Residents of six towns in Montgomery and Prince George's counties may keep a little warmer this winter as a result of an energy conservation project sponsored by the Maryland Municipal League that will use infrared photography to detect heat loss in their homes.

The project aims to encourage the residents to better insulate their homes against the cold weather to save energy and cut fuel costs.

Beginning this week, a Wisconsin-based company called Donohoe is driving through every neighborhood in Barnesville, Glen Echo, Somerset and Kensington in Montgomery, and Cottage City and Fairmount Heights in Prince George's, equipped with infrared photographic equipment to detect heat leakage from homes. The company will produce videotapes of the homes. Then black-and-white photographs will be made from the videotapes and presented at town meetings, where residents can look at the pictures of their homes and get tips on how to cut down on heat loss.

"The pictures can show people how serious energy losses can be," said Anne Sweeny of the Maryland Energy Extension Service. "You can tell people they're wasting energy until you're blue in the face, but when you show them, you virtually have a captive audience."

Experts from Donohoe Co., who participate in infrared-scanning projects nationwide, will interpret the photographs at the town meetings. Representatives from the Potomac Electric Power Co., Washington Gas Light Co., and Potomac Edison Co. also will explain their services and describe ways to conserve energy. Additional workshops and lectures will be offered to residents.

Audrey Knight, project coordinator for the Maryland Municipal League, said the project is aimed at saving energy and cutting fuel costs in smaller towns that may not benefit from a town staff member designated to handle energy problems. She said the towns that agreed to cooperate in the project were chosen on the basis of their size, diversity of homes and income distribution.

"We wanted to choose towns that would benefit from the project and also be a good reflection of how the project would work around the state," Knight said.

The utility companies also will offer free home-energy audits to residents of the participating towns, Knight said. She said that if enough interest is generated, the residents may also benefit from low-cost insulating materials bought in bulk through local utility or weatherization companies.

Sweeny said that officials will be on hand at the meetings to determine if low-income residents are eligible for free government-funded weatherization programs.

Knight said that while the cost of weatherization varies depending on the structure and condition of the houses, residents could save as much as 50 percent on utility bills if they take steps to protect their homes from heat loss.

"Overall, our goal is to increase energy awareness," Sweeny said. "People don't believe they are wasting energy, and aren't aware they're wasting money."

The project is funded by the Maryland Energy Extension Service of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which has federal money available for energy conservation projects. Knight said that the Maryland Municipal League proposed the project after members heard of similar successful conservation plans in other states.

Sweeny said that Baltimore had participated in such a project five years ago, in which aerial infrared scans were made of rooftops. Residents could see the photographs of heat losses from their roofs by going to a city library.

"The libraries were swamped," she said. "It was a big success."

In a similar program in Grand Haven, Mich., homeowners attended weatherization workshops to see infrared pictures of their houses and to learn about weatherization. After the workshops, about a third of the town's 3,042 homeowners signed up for Michigan Gas and Utilities' home energy audit, officials said