If you ask small business owners to name their No. 1 unpredictable expense, many will give you the same answer: energy costs. ENERGY STAR estimates that small businesses across the nation spend more than $60 billion a year on energy. Most of this energy is consumed in the form of electricity. So what’s a business owner to do? Get started by choosing energy efficient practices from the list below to reduce your small business energy costs.
How Can I Save on Energy Costs in the Office?
There are many ways to save electricity in an office, and most can be made with small changes to employee behavior. Often, simply letting your staff know that you intend to be more conscious of energy costs and ways to save is enough to make them aware and conscientious about it, too!
In case you're not sure where to begin, we gathered some of the most effective business energy saving tips to help jumpstart your cost savings. In the workplace, the main thing is to avoid using energy where it’s not absolutely needed. The office energy saving tips below can help you and your staff become aware of when and how that might be happening.
Get 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 electric utility companies offer free audits. A professional will then come out to your business and do a full inspection of your location to check for air leaks, insulation issues, or opportunities to install energy-efficient lighting. Pro tip: Make sure to contact your local utility company to inquire about a free audit, not your energy supplier. Check out our comparison of utilities vs energy suppliers here.
Purchase energy-efficient office equipment. Before you buy or lease office electronics, check to see if they are ENERGYSTAR-rated. An ENERGYSTAR-rated appliance has been evaluated and deemed energy-efficient, which can save you money and help you manage your small business energy costs, especially in the long run.
Reduce Peak Demand. One of the best ways to save electricity in an office is to reduce your peak demand. The phrase “peak demand” refers to the hours in a day when energy usage is at its highest. Peak demand times are typically normal office hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). You can reduce your demand during this time by staggering work hours / start times, running heavy equipment and factory equipment during the evening and early morning hours, and conserving energy throughout the day.
Program your thermostats. This is one of those office energy saving tips that is especially relevant for a 9-5 workplace. You don’t need to heat or cool a workplace after everyone has gone home for the night. Even if your team’s hours vary, using programmable or smart thermostats to manage the temperature during “off” hours can make a big difference. Pro tip: Want to know the best energy-saving temperature to set your thermostat to? Check out our Thermostat Guide to find the best temperatures for all occasions and seasons.
Turn off lights when not in use. It might seem like a no-brainer, but in a typical office, lights stay on in areas like break rooms, bathrooms, or conference rooms, even when those spaces aren’t being used. Sensor lights can help to keep the lights on when needed, but off when they’re not.
Use energy-efficient light bulbs. It's one of the easiest and simplest energy saving ideas in the workplace: switch out your regular incandescent bulbs with energy efficient bulbs such as CFL or LED. This will help you use a significantly less amount of electricity.
Take advantage of natural sunlight. If you’re fortunate enough to have an office space where there’s abundant natural light, use it! On a sunny day, you might not need to turn on the lights at all in areas where windows can give all the illumination you need. While using passive solar heating might not seem like one of the ways to save energy at work, it really does help. The fewer kilowatt hours of energy you use, the less you have to pay.
Start running fans. You can reduce your energy usage in the workplace simply and easily by running fans in offices, warehouses, showrooms and kitchens. Fans keep air flowing so your HVAC unit can run more efficiently.
Power down computers and other office equipment at the end of the day. If computers are not being used through the hours when your staff aren’t working, have your team be in the habit of shutting them down before they leave. Turning off and unplugging as many devices as possible at the end of the day is a simple way to cut back. This includes energy efficient coffee makers, toasters, and similar appliances.
Prevent “Phantom energy”. Phantom energy is the energy that is still being used by equipment that remains plugged in but not in use. A great office energy-saving tip is to have your computer peripherals (printers, monitors, etc.) connected to power strips (aka “surge protectors”) so that the flip of a single switch can shut down several devices at a time.
Think outside your building. Are you in control of the landscaping around your business? If so, you have a great opportunity to create energy-savings for your small business with energy-efficient landscaping. Strategically planting trees to block winds or provide shade on hot summer days can help reduce your heating and cooling costs.
Get employees engaged in energy-efficient practices. If you, as the business owner, are looking to reduce electricity costs, that’s great! But that may only get you so far. Inspiring employees to be energy-efficient in their day-to-day work lives may take some time, but check out our page on Improving Employee’s Energy-Saving Practices to see tips and tricks on how to raise morale while lowering small business energy costs.
Ways to Save on Small Business Heating & Cooling Costs
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 these costs for both heating and cooling.
How can I save money in electric heating and cooling costs?
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, or if possible turned off entirely?
Is the air conditioner always on during the summer? The same as with heat: consider increasing the temperature by a few degrees or turning off the AC 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 can benefit in some way.
7 Ways to Save Energy on Small Business HVAC systems
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 look at heating, ventilation and air condition systems (known as HVAC). Here are some office energy saving tips for your HVAC:
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! Have the energy-auditor check windows and doors for leaks.
Pro tip: if you decide not to have an energy audit, you can check for leaks yourself. Check out our blog post on How to Find Air Leaks.
Install programmable thermostats. These thermostats enable you to reduce the temperature when no one is around. 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 with an air conditioner just 10 years old, you could save 20 percent in cooling costs if it’s replaced with a newer, more efficient model.
Replace your HVAC if necessary. If you’re at the point where replacement makes more sense, looking for ENERGY STAR-certified equipment is a great way 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.
Avoid over-sizing any replacement equipment when applying energy saving ideas in the workplace. Accidentally oversizing equipment can increase the initial cost of the capital investment during installation, and could potentially lead to excess sunk costs over the equipment’s operational lifetime. A certified HVAC professional can let you know if the equipment you currently operate is sufficient or too big, and if it’s operating at maximum energy-efficiency.
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.
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 and waste money. Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by as much as 20 percent. Priorities in air duct maintenance should include ducts that run through crawl spaces, attics and unheated basements.
There are lots of ways to save energy at work, and these are simply a few suggestions. Constellation’s business energy saving tips don’t end here — check out these resources for more ways to save in business costs: