By Alan Dalman of Eclectic Motorworks LLC
Over the past several years we have strived to be as lean and mean at the shop is possible with regard to energy costs. Whether your place of business is a thousand square feet or a million square feet, energy use can be a significant cost to overcome. We’ve managed to reduce the cost of our heating, electric and some of our other services by up to 30% with some small improvements and changes in habits that have positively impacted our bottom line.
Insulate and seal air leaks. You’ve probably heard this one before, but every time you feel a draft try to imagine that you’re not feeling cold or warm air, but money leaking out of your building. Most buildings are under-insulated, have older or missing door and window moldings, inefficient single-pane windows, etc. By investing some time and money caulking, installing new weatherstripping, adding insulation, and making other improvements you can reap long-term benefits with some short-term work.
An often-overlooked item when discussing insulation is the window blind. In the winter, windows can let in sunlight to naturally warm a room. In the summer, using the window blinds to block unwanted sun will help keep workspaces cool.
Close your doors. While the “open door policy” is a great concept for improving communication within an office, open doors and windows can wreak havoc on your energy consumption. An open door during a heating cycle can add up to 50% to your energy costs. During times when you want your doors or windows open (on a nice spring day or when someone has just fired up an MGB filled with varnish that used to be gasoline) make sure that your heating or cooling systems are turned off to avoid wasting energy. Invest in automatic door-closers if you have problems keeping doors shut. If you routinely keep different areas of your shop or office at different temperatures, make sure to close the doors between them as much as possible.
Control the temperature. Programmable thermostats are one upgrade that will pay for itself within a season. Having the ability to automatically raise and lower the temperature of your workspace will reduce energy costs because you won’t be trying to keep the environment comfortable when nobody will be there. It also eliminates the risk of someone forgetting to turn the thermostat up or down at the end of the day.
Additionally, keeping the thermostat 2 degrees lower in the winter and 2 degrees warmer in the summer can reduce your energy usage by up to 6%. There is one caveat – don’t set your temperature so wildly that your staff becomes more concerned with how cold their feet are in the winter or how much they’re sweating in the summer – you don’t want to adversely affect productivity.
Maintain your equipment. Keeping your furnaces, air conditioners, hot water heaters, fans and other environmental equipment clean will keep them operating at peak efficiency. If you’re using old, outdated equipment consider upgrading to Energy Star-certified units. Maintaining clean air filters can save you up to 5% on your energy costs.
Use more efficient lighting. The days of Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb are fading. Compact fluorescent lighting has taken over and LED lighting is the future. In addition to being inefficient, incandescent bulbs produce more heat than light, and there are more efficient ways of producing both. Compact fluorescent bulbs use approximately ¼ the wattage and can last for 5-10 years and LED lighting reduces energy usage and heat loss even more. The energy savings of these bulbs far outweighs the increased initial cost.
Consider installing motion sensors to reduce electricity usage on lights in rooms that are not being used extensively. Bathrooms, hallways and other locations where lights may accidentally be left on can greatly benefit from the addition of motion-sensing switches.
Using ambient light to supplement artificial light is a great money-saver, although installing insulated windows in areas that don’t already have them can be very costly. If you’re planning on remodeling or building a new facility, consider skylights, sola-tubes, fiber-optic lights, etc. which will help bring natural sunlight efficiently into the darker areas of your building.
Unplug when possible. Lots of electricity is wasted on a daily basis by unused equipment that remains plugged in. Most modern appliances, computers, TVs and other equipment use “soft” switching technology for convenience or aesthetics and continue to use electricity even when “off”. Computers are the obvious example, but everything from radios to battery chargers can keep your electric meter spinning at night and on the weekend.
These are just a few examples of ways you can reduce your energy usage and contribute to a healthier bottom line. Cost-cutting is an unfortunate byproduct of a weak economy, but ultimately these examples can also lead to a greener world by reducing pollution emissions and waste.