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Controlling Energy Costs To Save Money

Filed under Office & HR.

Small businesses come in all shapes and sizes, offering products or services or a mixture of both. But one burden common to all small enterprises, no matter what they do, is the rising cost of energy. Whether it's gasoline/oil, electricity or natural gas--or a combination of all three--by now you've no doubt felt the squeeze.

And while some may view conservation only as a personal virtue, I don't know too many business owners who don't like to save money. After all, conservation really means conservation of your bottom line. So with that in mind, here are some tips for controlling energy costs at your small business.

Vehicles and Gasoline

An explanation of basic vehicle maintenance is beyond the scope of this article. And most of you already know what you need to do, you just need to do it--proper tire inflation, timely oil changes, regularly replace filters and plugs, etc. Check your owner's manual. Besides, not only do these things improve gas mileage, but also they'll cut down on eventual repair costs.

Moreover, now may be the time to begin planning your future vehicle usage. Hybrid cars using alternative fuel sources have really come of age in recent years. In addition, it's likely the federal government will expand tax breaks this year for people buying and using these vehicles. So not only could you cut your costs, but also the government may pay you to do it.

And even if you decide one of these new-generation cars isn't right for your business, the traditional gasoline-burning vehicles on the market today are much more fuel-efficient than those built just ten years ago.

To help afford that new business vehicle, the tax code already allows liberal expensing rules for capital purchases by small businesses. In fact, if you aren't regularly using your annual expensing allowance from the IRS, you're missing an opportunity to improve your company's office and equipment in a tax-favored way.

Office and Equipment

There are a number of measures you can take at your business, and together each of them could add up to significant savings.

Lighting -- Energy-efficient fluorescent lamps are the best option, saving 35 percent of the wattage of standard fluorescents and lasting just as long. In addition, make the transition to electronic ballasts when switching to the energy-efficient lamps--they're quieter and will pay for themselves in energy savings in two years--and install reflectors as well (increases lighting by 10 percent). Compact fluorescent lamps are also a better option than standard incandescent bulbs because they last 10 times longer and use less power. Also, consider manual controls for the lighting in each workspace, so you can shut down areas not in use.

Buildings and Facilities -- Check to see if your building is properly sealed and insulated. This includes exterior windows (look for broken or cracked glass), as well as interior and exterior walls, ceilings and doors. Consider automatic door closers to reduce leaks and window blinds to keep out sunlight during hot months. Many of the costs of these energy-saving improvements are eligible for tax breaks as well.

Heating and Cooling -- Programmable thermostats are very inexpensive, yet they reduce energy costs by up to 50 percent. Beyond that, have your furnace, cooling and/or boiler systems routinely inspected, and regularly replace filters if necessary. Make sure your window air conditioners are sealed tight to the windows. Insulating duct work and sealing joints with duct tape also can help. Water heater thermostats should be set no higher than manufacturers' instructions, and insulating blankets should be wrapped around the tanks. Solar hot water systems are also available, and tax breaks may help you with that as well.

Equipment and Machines -- Because of the tax incentives offered to manufacturers, much of the newer electronic equipment and appliances on the market are made "energy-efficient," meeting low usage standards set by the government. This applies across the board from washing machines to computers. Again, if possible, use your annual expensing allowance to replace older, inefficient equipment with newer energy-efficient models. As for your existing office equipment, shut down all unnecessary machines and appliances during off-hours, nights and weekends.

As you can see, the tips range from simple common sense to complex financial business planning. But all fit within the context of normal day-to-day business operations and decision-making. Knowing your options, how they save money, and what incentives are available will go a long way toward conserving your business's finances. With energy prices rising out of sight, being "green" really means having more greenbacks, and the (business) environment you save may just be your own.

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