No- and Low-Cost Strategies That Save Dollars

05/03/2006 |

Try these tips: you’ll expend little (if any) time or money, but will reap the big-time benefits of sustainable practices

Check out this interesting - and motivating - fact: According to San Francisco-based Flex Your Power (California's statewide energy-efficiency marketing and outreach campaign), an office building with average operating efficiency and 50,000 square feet of space can reduce its operating costs by approximately $40,000 per year via no- and low-cost methods. (No need to go back and re-read that last sentence; you read it correctly.) By implementing some of the no- and low-cost techniques described here - suggested by a variety of industry experts and intended to generate prompt results - you’ll expend little (if any) time and money, but will reap the big-time benefits of sustainable practices:

1. Reduce hot-water temperature. Turning down the temperature on water-heater thermostats can decrease heat loss from tanks. In terms of the water used for hand-washing in restrooms, you may be able to turn the temperature down to 110 degrees F. Other tasks (such as washing dishes and cleaning/maintenance duties) may require slightly higher temperature settings (around 130 degrees F.).

2. Turn the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter. For each degree you raise on your building’s thermostat during warmer weather, you can save up to as much as 2 percent of your total air-conditioning costs. If all businesses in California would set their thermostats to a slightly higher temperature setting in the summertime, the state would save 770 megawatts for every 2-degree increase. When space is unoccupied (on nights, weekends, and holidays), set the thermostat at 85 degrees F.; during normal business hours, bump the thermostat up to 78 degrees F. and implement a dress code for warmer weather that will allow employees to wear more comfortable clothing during hot weather (it doesn’t make much sense to cool an office just so tenants/occupants can wear suit jackets or coats). Set the thermostat to 68 degrees F. during the colder months of the year, and keep settings at 63 degrees F. during weekends, holidays, and evenings. You may also want to confer with human resources to see if workplace schedules can be adjusted to reduce energy use during peak hours. Example: Beginning the work day an hour or two earlier in June, July, and August could mean less demand for electricity between noon and 7 p.m. (the hours of high electricity demand).

3. Install ENERGY STAR® ceiling fans. The air movement from ceiling fans can cool a room by up to 4 degrees F. in warmer weather, which will allow you to set your thermostat even higher. Ceiling fans can also help in cooler weather: When air is heated, it becomes less dense and rises. As a result, warm air becomes trapped at ceiling level; installing ceiling fans to push warm air downward can significantly reduce heating bills.

4. Clean lighting fixtures and replace yellowed or hazy lenses and diffusers. Lamps, fixtures, reflectors, and diffusers should be cleaned regularly; dirt and dust can impinge upon lighting-equipment effectiveness and, as a result, the fixtures transmit less light, decreasing lighting efficiency.

5. Adjust janitorial cleaning schedules to reduce lighting and equipment use. Shifting cleaning and maintenance schedules so that they occur during normal operating hours can reduce overall energy costs. If the custodial staff is working when tenants and occupants are using the space, they won’t have to turn on lights, adjust thermostats, or turn on/off equipment that isn’t normally used after 5 p.m.

6. Choose top-freezer models for cafeteria refrigerators. Side-by-side refrigerators use approximately 10- to 25-percent more energy than traditional top-freezer models. Place company refrigerators and freezers away from heat sources such as commercial ovens and dishwashers, heating vents, or direct sunlight. Clean the refrigerators’ condenser coils, motors, and evaporator pans once or twice each year.

7. Choose electronic products and appliances without a built-in clock or timer. These displays may only consume about 0.5 watts, but the power supply in the appliance is converting 120 volts of alternating current to low-voltage direct current for the clock or timer. Consuming 20 to 1,000 watts per hour each day, this is enough to power a compact fluorescent lamp for 10 hours.

8. Invest in “smart” power strips. These power strips can sense the presence or absence of tenants/occupants and turn the attached equipment on or off accordingly. Plug all computer scanners, printers, copiers, etc. into these strips; they’ll take responsibility away from tenants and occupants (or the building management staff) in terms of remembering to shut down equipment each evening.

9. Choose native plantings for landscaping purposes. These plants are less likely to need extra water after becoming established. Additionally, these plants don’t require fertilizers or pesticides to prosper.

Leah B. Garris ( is senior associate editor at Buildings magazine.

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