If you’re wondering how your small business or non-profit organization can be more energy conscious, you’re not alone. Electricity powers many aspects of business or charitable work, but it shouldn’t have to consume your budget. Depending on if you own or lease your space, there may be specific restrictions or provisions for energy upgrades. Let’s take a look at how you can build better energy efficiency from the ground up.
Start With the Bones
Do you own your workspace or building, or is it being leased? The answer to this question will likely impact whether some efficiency updates are your responsibility or your landlords. For instance, you may not be able to replace the windows, but there may be some things you can do to help seal them better. This list of tips is comprehensive, but you may need to determine which apply directly to your small business or non-profit.
Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning (HVAC)
- Make a checklist for maintenance and equipment checks for your HVAC system—create a schedule and stick to it
- Annual mechanical checks
- Changing air filters
- Sealing ducts
- Clean your system regularly to prevent dust buildup
- Check windows, doors, and shared spaces, caulk or seal, replace if possible
- Aid the work your HVAC is doing by using fans for increased airflow. Run ceiling fans clockwise in winter, counterclockwise in summer.
- When building or renovating, use proper ceiling and wall insulation—especially for your climate.
- Ductless mini-split or portable AC units can help if you have spaces that don’t need regular heating/cooling or for older non-duct buildings.
Replacing Your HVAC System
When it comes time to replace your HVAC equipment, look for ENERGY STAR® products and rebate offerings. Correct sizing for the space is essential—you don’t want to buy a larger system than necessary. A system too large could end up using far more energy than is needed and could cost more upfront, too.
How do I know if it’s time to replace my HVAC system?
- If the age of your system is more than 10 years old, it may not run as efficiently as it used to. Some systems can last up to 15 or 20 years, so get the opinion of a professional to determine when it makes sense to purchase a new unit.
- If you find that the estimates to repair your system keep getting higher and higher, it may be time to consider purchasing a new unit, especially if a repair will cost half the price of a new unit.
- If you notice that your energy bills keep getting higher, this could mean your system is working harder than it used to in order to maintain the same temperature.
- If you notice that one room is much colder or hotter than others, despite proper sealing and natural airflow, this could mean your system isn’t able to deliver the same amount of power to evenly distribute air.
- If you notice that your office is very humid during the summer months but extremely dry during winter, this could also indicate a problem. New systems have the ability for air purifiers and humidification systems.
- HVAC systems should run quietly. Any loud noise coming from your unit signifies that certain pieces may be starting to deteriorate.
- Older units may struggle to ventilate and filter air properly, so you may notice an increased amount of dust in the air or on surfaces.
Changing Your Heating & Cooling Habits
Heating and cooling efficiency isn’t always about your equipment—other environmental factors and human behaviors can impact how much energy you’re using.
- Make sure furniture isn’t blocking vents.
- Open blinds to get warmth from the sun on cold days.
- Close blinds to limit direct heat and light hot days.
- Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible when temperatures are extreme.
- Use a programmable thermostat to shut down heat or AC just a bit earlier than the end of the workday.
- Turn off HVAC or portable units when the workday is done and on weekends.
- If possible, update your team’s schedule to consider peak demand times.
Whether you own or lease your workspace, there are probably at least some minor lighting updates that can be made to increase energy efficiency.
- Take advantage of natural light.
- LED light swaps, even incrementally (as needed), can improve efficiency.
- Turn off lights when they aren’t needed or when a room is vacant.
- Consider occupancy sensors so rooms such as bathrooms or breakroom areas don’t have lights on when no one is in them.
- Use motion detectors for any outdoor/security lights so they’re only on when needed.
- Swap to LED exit signs or open signs.
- Use task lighting instead of overhead lights.
Computers & Appliances
Throughout your workday, computers or mobile devices are likely in use or charging constantly. Breakrooms may have several appliances running, and your space may also be equipped with a water heater. Consider these tips to help increase efficiency with electronics and appliances.
- Shut down/sleep mode computer equipment each day.
- Utilize power strips/surge protectors for quick shut down, or put on a timed switch for electronics that don’t need a manual shutdown.
- This may mean training your team to properly shut down their computers every day.
- Other appliances/media equipment should be ENERGY STAR® when possible, and be sure to keep them clean and run regular maintenance.
- Vending machines can be a big energy drain—consider complimentary or “honor system” refreshments.
- Filtered water in the fridge instead of bottled water from a vending machine can help reduce plastic waste, too.
- Turn off and unplug breakroom appliances such as the coffeemaker or microwave at the end of the workday.
- Make sure any appliances or media equipment are kept away from direct sunlight to help them run efficiently.
- Clean the coils in the back of the fridge often.
- Make sure there is proper airflow around the fridge.
- Reduce brightness on computer screens—this could help with eye strain, too!
- Replace desktop computers with laptops as they tend to use less energy.
- Only print if necessary, and print double-sided pages.
- If there is a dishwasher in the breakroom:
- Only run when full
- Air-dry dishes
Electric Water Heater Use
- Fix any leaks immediately.
- Use automatic/motion sensor faucets in the bathrooms.
- Lower hot water temperature to lowest required temperature.
- Insulate water heater.
- Insulate hot water pipes.
- Consider ENERGY STAR® appliances.
Additional Workplace Tips & Tricks
- If you are able to make changes to the landscape around your office:
- You can plant trees in the proper location to provide shade to save on cooling costs.
- Keep plants that don’t require lots of watering.
- Plant trees to provide shade for your HVAC unit.
- If possible, get solar panels install on the roof or on property.
- While there is often a high upfront cost initially, over time solar panels will provide savings.
- Make your business stand out with renewable energy.
- Check your roof for any leaks.
- If getting a new roof, choose a reflective coating.
Company vehicles can often be overlooked when it comes to upgrading your small business or non-profit’s efficiency practices, but they shouldn’t be. There are several great benefits to reconsidering how vehicles fit into your efficiency plan.
- Consider an electric vehicle (EV). This one might not save you on electricity costs, but it will save on fuel costs overall and reduce operating costs.
- Reduced maintenance requirements on EVs means less time spent by team members on things like oil changes, etc. which can save on labor.
- There may be special incentives/write-offs for businesses to use EVs.
- Encourage carpooling to work or business trips.
Make it a Team Effort
Include your employees to help lower costs and to make your business or non-profit more eco-friendly.
- Update and educate your employees on what they can do to save energy.
- Inspire them to come up with their own creative ideas on energy-efficient measures.
- Reward employees for lowering energy use or have a friendly competition between departments to see who can consume less energy.
- Provide gentle reminders or place signs around the office.
- Have designated team members who can walk through the office daily/weekly to spot ways to save.
- Encourage employees to work from home on some days if possible.