Simple steps can often significant reduce commercial office building energy consumption

Utility costs can rack up for than 30 percent of a commercial property’s operating expenses. Finding ways to save on electricity and natural gas can pay dividends right away

DENVER, CO – As anyone who owns, operates, manages the costs of commercial office buildings knows, energy fees lead the list of recurring expenses year after year. What’s more, energy costs are often variable what with changing weather patterns, cold spells and heat waves, and the inevitable requests from utility companies for higher rates on electricity and natural gas.

According to statistics amassed by various energy efficiency organizations, including the Energy Star program within the U.S. Department of Energy, utility costs in commercial office buildings rack up nearly 30 percent of a property’s annual operating expenses, mostly in electricity and natural gas fees. Since the average office building in the U.S. is estimated at 15,000 sq. ft., these utility costs can easily exceed $40,000 per year, with obviously some weather and pricing variables by region of the country. Here in Colorado we experience both hot and cold weather, of course, so we are fairly balanced in our energy use, but we enjoy overall lower humidity than the country in general, which puts less pressure on our air conditioners. We also have more wintertime sunshine which mitigates some heating costs.

Still, energy consumption in Colorado office buildings is a significant contributor to operating expenses, and there are several ways in which building owners and operators can attack those expenses and save as much as 30 percent on energy bills.

Here at Allstar Electrical Services, we have been in the business of providing a full range of electrical services for over a decade, including commercial and industrial electric where we have vast experience in new-build, retrofitting existing buildings, and in updating commercial properties with new electrical fixtures and service to meet stringent energy use requirements. Our licensed electricians have worked with LEED and Energy Star certified building projects in both the design and build out of new properties, and in the certification of existing structures in remodels.

In other words, we have learned a great deal about commercial property energy consumption and, more importantly, how to lower electric and natural gas utility bills. This article represents years of energy-saving involvement.

First and foremost, the best thing any building operator can do in the battle to lower utility costs is to get a full energy audit done on the property. These audits are conducted, for a fee, by engineers specifically trained or experienced in energy consumption in buildings, and often local utility companies, such as Xcel Energy, partner on such audits and offer certain rebates and financial incentives for conducting them and/or implementing recommendations. A building energy audit covers everything, from HVAC system analysis and energy status of current indoor and outdoor lighting systems, to heating and cooling use patterns and how building tenants use effects energy usage. And, of course, everything in between.

Of course, the biggest users of energy in the office building are lighting, cooling and ventilation on the electricity side (about 60 percent of overall energy consumption), and heating on the natural gas side. Because of this impact, these are the areas to begin with for energy use reduction.

As simple as it sounds, nearly every energy audit we’ve ever seen concludes that the largest impact any building owner/manager can have on electricity usage is just turning things off. It’s like teenagers left alone in the home – every light on, every TV, every appliance. Like being Dad the bill payer, simply going around a building and hitting the switches is an important energy-saving strategy.

Many building owners institute company policies on energy use and turning lights off, and in many cases this will involve working with tenants, and sometimes multiple tenants with differing work schedules. To help out, there are some relatively easy electrical system changes that can help. Lighting systems can be on timers programmed to go off at a certain time (like 7 p.m. in wintertime), which can be easily overridden by tenants who work late. By code, there will be a few designated fixtures and lights throughout the building that never go off for safety reasons. In non-regular-work areas, like rest rooms, kitchens, storage closets, etc., it would be wise to install motion- or door-detector that turn lights on for a pre-determined time when someone enters the room, and then go off automatically when idle.

Among more expense options, but offering significant savings as well as a variety of rebates and tax incentives, is changing the lighting systems in the building to more energy-efficient lighting. For instance, many building which have been in place for several years utilize T12 fluorescent light tubes, soon to be discontinued, but replacing them with Super T8s or T5s can not only drastically slash to electricity use, but in many cases deliver better lighting characteristics in lumen output and color. Building owners should consult with lighting experts as there are many alternatives for interior, exterior and parking lot lighting solutions these days that offer better lighting at significant energy savings.

For electricity use on the cooling and ventilation side of the energy-consumption ledger, once again the easiest solution is generally very simple: make sure the HVAC units themselves have regular maintenance, clean coils, and that the filters are changed to the specifications set forth by the manufacturer. If the units themselves are older than 10 years, replacement may be a good option as the newer models of air conditioners, furnaces and ventilators are significantly more energy efficient with no discernible difference in capacity. An energy audit will help determine pay-back periods for any improvements, and of course rebates or any tax incentives will improve the pay back.

Window treatments can also help to significantly reduce energy consumption in both cooling and heating. There are new commercial windows on the market with photo-sensing properties that shade heat-producing sunlight in the warm months and let warmth in in the cold months, and there are window films that can deliver some similar properties for a lower cost. Engineers also recommend lighter roofing materials in some cases that can reflect sun warming and not contribute to heat build-up; i.e. painting or covering a roof with white instead of black.

And don’t forget age-old techniques for heating and cooling management like deciduous trees planted on the south and west faces of a building that shade the property in the summer and let the warmth in during the colder months.

In the colder months managing heat levels in a building is a superior energy-management technique. Most newer properties with have programmable thermostats and multiple sensors for temperature management, but older properties could benefit by upgrading to such a system.

The truth is that energy management these days is a highly sophisticated endeavor for commercial properties, and we haven’t even scrapped the surface here. There are lighting design systems, for instance, that utilize daylight measurements and reflectors than con contribute to savings, the installation of different doors and/or windows, and even something like moving the main entrance from the north face to a south face that can help. An energy audit, as we said, is a great place to start the investigation. For more information visit the Energy Star program website from the U.S. Department of Energy at www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=evaluate_performance.bus_portfoliomanager

Allstar Electrical Services is an expert at all things electrical when it comes to commercial properties and we can help building owners and managers to get he4aded in the right direction for energy efficiency. Call (303) 399-7420 for complete details.