Getting Back to Energy Basics

Have these energy improvements been made in your commercial building?

Keeping track of – and implementing – the improvements necessary to cut energy use and costs can be overwhelming for any energy management professional. With so much time devoted to system upgrades, monitoring building controls, benchmarking, and changing trends, it’s easy to see how small changes can be overlooked.

There are several ways to reduce utility bills without spending a lot of money upfront. And some of the approaches that do require upfront investment offer a fast ROI.

Here are some quick ways to save energy without inconveniencing building occupants or the facilities and energy management teams.

1.     Focus on Plug Load

Did you realize that, despite the great strides commercial buildings have made in energy efficiency, nearly 30% of U.S. corporate computers are still left on at night? By making a small investment in smart power strips that use timers or sensors to determine when peripheral equipment should be shut off, you can save up to 100 kWh per year per office. Building occupants will forget to turn off task lights, space heaters, fans, monitors, etc.; these power strips can help counteract that problem. Depending on your local utility, rebates for smart power strips may be available.

2.     Change HVAC Filters

Every dirty HVAC filter being used in your building can cost you an extra $5 per month (and could shorten the life of HVAC equipment), according to ENERGY STAR. By replacing filters on a regular basis, you save energy and maximize equipment life. This is especially effective in multi-family housing facilities and hotels; according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a 300-room hotel can avoid increased HVAC costs of $12,045 per year simply by changing filters regularly.

3.     Incorporate Daylight

Using daylight to light a commercial space obviously reduces reliance on artificial lighting. But if you’re going to do this, make sure that glare, damage to assets, and uncomfortable interior temperatures don’t interfere with occupant productivity or comfort.

Installing a low-e commercial window film will let daylight in while preventing the problems often associated with sunlight and UV rays. It offers protection against damaging UV rays, which can fade carpet, flooring, artwork, wallcoverings, and signage. Window film also stops glare from bothering building occupants as they work.

Choosing a low-e window film vs. a conventional window film offers energy savings for commercial buildings year-round vs. just during warmer months. By reducing solar heat gain in the summer, and retaining radiant heat in the winter, HVAC systems don’t have to run as often or work as hard to maintain comfortable temperatures throughout the year.

Although window film does involve upfront costs, facilities professionals often see a full return on investment within three to four years due to the energy savings it provides. And utility rebates often are available to improve these impressive ROIs even further. A recent study done by Bethesda, MD-based Green Generation Solutions for the Hyatt Regency in Houston illustrates the powerful, year-round effect that a low-e window film can have on any building. By using a low-e window film, the Hyatt was able to reduce guestroom cooling use by 23%, and also reduce heating needs by 25%, providing an overall ROI of 3.6 years.

4.     Consider Thermostat Location

When thermostats are installed near sources of hot or cold air (windows, office equipment, lobby entrances, etc.), they could send false temperature readings to the HVAC system. If possible, relocate thermostats near return air ducts. Also periodically check vents and grilles by conducting a building walkthrough to prevent shelving, desks, boxes, filing cabinets, trash bins, or other items from blocking airflow.

5.     Reduce/Prevent Simultaneous Heating and Cooling

More often than you might think, your building’s heating and cooling systems are operating at the same time. For example, many HVAC systems still incorporate reheat. Reheat refers to taking cool air – air that is cold enough to cool the hottest zone in a building – and heating it slightly so as to not overcool other zones that don’t have as high of a cooling need. For example, a building with a high window-to-wall ratio on both the south and north exposures may have a high solar gain on the south exposure that needs maximum cooling air on the south zone to maintain comfortable temperatures. But on the north zone, overcooling would occur unless the cooling air is reheated. To alleviate or possibly eliminate the need for reheat and simultaneous cooling and heating, consider ways to minimize solar gain such as overhangs, awnings, solar screens, or window films.

6.     Look for Sensor Errors

HVAC humidity sensors are rarely calibrated after they’re installed, even though they can drift from their original setpoints. Or maybe the purpose of the space changed, but location of the sensor or its setpoint didn’t. These should be checked annually.

7.     Consider Hiring Interns

Whether it’s through a formal program like EDF Climate Corps’ sustainability training series, or through a search on your own for local students with sustainability interests, consider bringing an intern on board to help calculate financial and environmental benefits of possible energy-saving investments. If this is their only assigned project, they’ll have time to research and establish energy management strategies, set savings goals, and investigate funding opportunities.

By actually putting some of these basic, simple ideas into practice, you’ll notice a visible reduction in your electricity bills. But the changes are still subtle enough that building occupants won’t experience negative effects on productivity or comfort. And what could be better than managing energy and cutting costs while keeping occupants happy and productive?

Steve DeBusk is global energy solutions manager for Eastman Chemical Company’s Vista brand. Eastman focuses on providing solutions through a range of products, including performance window films from Vista. DeBusk has 29 years of experience in the energy-efficiency business. He is a Certified Energy Manager, a Certified Measurement and Verification Professional, and a Certified Sustainable Development Professional. You can visit his blog at, or follow him on Twitter at @greenbldgs.


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One thought on “Getting Back to Energy Basics

  1. Good read! I would add evaluating the efficiency of the building’s chillers, which the DOE estimates consume up to 40% of a buildings energy use in hotter months. Keeping chiller condensers clean can improve energy efficiency 5-20%….consider automated tube cleaning systems for condenser cleaning.

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