Owners in a 417-unit condominium garden apartment complex in Gaithersburg decided to do something about the money they were spending to heat and cool their homes.

Now the residents of Villa Ridge are waiting to see how their $325,000 investment in an energy management program will pay off. Prior research indicated that consumption of electricity and fuel oil will be reduced by nearly 27 percent and that the captial expense of the program will be returned within five years.

Most of the 1,400 storm windows and thermopane patio glass doors, replaceing single pane doors, are in place. Flueorescent fixtures have replaced internal incandescent lights. Before the end of September, insulation and aluminum siding will be installed and aluminum siding will be installed on non-masonry, trim areas of the residence.

Nancy Ashby, president of the Villa Ridge condominium association, said that results from the installation of storm windows and double-pane glass doors already are showing.

"My husband and I recently were far more comfortable in our apartment because of absence of cool dratfs after the installation," she said. "And other owners have told me that they turned down their thermostats voluntarily because the comfort factor was better."

The Villa Ridge heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is esentially oil-fired, circulated hot water heat with air handlers in individual units and electrical air conditioning with centrifugal air chillers. Hot water is circulated in winter; chilled water in summer. The system iincludes two oil-fired boilers and two air chillers in a power station.

Essentially, the energy conservation program was originated by Dr. James Eberhardt, a condominium owner and technical staff employe of the Department of Energy, and John N. Galagher, a property management executive with Shannon & Luchs, which has provided services to Villa Ridge residents since February 1974.

Gallagher said the energy package took more than two years to develop and seven months to persuade condo owners of its benefits. All major financing must be approved by 75 percent of the condo owners."It's mnot a simple matter to come up with a program to use $100,000 capital reserve funds on hand and to borrow $225,000, even for a major program designed to save energy and operating expenses," gallagher said.

This may be the firt such totally comprehensive program undertaken by a large group of condominium apartment owners in this area or in the nation," Gallagher said. "We do know that we sought previous experience in other situations and found none."

Eberhardt said the study, undertaken late in 1976 by Villa Ridge owners with his leadership, indicated there were three choices: do nothing; increase the efficiency of the heating and cooling systems; study the "envelope" of the structures and improve it.

The studygroup ignored the first alternative, gave some attention to improving the existing system and insulating the transmission lines, then concentrated on the envelope approach. The goal was to provide a better seal, reducing the amount of heating loss in winter and cooling loss in summer.

During the study, Eberhardt analyzed losses of heating and cooling and found them to be considerable. His group then investigated the possible savings of installing well-caulked storm windows and double-pane sliding glass doors. "Our viewpoint was that of looking at thesuppply of heating and cooling and its distribution and then the demand from occupants. We figured that decreasing the demand by improving interior conditions for comfort would pay off," Eberhardt said.

After deciding on a course of action and getting it approved, the Villa Ridge owners association studied storm windows and sliding glass doors and sought bids for installation. Burns Aluminium Products Inc. of Damascus won among three bidders and participated in the study of products to be used. The firm is owned by Robert F. Smith, who had built electrically heated houses.

Meanwhile, financing approval was obtained from Equity Bank and Trust (formerly University National Bank), which provided a loan commitment of $225,000, to be amortized on a 10-year payout at 11 percent interest but with payment in full at the end of five years.

Eberhardt and Smith said that quality storm windows were selected on the basis of analysis of available products but that selection of new sliding glass doors was difficult because the existing doors were not a standard size. A firm finally was selected to make custom doors and a favorable price was negotiated because the order was for 417 units.

Eberhardt added that calculations showed that energy-saving should be as much as $40,000 a year for an annual expenditure of $38,000. "And that's at energy cost levels of last year. We all know that the cost of all energy is increasing, so the dollar savings should be even more over the years," he said. The cost of storm windows and doors was kept within such a low range that the total program financing enabled the committee to provide insulation and siding on exterior trim areas.

"With most of the storm windows in place last winter, we had a reduction of oil use from 1,800 gallons to 1,100," Gallagher said. "It should be better next winter, and the air conditioning cost should be much less this summer." And Eberhardt interjected, "The end results are designed to reduce the use of fuels that cost money and also provide more comfort because of absence of drafts."

It was pointed out that the energy conservation program at Villa Ridge was undertaken and approved by ownners before the federal government passed a tax credit incentive program in 1977. Villa Ridge owners will be eligible for such credits on the 1978 tax return.

Asby said Villa Ridge operates on an annual association budget of $850,000 annually and that about $400,000 of that budget is for electricity. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, James Eberhardt of the Department of Energy designed the energy conservation program at Villa Ridge, which included installation of double pane sliding doors and insulated windows. By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post