know where what to look for in each case. A large emphasis of the program is on no- or low-cost opportunities to save energy to get the largest return on investment. For example, after doing a building inspection of a library, DGS discovered that an escalator was running unnecessarily outside of library operating hours. After making the adjustment to running only when the library is open, the escalator helps save on energy use thus energy costs, while extending the lifetime of the escalator due to less use.

Additionally, the older and less efficient buildings usually have a higher priority than the newer, LEED certified facilities. DGS is focusing their attention on underperforming facilities that can realize big energy savings – with 12% of Montgomery County’s 430 facilities accounting for 80% of the County’s total utility costs, there are big opportunities for the Energy Sweeps program.

“The first project reduced water and energy use, though simple faucet aerators and fixture replacement, by $15,000 annually in the Executive Office Building. The County plans to finish similar projects at two other large facilities in about two months,” says Odohi Ettah. It is estimated that the two other facilities along with the first project will save a combined 1.4 million gallons annually, which equates to $26,000 saved.

The National Association of Counties recently recognized DGS’ Continuous Energy Improvement Program with a 2018 NACo Award for its innovation.

Furthering sustainability through green action

In addition to the operation of County facilities, behavior of the people in the building is equally as important. The County is launching a pilot “Green Team” program with Departments to engage building tenants to drive further reductions in energy and resource use through employee engagement. This pilot is in partnership with the County’s Live Well employee wellness program.

Leah Miller, former Sustainability Program Manager in DGS’ Office of Energy and Sustainability, notes that “Green Teams will enable employees to adopt environmentally friendly behaviors at work while learning about actions that can benefit them in their daily lives. DGS and DEP have pilot teams in place, and expects to roll the program out Countywide in the future.”

WorkGreen Logo

The County’s WorkGreen Logo

Some examples of environmentally friendly behaviors at work include packing a waste-free lunch, turning the lights off in rooms that are not being used, using public transit to get to work, and bringing in a compost bin for people to compost their organic waste.

It’s clear to see that sustainability is a concept that can be applied to almost everything in our daily lives – from our homes to our offices, and into our communities. DGS’ Energy Sweeps is one piece of the County’s efforts to reduce energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save taxpayer dollars. Paired with the Green Teams, these processes for County operations will help our buildings and the occupants in them deliver services to residents in a more sustainable way.

Article by Jon Shay, Intern, Montgomery County DEP

Buying green electricity for your home

Buying green electricity for your home
An important way to combat global warming is to switch our electricity supply to “green” electricity (generated from wind- and solar-powered sources, both of which do not emit carbon dioxide).

Electricity generation is the single largest source of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.  Electricity sold by Pepco in Maryland in 2017 was generated mostly by coal (32.2%), natural gas (26.7%), and nuclear (35.9%) – with only 2.8% from wind and solar.

Scientists tell us we need to switch to clean electricity without delay.  By buying electricity from wind and solar power, and/or by supporting community solar power projects, you are helping support the stronger U.S. green electricity industry essential for that transition.


How to buy green electricity without installing solar panels

The following information is focused on helping residents of Montgomery County, who cannot install (or prefer not to install) rooftop solar, buy green electricity.  You can make the switch to green energy by:

  • purchasing electricity with renewable energy certificates from wind and solar facilities; OR
  • supporting the development of solar power in Maryland by being part of a community solar project.


Option 1: Green-e Certified Suppliers of Renewable Electricity

Many suppliers offer green electricity for purchase by Montgomery County residents, but their offerings can be difficult to compare – due to differing terms, conditions, and other relevant considerations.

Green-e is the trusted global leader in clean energy certification. They make it easy for businesses and individuals to purchase verified clean energy with confidence, and for consumers to choose sustainable products and services. Green-e advocates for the advancement of clean energy policy, markets, and technology, and believes in their economic and environmental benefits. Here are the companies whom have been certified as of August 2018:

Supplier, Product Name, Renewable Content, and Web Address Price Considerations
CleanChoice Energy Clean 12 Month Rate Lock (99% Wind + 1% Solar) 11.60 cents/kWh CleanChoice is a local firm, a B Corporation, and is certified by the Montgomery County Green Business Certification Program.  12-month contract, but you can cancel at any time, for any reason, without paying any penalty.  BBB rating = A+
AEP Energy ECO-Advantage 100% Renewable Fixed Price Offer (100% Wind) 7.99 cents/kWh AEP is a large multistate utility. 36-month contract, but you can cancel at any time, for any reason, without paying any penalty.  Only available for Pepco customers, not BG&E or Potomac Edison customers.  No MC-FACS member experience with this supplier and there are customer complaints about AEP’s Ohio affiliate on Yelp.  BBB rating = A+
WGL Energy Services 100% National Wind Power(100% Wind)   8.50 cents/kWh (12-month) 8.30 cents/kWh (24-month) IFPL’s agent, Groundswell a local renewable energy non-profit has a supply agreement with WGL Energy Services, an affiliate of Washington Gas Light. 12-month or 24-month contracts; WGL Energy’s penalty for early cancellation is $10 for each month remaining on the contract (so potentially a larger penalty for 24-month contracts).  BBB Rating = A+

What to consider in buying green electricity

Under Maryland law, you can choose a supplier for your electricity other than Pepco, BG&E, or Potomac Edison.   Your monthly electric bill will then have two parts – a smaller continuing payment to Pepco/BG&E/Potomac Edison (as the distributor) to maintain the electric wires in your neighborhood, and a payment for your “electric supply” that goes to the supplier you choose.

The process of signing up for a supplier is done online and is simple – you will need to consult a copy of your electrical bill to provide your current utility account number as part of the sign-up process.

The cost of green electricity is slightly higher than what Pepco/BG&E/Potomac Edison will charge for the “electric supply” part of your bill.  For that reason, it is important to know that the green electricity you are paying extra for is really “green.”

The EPA recommends buying green electricity from suppliers that have undergone third-party validation – in the United States, the non-profit organization that provides that independent check is Green-e.


Signing up

When you sign up for a green electricity option, you will sign a fixed-price contract for a specific term (typically between 1 and 3 years).  Some suppliers make you pay a penalty if you want to switch to another source of electricity before the contract term is up.  If you want the flexibility to switch based on finding a better price, then you may want to pay attention to termination fees and consider a supplier that allows easy cancellation.

There are other differences among the types of suppliers in the marketplace that may be important to you.  Some suppliers of green electricity are large multi-state utilities.  They may have lower prices for green electricity.

Others are smaller, more local firms that are explicitly organized to operate on socially responsible business principles or that have been certified for environmentally responsible business practices.  Their prices may be higher, but if you want your electricity purchase to encourage more Triple Bottom Line business (Economic, Social and Environmental), then look out for green business or B Corp logos.

If you live in Takoma Park, the City of Takoma Park has a program for purchasing green electricity for its residents that offers low rates and good environmental value.  Visit the program website.

The end of your contract

Shortly before the end of your contract, your green electricity supplier must inform you of your options, going forward:
  1. If you do nothing, some suppliers will automatically renew you for another fixed term at a different fixed rate that may be higher.
  2. They might put you on a variable rate that changes from month to month, which will likely also be higher.
  3. Others may return you to Pepco/BG&E/Potomac Edison as your supplier.

It is important to pay attention to your options at the end of your contract term (be it 1 year from now or 3 years from now), so that you make a choice at that point that continues to provide you with the lowest cost.


Option 2: Supporting Community Solar Projects

A complementary strategy to the above is to support the development of solar generation facilities in Maryland through community solar projects.   Maryland’s demonstration program allows such facilities to be built once they have signed up customers equal to the plant’s capacity.

The first PEPCO region project, to be built on a brownfield site in Prince George’s County, is now soliciting subscribers (organized by Neighborhood Sun).

Subscribers receive credits on their electricity bills that will be 5% greater than what is paid PEPCO, resulting in an overall savings.  As a legal matter, you are not buying the solar power generated by the facility itself, but you are directly incentivizing such facilities in Maryland while saving money overall.  You may be able to combine this support with buying your personal renewable energy through one of the suppliers in Option 1.

  Community Solar Organizers:

This article was prepared in June 2018 by the Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions Working Group on Clean Electricity members are: Jon Foreman, Jack Lebowitz, Joelle Novey, Bob Simon, Stuart Simon, Doneby Smith, Gary Steinberg, Nancy Wallace, Walter Weiss, and Diane Wysowski.  Data current as of June 2018.

Community Solar is now available for Marylanders

Community Solar is now available for Marylanders
Montgomery County residents finally have the chance to take part in the new Maryland community solar program and be part of the newest, most innovative solar industry development.

Community solar was initially authorized by legislation in 2015, and it took several years for projects to become available. It’s a great way for people to support new solar power generation without installing any equipment on their roofs.

How community solar works

Residents receive the same benefit as rooftop solar by subscribing to a large commercial project in the same utility area. Community solar brings the promise of solar to a much broader audience, meaning almost everyone can now be part of the solar revolution.

Community solar is available in many states across the U.S. There are several models for it, but the one most common here is the subscription model. This is where a resident (a renter or homeowner) subscribes to a nearby commercial-scale project, and gets a share of the project’s output each month. The subscribing companies typically create the share by matching the resident’s historical electricity usage. Each month, when the project produces power, Pepco puts credits on the resident’s bill to match their solar share. It’s like virtually spinning your meter backwards.


Current community solar projects

The Maryland program allows for only a small number of projects each year in the three-year pilot program. There are currently several active projects across the state, in BGE, Potomac Edison, Delmarva Power, and Pepco terrorities.

  • The Pepco project is called Panorama Solar and is located on an old landfill in Ft. Washington, in Prince George’s County. Anyone who is a Pepco customer can subscribe to it. The subscription is a five year deal, with a guaranteed 5% discount against Pepco’s all-in rates. The project is very large and can take about 800 subscribers.
  • For Montgomery County residents in the Potomac Edison territory, there’s the Rockdale Project, in Williamsport. It’s offering a 20 year deal, with a rate that is 17% below Potomac Edison’s all-in rate, and with a 1% annual price escalator. The project can take about 350 subscribers.

Community solar is not the same as retail electric choice. People who are in wind power contracts, or other deals with competitive electric suppliers, can also sign up for community solar. The projects in Maryland will only get built once there are enough subscribers to them. So people signing up can rest assured that they are directly bringing new local, clean energy to our state. This creates green jobs, local power production, and a cleaner environment for all of us.

By Gary Skulnik Gary is a county resident and founder of Neighborhood Sun, a Montgomery County certified green business focused on community solar. For information on how to participate in community solar, go to or call 240-284-6245, or email

Our top tips for a green back-to-school season

Our top tips for a green back-to-school season
Summer is almost over, and that means one thing — the non-stop back to school ads with dancing kids and the message to shop, shop, shop for the school year.

If you’re like me, and trying to minimize your environmental footprint, this time of year can be very stressful. Did you know that the National Retail Federation estimates that “Total spending for K-12 schools and college combined is projected to reach $82.8 billion?” That’s a staggering amount of new stuff that could eventually wind up in a landfill one day.

It’s not too late to plan out how you can have a successful school year and minimize the green guilt.

Take Stock

Dig in the school supply bins and pull the boxes out of the closet. Determine which items can be repurposed and reused from previous years.

  • Does that backpack really need to be replaced??
  • Is that lunchbox still sturdy enough for the upcoming school year?
  • And don’t forget the electronics such as computers, graphing calculators, and printers (more on these later). Of course, they’re newer, sleeker and lighter options, but are those upgrades worth the price?

If your child wants to go back to school with new supplies, try a compromise. They get a new backpack, but must reuse the other supplies. Any of the old supplies should be donated.

Slay the Energy Vampires

Energy vampiresComputers, phone chargers, printers — literally any device that is switched off, but remains plugged in – operates on standby power and is costing you a lot of money!

Invest in a Smart Power Strip. At $20 to $30, it’s a bit costlier than an average power strip, but is worth it. The strip stops drawing electricity from appliances that are turned off, meaning you don’t have to remember to switch the strip on and off every time. In fact, using a smart power strip throughout the house will save energy and dollars in every room.

Have you signed up for a Quick Home Energy Checkup? If you haven’t already, they are a service provided by your energy utility company at no-additional cost to you. During a QHEC, an auditor will provide you smart power strips and other energy saving devices and suggestions. Contact your electricity utility provider to learn more.

pens and pencils

Write Smart

The days of throwaway pens and pencils are gone, replaced by eco-friendly pens, and recycled versions of both. Once you have greener options in hand, encourage your kids to keep each pencil until it wears down to the nitty-gritty, and to use each pen as long as possible.  With greener pens, you won’t feel bad whenever one “disappears” or falls between the seats of the car.

Don’t Sacrifice Your Fashion Sense

Kids grow like weeds, so buying new clothes from retail stores not only wastes a lot of money for very little value, but “fast fashion” also contributes greatly to both sweatshop labor and waste. According to Eileen Fisher, a clothing industry magnate, “the clothing industry is the second largest polluter—second only to oil!”

Recycle clothesOrganize a clothing swap with your neighbors or co-workers. If that’s not an option, consider purchasing clothes from consignment shops and thrift stores. A popular trend is upselling gently used clothing at stores like Plato’s Closet and Uptown Chesapeake and using the money to purchase new-to-your-child clothing. These stores specialize in teen and young adult clothing and accessories that are in good condition and trendy. TotSwap, Maryland’s leading children’s consignment shop, is holding a swap at the Fairgrounds on September 18, 19, 21 and 23.

For clothes you are buying new, wait until Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week. This year, the first $40 of a backpack or bookbag is also tax-free. Accessory items like school supplies, except backpacks, are not included. The Shop Maryland Tax-Free Week for this year is Sunday, August 12 – Saturday, August 18, 2018.

And of course, don’t forget your reusable bag when shopping for clothes!

Pack Waste-Free Lunches

Ditch the brown bag and opt for a washable, reusable container to pack your lunch. Invest in a PVC-free, thermally insulated lunch bag, one made from recycled materials like juice boxes or from organic cotton.

Keep lunches cool by freezing water in a reusable container and slipping it in the bag. Instead of using baggies and plastic wrap for sandwiches and snacks, use reusable plastic containers or an easy to clean Wrap-n-Mat.

I polled DEP colleagues and asked what steps they’ve taken to green school lunches. One colleague said she saves used cereal bags, cuts in half and uses it to wrap sandwiches. The Laptop Lunch box system is also a good choice for reusable lunches, and includes individuals containers and beverage holders. For other beverages, use metal bottles which come in kid-friendly sizes and designs.

Green the Commute

To help reduce air pollution—a major contributor to childhood asthma—investigate whether you live on or close to the school bus route.Even if your child stays late for chess club or soccer practice, most schools have an extended bus schedule to accommodate.

BusIf you live relatively close to the school, a “walkpool” is a great way to save gas, reduce emissions, while getting your steps in! Parents take turns chaperoning a group on foot (or bike) to and from school.

Finally, if walking, biking or the bus aren’t options, organize a carpool with your neighbors.

Textbooks are Expensive — Buy Used

TextbooksUsed textbooks are often available for half off or more in campus bookstores, and websites such as eCampus and Amazon Textbook Rentals also carry a broad selection of used titles. (You can search by ISBN, Author or Title.) Renting or buying used textbooks is an increasingly popular option that helps to reduce the number of books being created, which can save millions of trees.

According to a statement issued by the Environmental Paper Network, “If the U.S. reduced its paper consumption by 10 percent annually, we could save enough energy to power 228,000 homes, conserve 11 billion gallons of water, and prevent carbon emissions equivalent to removing 279,000 cars from the road! Choosing used textbooks can help.”

Start a Conversation

ConversationInclude your children in the conversation about why going green is good for them and the planet. They should feel like part of the decision making and not that going green is forced upon them. Hopefully, because of your thoughtful conversations with your kids, they will make greener, healthier choices when you aren’t there watching over them. It’s the first step towards them becoming a global citizen.

Hope these tips allow you to have a happy and green back-to-school season!

By Cindie Harrison, Program Manager at the Montgomery County, MD Department of Environmental Protection

DEP and Safeway want you to “Lighten Your Load”

DEP and Safeway want you to “Lighten Your Load”
This summer, the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Safeway stores are partnering to help save shoppers energy and money on their lighting with “Lighten Your Load” events.

On select days at Safeway locations, bring old incandescent and/or compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and receive up to three free LED light bulbs and a new, reusable shopping bag. These “Lighten Your Load” events are a way to save on electric bills and ensure that plastics and dangerous substances, like mercury, do not enter the waste stream.

You can swap your old incandescent and/or CFL bulbs for energy-efficient LEDs on Mondays this summer from 4 to 6 p.m. at the following Safeway locations. Look for DEP staff in front of each store:

  • July 23: Germantown Safeway at 19718 Germantown Road, Germantown, 20874
  • July 30: Rockville Safeway at 5510 Norbeck Road, Rockville, 20853
  • August 6: Wheaton Safeway at 11201 Georgia Ave, Wheaton, 20902
  • August 13: Damascus Safeway at 9807 Main Street, Damascus, 20872
  • August 20: Olney Safeway at 3333 Spartan Road, Olney, 20832

Participants can bring as many bulbs as they have available, but during the swap, each family is limited to receiving three free LEDs. All bulbs collected during the swap will be properly recycled or disposed.

At the kick-off event on Monday, July 16, almost 100 LEDs and 180 bags were distributed to the public.

“We’re giving away replacement LEDs, because it’s a small change that makes a big impact for residents’ utility bills and the environment,” said Patty Bubar, acting director of the Montgomery County DEP. “About 80 percent of households still use incandescent bulbs, and the summer months also have some of the highest electricity bills. It’s the perfect time to make the switch.”

The ENERGY STAR®-certified LEDs offer a warm white light that’s equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent bulb. LED bulbs are more energy efficient, have a longer life span, non-toxic and greener than other alternatives, flexible in color and design, and by switching three bulbs, you could cut your utility bill by at least $25 per year.

“We take our commitment to energy efficiency and reducing waste seriously,” said Darcie Renn, director of sustainability at Safeway. “By partnering with Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, our customers have the opportunity to save energy and lower their utility bills while also reducing waste that goes to the landfill.”

At each “Lighten the Load” event, reusable shopping bags will be distributed to shoppers. Plastic bags are a significant source of litter in our community and pollute our neighborhoods, streams, and playgrounds.

“Lighten the Load” events are part of the Department of Environmental Protection’s efforts to educate residents and businesses about simple actions we can all take to save energy and money.

For more information, visit or contact Larissa Johnson by email or by telephone at 202-281-7173

Trying to be rational in an irrational world

Trying to be rational in an irrational world
Think about the last time you went looking for a new car. What did you look for?

You probably started with your needs for the vehicle and the style of the car you wanted. You then considered the miles per gallon (mpg) of the car, looked up the crash test rating and then read online reviews from car owners about comfort and maintenance. Obviously, the sticker price is a determining factor. And finally, you probably ended up test driving the car to see what it’s like in person before buying.


Now, what if I told you that you must make that same vehicle purchase decision, but only based on the dimensions of the car, the features, some pictures of the interior, and the price?  Do you think you could decide on which car you would want?

You would say I am crazy and that you wouldn’t make the decision on such a pricey purchase with so little information. But, that is exactly what millions of people do when making a significantly more expensive purchase… a home.


A Home Comparison

Look at the two homes shown in the table below. Which one would you pay more money for? Other than a wider driveway and new siding on the home on the right, these two homes appear to be identical, so you would likely expect to pay about the same for both homes.

In fact, these two homes are one and the same, just pre- and post-retrofit!

In a rational world, you would value the home on the right significantly more. There are several key enhancements that the home on the right has that make it more valuable.

Using the car analogy, what are the mpg-like metrics for a home?

The home on the left spends $5,700/year on utilities, while the home on the right spends $1,600/year. What would you do with $4,100 more each year? Simply apply those utility savings to additional mortgage payments and you would trim years off your mortgage.


Just because a home has a heating/cooling system, doesn’t mean it is comfortable. The home on the left was drafty (infiltration rate of 7.1 ACH50) versus the tight home on the right (infiltration rate of 1.9 ACH50).

This resulted in significantly more space conditioning since air was lost to the outdoors. It also meant that the temperature throughout the home on the left would vary by 5°F, while the home on the right maintains temperatures within 1-2°F of the thermostat setpoint throughout the home (with the addition of upgraded HVAC as well).

How about durability and maintenance?

There are several items that separate these two homes:

  • The house on the left had issues with water intrusion at several retrofit windows that allowed water to get into the walls. The house on the right has properly installed windows and a continuous drainage plane on the exterior facade.
  • The house on the left had window A/Cs, so these need to be installed each spring and removed/stored each fall. The house on the right doesn’t have to deal with this issue.
  •  The house on the left had wood shingle siding that was in poor condition and peeling paint. The house on the right has fiber-cement siding.
  • The house on the left had to deal with oil deliveries (and volatile oil prices), the house on the right does not.
  • The house on the left lost power a couple times a year when the utility power went down. The house on the right does not (even when all the surrounding neighbors didn’t have power for several days).

Lastly, what about health?

Would you buy a car that could make you sick or had a poor safety rating? The house on the left had an issue with mice infestation. Thankfully, the house on the right no longer has this issue. After finding mice feces and dead mice everywhere in the home, the previous homeowners were contacted to see if they had health issues. All their kids asthma symptoms were minimized after they left the home.

Clearly, these two homes are not worth the same approximate value as illustrated above.


Make Home Buying More Rational

There are many efforts to make valuing healthy and efficient homes a more rational process. For instance, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been coordinating with the Appraisal Institute regarding green appraisals[1],[2]. Additionally, there are numerous municipalities and even entire states that are starting to include a HERS Index in MLS postings to provide an efficiency metric that can be used by buyers to compare homes.

There are many other efforts being done at an industry level, but what can you do the next time you are looking for a home?

You can learn a surprising amount by requesting utility bill data from previous homeowners and talking to surrounding neighbors. Select a home inspector that has expertise on health issues, such as pests, radon, and mold. The way to change the housing market is for the consumer to demand more.

It will take time, but it is time for us to start acting rationally when it comes to the largest purchase that most of us will make in our lifetime.

Blog adapted from Steven Winter Associates blog, Party Walls, and written by Srikanth Puttagunta, Principal Mechanical Engineer on May 24, 2018. For more information, Header image by iStock

Takoma Park’s Gina Mathias is always up for a challenge

Takoma Park’s Gina Mathias is always up for a challenge
At DEP, we truly believe that our partners are key to making Montgomery County as green as it can be. This “Partners in Energy” series profiles a local leader, advocate, or trailblazer who is dedicated to improving energy efficiency and helping the county realize its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. Find out more about them in their own words. 

This installment highlights Gina Mathias, Sustainability Manager for the City of Takoma Park.

Want to be featured as our next Partner in Energy? Send us an email!

My Green Montgomery: When did you first become interested in energy and climate change?

Gina Mathias: Thanks to my Dad who took me hiking, many summers at a sleepaway camp, and teachers who understood climate science before the evidence was conclusive, I became interested in climate at a young age.

My real passion for energy was fostered while working for a local energy auditing company where I learned about Home Performance, building science, and energy efficiency while directing energy efficiency projects at multi-family buildings.

Gina Mathias

Gina Mathias

MGM: What do you find most interesting about energy issues in Montgomery County?

Mathias: I think the variety and breadth of energy issues in Montgomery County are interesting. The County has to work on residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, and even agricultural energy use issues. This creates a complex challenge for the county, but also a deep well of resources for its communities.

For example, the commercial PACE program and Green Bank are excellent innovations that sustainability managers like myself can draw upon when working with the community.


MGM: Can you describe what you do in your role as Sustainability Manager?

Mathias: My main role is to implement Takoma Park’s 2014 Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP). The SEAP has 17 key strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions city wide. The city is more than halfway through implementation of the plan, and I’ll be working on an update in fiscal year 2019 to ensure we continue to strive for deeper reductions in emissions. I’m responsible for managing the city’s greenhouse gas disclosure and coordinating with regional and national partners and programs relating to climate and energy.

I also work on a variety of other sustainability issues in the city including serving as the city representative on the Montgomery County GreenFest planning committee; serving as an energy coach and answering resident questions about energy efficiency and sustainability issues; increasing electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the city; and much more!


MGM: How does your day-to-day work impact residents of Takoma Park?

Mathias: Some of the work I do benefits residents directly, such as the energy efficiency grants and rebates that are now available to residents.


MGM: What has been your proudest moment in your position?

Mathias: I am incredibly proud of Takoma Park’s commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency. In 2017, Takoma Park was named the Sustainable Maryland Certified Champion for achieving the most points of any community certified.

Takoma Park also won third place in the national, years-long Georgetown University Energy Prize competition. These achievements were only possible because of the high rates of participation and involvement from residents, businesses, and staff in the city, and that is what makes Takoma Park a great place to work.


MGM: What projects are you working on now that we should be watching?

Mathias: This summer I am challenging everyone in Takoma Park to choose 100% renewable energy at their home or business. Everyone in Maryland has the option to choose renewable, but by my estimate only about 5-6% of residents are buying clean power. We can do better than that! This is one of the easiest, fastest, and cheapest, ways we can make a big impact on our carbon footprints.

To make the process as easy as possible to switch to renewable energy, Takoma Park researched suppliers through an open-bid process and selected CleanChoice Energy as the city’s partner for the challenge. Residents and businesses can choose any supplier they like and still earn challenge points.

CleanChoice was selected for the following reasons:
  • Product: Locally generated! 99% wind and 1% solar
  • Price: $0.086 per kWh
  • Contract: No cancellation fees. 12 month guaranteed price.
  • Certified B Corporation
  • Local company headquartered in Washington, D.C.
  • Anyone with a Pepco account can participate, nothing to install.
  • Rebates for qualified low income households

Our goal is 25% of all Pepco accounts in the city to be 100% renewable energy by September 30, 2018. You can check in on how we are doing. 

Gina’s dog also cares about saving energy and turns off the computer when done.

MGM: What’s your favorite way to save energy in your home or workplace?

Mathias: At home I have a NEST thermostat that has a mind of its own. I set the program from my phone, and it can put the house into ECO mode all on its own, forcing us to save energy. I’ve installed most of the usual “low-hanging fruits,” such as LED bulbs, fans for summer, low-flow aerators and showerhead, etc. I also try to practice energy-smart behavior, like using cold water for laundry and even washing my face.

But probably my favorite way to save energy happens at work where building-automation technologies help out. Features like motion-sensor lighting, energy-save mode and auto-turn off on office equipment, and thermostat programs make it so easy to save energy. I hope to incorporate more building-automation technology into my home too.


MGM: Outside of your role, what other activities or interests do you have?

Mathias: I have a number of crafty hobbies and a home pottery studio where I make ceramic bowls, cups, and vases. My husband and I enjoy traveling whenever we get the chance, rock climbing, and hiking. I also find myself with a long list of home improvement projects for our 1951 home.

Show your air conditioner a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Show your air conditioner a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Failed air conditioning on a scorching day can turn summer bliss into a sweaty nightmare.  Here are do-it-at-home tips that may help lower your utility bill, save energy and avoid costly repairs.


Replace dirty clogged filters

Dirty filters block airflow and reduce your system’s efficiency. When your cooling system is fighting to pull air through a dirty filter, it makes the system run longer and can increase energy use by five to 15 percent. Running the system with a dirty filter also puts a lot of stress on the entire system and can cause a costly repair. A typical filter only costs a few dollars while a new motor can run $600 – $1,200.

Changing the Filter


Evaluate the area around the thermostat to ensure it registers correctly. Keep lamps, televisions, or other heat sources away from the thermostat to ensure it reads the accurate room temperature.


Set your thermostat

Set your thermostat at 78 degrees for comfort and energy savings. A lower temperature won’t cool things faster and may result in unnecessary expense. A programmable thermostat allows you to keep your home warmer when you are away and cool it down before you return.

Set your thermostat


Professional service

Professional service technicians should check and maintain your system each spring. A certified professional can check your cooling system to clean the coils; check for the correct amount of refrigerant and make sure none is leaking; seal duct leakage in central air conditioning systems; maintain motors, and make sure the thermostat is working properly. This will help ensure your system doesn’t break down on a hot day. Most air conditioning equipment warranties require annual professional maintenance.

Energy Savings

Energy savings is good for the environment and for your wallet. According to PEPCO, properly installed high-efficiency heat pumps, furnaces and air conditioning units can help you save on heating and cooling costs year-round and provide more consistent temperatures and humidity control.

Air conditioning unit



Condensers should be maintained to minimize dirt and debris near the condenser unit and keep it clear of bushes to allow adequate airflow. Also take care when using lawn maintenance equipment close to the wires – you don’t want to accidentally cut one.

  Outdoor Unit


Turn off your air conditioner when you don’t need it.

On days when temperatures are not sweltering, you may be able to stay comfortable by using ceiling fans or opening windows. This helps your wallet and saves energy.

Find out how DGS keeps our County’s 400 plus facilities comfortable and energy efficient. And view more home energy saving tips.

By Al Crutcher, Major Maintenance Project Manager with Montgomery County’s Department of General Services (DGS), Division of Facilities Management