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Save Commercial Energy Costs with EPA ENERGY STAR


 American businesses and organizations are facing high energy prices this winter. Taking several simple steps can help businesses identify commonly overlooked areas for energy savings, save on energy bills this winter, and help establish an energy management strategy that saves money year after year.

Common opportunities for energy savings include:


  • Heating, cooling, and lighting systems that operate at full load when not needed
  • Problems with heating and cooling systems that lead employees to use their own personal foot heaters or fans
  • Inadequate maintenance of heating and cooling systems
  • Understanding the efficiency of your building(s) and the opportunity for cost saving improvements.

    Five Steps to Prepare for Winter

    EPA recommends the following five steps to help you save energy this winter and achieve a cost savings of 10 percent or more. These steps are based on lessons learned from ENERGY STAR partners representing many types of businesses and organizations. These partners used these steps, developed long-term management strategies and are seeing costs savings of up to 30 percent: ENERGY STAR Leaders.

    Establish the energy use of your building(s) and set a savings goal - Take the ENERGY STAR Building Challenge. Why?

    It is hard to manage what we do not measure. With new easy to use energy use tracking tools, you can establish the current energy use of your building(s) and determine a reasonable energy savings goal. This is the first step in many effective energy savings programs.


    Assess the current energy use of your building(s) to establish a reference using EPA's national energy performance rating system, a free online tool that provides many types of buildings with a score on a simple 1-to-100 scale, 1 being the least efficient and 100 being the most. Set appropriate goals for your business. EPA encourages the establishment of a simple 10 percent savings goal to start and your participation in the national ENERGY STAR Building Challenge. Inspect heating equipment now and perform monthly maintenance.


    For commercial buildings nationwide, almost 35 percent of energy is used for space heating (15 percent for space cooling). As the winter season approaches, it is important to verify that all heating equipment is functioning properly so the system will work through the winter to keep your building(s) heated efficiently. After this initial check up, monthly maintenance is necessary to ensure efficient operation throughout the season. Simply ensuring that heating equipment is functioning properly can itself be expected to reduce heating costs 5 percent, and much more if major problems are found and addressed.


    Where gas or oil boilers are used for heating, an annual tune-up can avoid 5 percent of energy waste and can identify small problems before they become big problems.
    Inspect heating ducts and seal any leaks. Direct leaks in duct systems can result in large heat losses.
    Check air filters throughout the building. Dirty or clogged air filters reduce air flow thereby increasing the energy use required for heating.
    Ensure that hot water or steam valves are in their proper positions to allow full flow with minimal pressure drop within the piping system.
    The operation of your heating system is regulated by thermostats.
    Calibrate these thermostats to ensure that they are functioning properly.
    Otherwise the heating system will be receiving the wrong signals of when to start and stop.
    Typical thermostat settings range from 68F to 74F. During the winter, EPA recommends setting your controls at the lower end of this range.
    A full system checkup will ensure that all parts (fan belts, air dampers, etc) are in working condition and operating properly. This ensures more efficient operations and helps avoid equipment failure disrupting employees and tenants.
    The above tips can save even more energy if it is found that less fan, pump, and boiler energy is required to supply the building with heating (same can be said about cooling). Allowing small items to go unchecked tends to result in greater demands on fans, pumps, and boilers than otherwise necessary, which leads to unnecessary energy use.
    Know the amount of outside air needed and the amount currently delivered, and ensure outside air dampers are working properly. Bringing in too much outside air can lead to high energy waste.
    More information on inspecting and maintaining your equipment is available in
    EPA's Building Upgrade Manual.
    Turn back, or turn off heating and cooling equipment when not needed.


    Many businesses operate heating and cooling systems 24 hours a day. While this is necessary in some cases, understanding the reasons and re-evaluating the rationale can make it possible to operate such equipment less often and offer energy savings. If you can cut back just one hour of operation out of every 12, the energy savings will be roughly 8 percent.


    Evaluate the reasons why your building may have 24 hour continuous operation of heating equipment. There may be more opportunity than you think, as shown for some of the commonly cited reasons below.

    Employee's and/or tenant's potted plants will die: Indoor potted plants will only be harmed at temperatures below freezing. The need to avoid frozen water pipes is reason enough never to allow nighttime or weekend temperatures to fall below freezing. Indoor plants will be happy enough if nighttime and weekend temperatures are set back to 50 degrees F.

    It will be too cold (or hot) in the morning: Putting aside issues of humidity (a more complicated issue), modern building controls make it possible for heating and cooling equipment to turn back on in time for employees arriving in the morning. Small buildings with home-like wall thermostats can be controlled using battery operated ENERGY STAR qualified thermostats sold at home centers. Such controls raise and lower the thermostat setting according to your business's schedule.

    The heating and cooling system is too complicated, and can't be readily turned on and off: This is a real issue for many smaller businesses and schools who have complicated heating and cooling systems, but do not have dedicated maintenance engineers. In such a case a professional contractor is needed to install the right controls that allow for automatically turning back or turning off such equipment.

    Buildings with wall mounted thermostats usually have a nighttime setback feature, and in many cases may be replaced with an ENERGY STAR thermostat Many institutional buildings have a global, nighttime setback control for boilers. Older controls can be replaced with digital controls that allow for nighttime, weekend, and even holiday settings.

    More information about equipment scheduling is available in EPA's operations and maintenance guidelines.

    Get the occupants involved.


    Employee or tenant behavior can have substantial impacts on building energy use as they influence the power required for lighting, computer operation, and heating, among other energy uses. Promoting energy awareness among staff can provide positive returns quickly for a small upfront cost.


    A staff meeting at the beginning of the season can provide a forum to review some of the basic energy saving behaviors listed below.

    Educate employees not to use personal electric space-heaters and provide them with an alternative to address employee comfort and work environment complaints. Often discomfort is an indication of broader heating or cooling system failure. Addressing these larger problems is more efficient than having individual space heaters.

    Encourage employees with window offices to open shades or blinds on sunny days to take advantage of natural light heat and reduce the burden on the heating system.

    Encourage building occupants and employees to purchase ENERGY STAR products from among the wide variety of products in the following areas. Office equipment including printers, computers, fax machines, and copiers. Exit signs.

    Electronic equipment such as TVs and DVD players.

    Commercial food service equipment including solid door refrigerators, steam cookers, commercial fryers.

    Refrigerators and other appliances in employee break rooms. Vending machines and water coolers.

    For more information, visit ENERGY STAR Products.

    Encourage employees to power down electronics when not in use. This includes unplugging power strips at the end of the day, as they consume energy even when equipment is shut off.

    Use Monitor Power Management techniques to make sure computer monitors and computers are placed into sleep modes or turned off after periods of inactivity. EPA provides full technical guidance on computer power management for businesses and estimates that power management can save approximately $100 per computer per year.

    Remind workers of the importance of keeping warehouse doors or refrigerator doors closed to avoid loss of heated or cooled air. Improve lighting systems.


    Lighting uses roughly 13 percent of the energy in commercial buildings, the second largest use after heating and cooling equipment. Looking carefully at your lighting systems, considering upgrading equipment, performing regular maintenance, and making sure lights are turned off when not in use can offer significant savings. It is often cost effective with today's technology to replace older lighting systems and save 30 percent or more on lighting expenses, which can total about 5 percent or more on overall energy expenses.


    Make sure that lights are turned off when not in use. As with the heating system controls, this includes a review of when and why lights are currently left on to see if there are opportunities to turn them off. Commonly cited reasons include:

    Leaving the lights on reduces crime and vandalism: As a practical matter you may be able to leave one out of every ten overhead lights on at night for security purposes The upper end of needed outdoor light levels for security is 3 foot-candles, beyond that is deemed to be energy waste ("Light Pollution: Efforts to Bring Back the Night Sky," BuildingGreen.com , Volume 7, Number 8)

    We tried, but employees and/or tenants won't turn lights off: This illustrates the importance of involving occupants and communicating your energy management strategy. Effective communication could include translating an hour of lighting at full capacity into a cost for the company and quantifying the savings. Equate the savings to something meaningful to your organization (for example, the quantity of textbooks you could purchase with the savings) so that employees understand the impacts of their actions. It can also be helpful to take a picture of your building at night to show employees and tenants the extent to which lights are left on.

    Examine the opportunity for occupancy sensors. Wall mounted occupancy sensors that replace conventional light switches are available at affordable prices. These sensors have been greatly simplified in recent years and come in modern, sleek designs with single on/off buttons. Many office workers spend only 6 out of every 8 hours in their offices, offering potential savings of about 10 percent on lighting energy for such spaces.

    Implement a regular light maintenance schedule to replace all bulbs at one time when they are at an estimated 70 percent of their life. This reduces lighting maintenance costs by more than 25 percent and allows for greater bulk purchasing discounts, ensures more even light levels and more even light colors (i.e., warm light, soft light...).

    Make sure that outdoor lighting is not being used during daylight hours. Indoor lighting for security reasons can be accomplished with as few as one out of every five or ten lighting fixtures. Occupant sensors (motion sensors) that turn on all lights within an area can provide necessary light for cleaning crews, reduce daytime lighting while occupants are at lunch or meetings, and can help security staff better realize if someone is moving around in a space tripping the motion sensors. Rather than leaving all indoor lights on at night and weekends, the better solution is using the right amount of light and integrating occupant sensors into an overall security plan.

    Replace incandescent bulbs used for task lighting with ENERGY STAR compact fluorescent bulbs.

    Additional information on lighting systems is detailed in EPA's Building Upgrade Manual.

    Winter Steps Checklist

    Use this checklist to help you follow these 5 steps this winter.

    Energy Management to Save Year after Year

    The steps in this checklist represent a good start on real energy savings this winter. We encourage you to keep the savings going with a long term strategic energy management plan. EPA provides ENERGY STAR Guidelines for Energy Management to help you build on the above steps and continue saving year after year

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