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ABC’s of Summer Energy Savings

By Marcia Richards Suelzer, MA, JD | July 19, 2013

Summer energy costs can take a real bite out of your bottom line. But, you might not be in a position to upgrade old equipment with newer energy-efficient models. Fortunately, there are simple actions that you can take to lower these costs—actions that can add up to significant savings over the long-run. 

For most businesses, lighting and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) costs are the big ticket items. These two areas account for 65 to 80 percent of the monthly energy bill for most commercial buildings. To help you save money, we are offering the ABCs of energy savings.

Work Smart

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District offers a convenient online calculator that shows where your energy dollars are going. The calculator is designed for small businesses and can be customized by a variety of factors, including the age and size of your building and the type of business.

Implementing the following suggestions will take only minutes—and cost very little—but will help you save you hundreds of dollars in the coming years.

Work Smart

You can determine how long it will take to recover the costs of an energy improvement by using the following formula:
(installed cost of the improvement) / (annual energy savings) = years to recover cost
So if you install a $100 programmable thermostat that can save you $600/year on your air-conditioning costs, you will have recovered your investment before the summer is over.

Adjust Your Lighting

Remember how your parents would say: "Turn off the lights when you leave a room?" That’s still excellent, money-saving advice. But, just as you probably failed to appreciate the impact of your actions on your parents’ energy bills, your employees are more likely to leave the lights burning.

So, take that advice one step further: Install “motion-activated lights” in seldom, or sporadically, used areas. The amount that you will save depends upon how many hours the lights are off during the day, but can be as high as 75 percent for restrooms, conference rooms or storage areas.

Other easy, low-cost (or no cost) steps include, replacing heat-generating, short-lived incandescent light bulbs with florescent, LED or halogen lighting. The Small Business Administration provides information to help you select the most energy-efficient lighting for your needs.

Act Now

Does your building have exit signs that are always illuminated? If you have a standard exit sign, it is probably lit with a 15-watt incandescent bulb which must be replaced each year and costs about $30 per year to operate. Purchasing a do-it-yourself kit and upgrading the sign to use a light-emitting diode (LED) lamp will generate long-term savings. Upgrade kits are available for less than $100. And, while an LED lamp costs more than a 15-watt incandescent bulb, it uses 95 percent less energy, and lasts 25 times longer.

Banish Your Vampires

Zombies may be all the rage in popular culture, but your energy budget has to fear a far older threat: vampires. Leaving office equipment or power adapters plugged in when they are not in use sucks up energy, like Dracula draining your bank account of its lifeblood. Most equipment nowadays draws some amount of energy when it is idle. Evaluate each item in your office. If you see any light glowing when the machine appears to be turned off, you have one of the "undead" on your hands.

In some cases, such as timers, this idle-state drain is necessary. In other cases, the amount of time required to restart the equipment might outweigh the energy advantages of powering it completely down when it is idle. However, consider each item separately because the savings can add up for larger equipment, particularly if you are using older non-ENERGY STAR products. 

For example, if your business has an older large copier, leaving it running 24/7 can cost you an extra $600/year (assuming you pay 10 cents per kilowatt hour). One simple way to make it easier to shut off equipment is to plug it into a surge protector with an on/off switch. This makes it simple to shut off several pieces of equipment at once and, as a bonus, offers protection from energy fluctuations. 

Think Ahead

Consider replacing older equipment with ENERGY STAR-labeled equipment, particularly for energy-intensive equipment, such as copiers. Want more information on ENERGY STAR products, visit energystar.gov. Taking advantage of the Code Sec. 179 expensing election may enable you to generate tax savings as well as energy savings.

Calibrate Your Cooling

Look around. Are your employees wearing sweaters? Or, worse yet, do you see anyone with a space heater near their workspace? If so, you can save money by increasing the temperature in your building. According to the California Energy Commission, you can reduce your air-conditioning costs by up to 2 percent for each degree you increase your temperature setting. (Two percent represents the lower end of possible savings. For example, Louisiana indicates a savings of up to 8 percent is possible.)

Boost your savings even more by raising the thermostat setting even higher when the building is unoccupied. While 80 degrees might be an uncomfortable working environment and sweaty customers are less likely to linger (or return), it is acceptable for most office equipment and products. (Of course, you will want to confirm this applies to your situation).

Work Smart

Install a programmable thermostat to make sure that that your facility is comfortable for employees and customers when your doors are open for business. Newer ENERGY STAR-labeled thermostats can even do the math for you by determining when to turn the system on in order to have the optimal temperatures when the workday starts.

Even though school is out for the summer, learning (and applying) these ABCs can move you to the head of the savvy business owner class. Or, at least, they can help you keep your cool and improve your bottom line by ratcheting down your energy costs.

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