Are you doing everything in your power (pun intended) to improve the efficiency of your building? Aside from environmental benefits, implementing energy-efficient practices and technologies in your facility can result in big savings down the line. Read on for a look into six effective ways to reduce your building’s energy usage. Whether you execute them all or just start with one, practicing these strategies can significantly reduce your overhead costs.
1. Schedule an Energy Audit
You can’t reduce your energy usage without first understanding how your building is currently operating. An audit can help you assess your overall power situation: How much are you using each month? What systems use the most resources? The least? Are there simple adjustments you can make to reduce your output?
For commercial properties, it’s best to seek the help of a professional energy auditor. This person will be able to give you a thorough assessment of your energy usage; pinpoint your least efficient culprits; and suggest new tools, technologies, and practices you can utilize to lower your overhead energy costs. Generally, the cost of an audit ranges from $1,000 to $15,000 depending on the size and scale of your building. Obviously, a parking garage will require a less extensive audit than, say, a multi-skyscraper campus. To streamline the process, be sure to prepare any documents your auditor will need before your meeting. You can ask him or her what will be required when scheduling your session.
2. Establish Guidelines for Energy-Saving Practices
Did you know that on average, 20%–30% of a commercial building’s energy usage is wasted each year? In other words, in 4–5 years, a commercial space is likely to have wasted enough power to run its facility for a full year. Think of all the other endeavors you could fund with that amount of money!
How does this happen? The most common culprit is your building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. There are several ways your heating/cooling devices can wreak havoc on your energy bill. First, many buildings waste HVAC power unnecessarily, such as by leaving systems running overnight or in unused areas. Second, individuals sometimes override default settings to heat or cool a building a few more degrees and fail to reset them after they’re comfortable. Those few extra degrees can make a huge difference over time. Finally, faulty/old equipment is notoriously inefficient. It’s important to have your systems maintained and updated regularly to avoid waste.
Another energy-suck? Lighting. Like with HVAC, leaving lights on overnight or in rooms with no one present is a big waste, especially if you’re using incandescent or fluorescent fixtures. Finally, failing to be strategic about when you power on your various systems can lead to a situation known as “peak load.” Instead of powering on HVAC, lights, computers, and phone lines all at once, try staggering your timing. Your auditor can help you figure out a schedule that can help remedy this issue.
3. Invest in Devices and Technology with Automated and Energy-Saving Features
Although you could try addressing all the aforementioned issues manually, it’s probably a good idea to utilize a building automation system (BAS). Most commercial properties already have these in place, but there have been many advances in BASs over the past decade. Newer “smart” BASs are app-based, meaning you can update the systems with new technologies and features without having to install a new system. Current “smart” BAS features include, among many others:
- Zone scheduling: This switches systems on when and where they’re needed and turns them off when they’re not;
- Automated seasonal temperatures: This programming raises and lowers baseline temperatures according to the time of year, which helps reduce overheating/cooling, especially in areas that aren’t being used (i.e., the baseline temp will be slightly higher in August, so you won’t waste energy cooling a room an extra 4 degrees when no one is present);
- Daylight harvesting: This feature programs lights to dim at the brightest hours of the day so you’re not wasting energy lighting a room that’s already bright enough with natural light;
- Linking lighting to card entry access: Great for saving energy after hours and for keeping employees safe, this programming automatically turns lights on when an employee enters the building with a key card and turns them off when he or she leaves; and
- Central monitoring: This allows all controls to be monitored from one device, as opposed to making changes on multiple systems throughout a building.
4. Implement Energy-Efficient LED Lighting
LED lights use roughly 10% of the energy of incandescent bulbs and can last up to 50,000 hours each, which is significantly longer than any other lighting system on the market. They also work great with smart BASs, making them easily programmable for a variety of energy-saving practices. If you’re not currently using LED lighting, an LED retrofit specialist can provide easy, cost-effective solutions.
5. Consider Solar Energy Systems
Once you’ve reduced your overall energy needs by implementing the practices detailed above, you might want to consider installing a solar energy system, especially if your building receives ample sunlight. Not only will switching to solar make your building more sustainable, but it can also significantly cut back on energy costs, which translates to huge savings over time.
Although initial installation costs can be pricey, converting to solar decreases monthly energy expenses by an average of 75%. Most commercial properties that make the switch will see a return on investment (ROI) in between 3 and 7 years. On top of that, there are many tax incentives and rebates on both the state and the federal level that can help businesses recoup some of the money spent on installation and maintenance (more on that in the next section).
Yet another benefit of going solar is decreased reliance on the volatile energy market. The vast majority of your power will come from the sun, freeing you from the inflation and price fluctuation of coal, natural gas, or nuclear-based municipal energy grids.
This online tool can help you get a sense of the initial cost of solar installation and when you can expect to receive an ROI: https://www.energysage.com/solar/calculator-results/.
6. Seek Out Rebates and Tax Breaks
Both state and federal governments offer big tax incentives to commercial properties taking steps to “go green.” These benefits extend to investments in HVAC, solar, lighting, and power-efficiency improvements. For example, the Feds will extend a deduction of up to $1.80/square feet to commercial buildings whose HVAC systems have been adjusted to comply with The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards, plus additional rebates for demonstrated improvements in lighting and transitions to alternative power sources (solar, wind, etc.). It should be noted that these policies are subject to change with the law, so it’s important to empower yourself with the knowledge of what you qualify for. Dsire USA is a great resource for finding any and all incentives and programs offered on both the state and the federal level.
Whether you apply these energy-saving strategies to your business or just start with something as simple as automating your lighting system, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the impact it will have on your power costs. As the Earth’s finite resources become more and more limited, every step we take toward efficiency will help the planet and your bottom line. Getting smarter about how your business runs can only bring positive changes, and that’s something we can all get behind.
| John Watkins has been in the energy-efficient lighting industry for over 25 years. His background in lighting controls, power management and IoT, as well as LED solutions, has helped FSC profitably survive the company’s conversion from a fluorescent OEM to a powerhouse LED fixture manufacturer and technology integrator.
John oversees FSC’s product development, sales and marketing efforts directly. He also manages the company’s overall P&L, with Purchasing and Operations reporting to him.