Get SMART: Maryland offers loans for energy efficient projects

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has received $20 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy to use toward home and business improvements.

With the money received through the DOE’s Better Buildings Program, DHCD was able to start its own program, Be SMART (Saving Money And Resources Today). The program will provide loans for energy-efficient projects in fifteen towns throughout Maryland. Takoma Park was selected as one of these eligible towns due to its status as a “Main Street” community.
The Edinburgh House Apartments, located in Takoma Park, was the first multi-family building to receive a Be SMART loan.

The goal of the project is to help multi-family homeowners, single family homeowners and business owners improve their energy efficiency at an affordable cost. These projects will help save people money in the long run on utility bills and will also help to decrease the dependence on foreign fuels, said Elise Lambert, Special Assistant to the Director of Community Development at DHCD.

The program offers loans to those who qualify and are trying to make renovations and repairs in order to improve their energy efficiency. This includes projects like replacing a heating system, HVAC or water heater, or putting in insulation or new windows. To apply, one must fill out an application describing the work that is requested.

The interest rates for these loans are set at either 4.9 percent or 6.9 percent. If the individual allows an energy auditor to come inspect the project before it begins, they will secure the 4.9 percent rate. “We are trying to incentivize this program, because you can save more energy at a lower cost if you invest in the program,” said Lambert.

The energy auditor will suggest measures that will help with energy efficiency, and will list the best values of energy saving for lowest cost. If the project meets the Be SMART requirement of a 15 percent minimum energy reduction, and the person or business requesting the funding meets the financial requirements, the loan will be met. The 6.9 percent rate is given to those who choose not to have an energy audit conducted.

Projects near the top of the list are those that will help with home fueling costs, where the energy to heat or cool the home will be maximized most efficiently. For now, the energy audits are being conducted free of charge. However, this may change in the future, so those interested are encouraged to apply sooner rather than later.

“It’s an important environmental activity we should all be trying to participate in,” said Patty Baker, a member of the Old Takoma Business Association who is spearheading the Takoma Park initiative.