If you ask small business owners to name their number one expense, many will give you the same answer: Energy. ENERGY STAR estimates that small businesses across the nation spend more than $60 billion a year on energy.
That means if you want to save costs at work, one of the best ways t is to make changes that relate to office energy use. By looking at your company’s energy consumption one area at a time, it will help to make the process of saving on small business energy costs a little more manageable. Let’s first look at heating, ventilation and air condition systems (known as HVAC).
Ways to save energy at work: Where you can save
The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems account for about 40% of the electricity used in commercial buildings. Some of our energy savings tips for businesses can help you manage costs for both heating and cooling.
The first step is to look at the overall ambient needs and uses of your office. Asking yourself (and your staff) some of these questions can be a good way to get information that will help you choose the best ways to save energy at work:
- Is the heat always on during the winter? Are there times when it can, at the very least, be operated at a lower temperature, if not turned off entirely?
- Is the air conditioner always on during the summer? Same as with heat: Consider increasing the temperature few degrees or turning the AC off when the office is closed.
- Are your employees interested in lowering their company’s carbon footprint? Participating in a group energy project can be a team-builder, especially if some of the savings are passed on to the company and the employees benefit in some way.
- Have you done an energy audit? An energy audit can help determine your baseline energy use and offer a clear outline for ways to save energy at work. Many utilities offer free audits, as do other companies. The key is to pick a reputable one.
Energy Savings Tips for Businesses: HVAC system maintenance
Assuming you’ve done the energy audit and are ready to make some changes, here are ideas for how to save energy in your office:
- Eliminate heating/cooling loss. One of the easiest ways to save energy at work is to look for the places heat (or air conditioning) can escape. There’s no point in paying to heat or cool the outdoors! Check windows and doors for leaks.
If you have an energy audit, the auditor will detect leaks. If you’re doing this yourself, do a thorough walk-through of your building. Hold a piece of paper in front of windows and doors. Don’t forget about ceiling spaces. If you’re in in old building, walk around the outside of the building as well and look for cracks and broken mortar. Think about how people enter the building. Is there a different entrance or door mechanism that could reduce the amount of energy that escapes? Consider window upgrades or caulking.
- Install programmable thermostats. These enable you to reduce the temperature when no one is around. You can also run the equipment at off-peak times, potentially using your heating energy at a time when the cost is lower. Keeping your office temperature one degree lower in the winter and one degree higher in the summers can reduce the power your HVAC system uses by up to 10 percent.
- Regularly maintain your HVAC equipment. Annual maintenance is the standard for most equipment. Not sure where to start? ENERGY STAR’s maintenance checklist offers tips to help ensure you continue to lower your small business energy costs. Keep in mind the age of your equipment, as well. Today’s air conditioners use 30 percent less energy to produce the same amount of cooling as those made in the mid-1970s. Even an air conditioner just 10 years old could save 20 percent in cooling costs if it’s replaced with a newer, more efficient model. If you’re at the point where replacement makes more sense, ENERGY STAR-certified equipment is an energy-smart place to start shopping. This government program identifies and promotes energy-efficient products and buildings, all designed to reduce energy consumption, improve energy security and reduce pollution.
- Size matters. Avoid over-sizing any replacement equipment. Doing this increases the capital expense at the time of the installation and could potentially raise that expense over the operational lifetime of the equipment. A certified HVAC professional can let you know if the equipment you currently operate is sufficient and if it’s as energy-efficient as it can be.
- Change air filters regularly. Some manufacturers suggest changing every month, while others recommend every three months. The key is to check the filter in your HVAC equipment regularly; if it looks dirty, no matter how few months it’s been, change it. A dirty filter reduces air flow and makes the system work hard, which in turn wastes energy. Clean filters also protect the system by preventing dust and dirt from entering the system, which could lead to expensive maintenance costs.
- Think outside your building. Shady landscaping can offer protection from intense sun in the summer and rip-roaring winds during the winter. Appropriately-placed trees provide shade that protects your office from the sun’s rays and could lower cooling requirements. In the winter, they can be a buffer, as well.
- Consider window blinds. Window coverings are more than just décor. They can help reduce HVAC needs by keeping out the sun’s rays at their hottest in the summer, thereby lowering air conditioning needs, and allowing in the sun’s rays during the winter, which helps lower heating costs.
- Seal your heating and cooling ducts. Ducts move air to and from a forced air furnace, central air conditioner or heat pump. If they are not sealed properly, they can be big energy drains. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20 percent. Priorities should include ducts that run through crawl spaces, attics and unheated basements.
If you want more details on how to save energy in your office, and want to join other owners who are also interested in lowering their small business energy costs, ENERGY STAR Small Business Network offers strategies galore. Also, be aware that there might be financial incentives to better managing your business’s energy use . Some local governments provide tax incentives if you buy energy-saving equipment for your business, while some public utility companies offer rebates. Both are worth checking out as you explore how to save energy in your office.
Want to hear more? Find out about Constellation’s small business energy options.