Energy-Saving Techniques for SMBs: HVAC

Today we return to our multi-part series exploring ways small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) can reduce their energy costs. A recent KRC Research survey commissioned by Microsoft found nearly 70 percent of the 250 small businesses surveyed said environmentally friendly practices were important for their business. Moreover, 63 percent of the IT decision makers in those surveyed companies said they saved money using IT for green initiatives.

Anyone who has ever paid for heating and air conditioning knows how easy it is to run up a boiler-busting bill, but there's more to HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) savings then keeping the thermostat locked down.

Medium Cool

For all businesses, employee comfort is a high priority (or should be). Productivity can be negatively affected by stifling temperatures or freezing-cold climates. Programmable thermostats are simple microprocessor-based devices that offer as much as a 50 percent rate of return on your investment. They can also maintain start-up and shutdown schedules that keep climate levels comfortable and eliminate unnecessary HVAC costs while rooms or the building are unoccupied.

Proper HVAC maintenance is equally important. Some easy steps to ensuring efficient equipment are replacing dirty air filters, which usually require a specialist to inspect and perform the switch. However, DIY projects like cleaning intake screens, supply registers and return grills can cool down overheating energy costs. If your building uses a boiler, ensure it is regularly inspected. If repair and inspection costs are mounting, consider swapping out the old boiler for a new one. If your boiler currently uses a fuel other than natural gas, consider making the switch to natural gas if you are planning a boiler replacement.

You may also be able to save energy by managing the sunlight that falls on your building. Solar hot water systems and solar heating systems are two potentially economical solar energy technologies you might want to consider.

Hot Water

Do your employees ever complain about scalding their hands when using the bathroom faucets? It may be because water-heating levels are often set higher than necessary. Adjust the temperature until you reach an acceptable setting. Flow-restrictors and self-closing faucets can also help reduce hot water use. As with heating and ventilation, routine maintenance will ensure leaks are repaired, and an electronic time-of-use controller, available at most large hardware stores, keeps your water heater off when not in use.

Catch Some Rays

Solar power and solar heating are still regarded as too costly for SMBs, despite incentives offered by some state governments (notably California). However, there are ways to manipulate the sun's power to your advantage. If you live in a hot climate, you can save money on AC costs by installing awnings and sunscreens or blinds to windows, doors and skylights. You can also replace older windows with better sealing models that offer low-emittance (Low-E) coating (a metallic oxide layer that suppresses radiative heat flow). Even shrubs and trees can be used to effectively block sunlight.

When the weather turns cold, ensure windows are not blocked by office partitions to allow sunshine in. Close blinds at night to keep out the cold, and ensure your windows are properly caulked and weather-stripped. Oftentimes, simply replacing the windows with double or triple-pained models is the most efficient, long-lasting way to keep Jack Frost from entering.

The Big Heat

We've only just scratched the surface when it comes to HVAC cost-saving techniques. SMBs with a mind to go father can also consider options like solar water heaters and solar heating systems. Remember that large, loft-like spaces require more energy to heat, and most of it may be going right over your employees' heads-heat rises. If all these tips seem like something your building could improve with, perhaps it's time to start looking for a more easily manageable workplace. In California, perhaps?