Performing a utility audit for your business could net you enough savings to add needed equipment or personnel. Utility cost savings often take a back seat to other business expense cuts. Unfortunately, utilities are a necessary evil. Your business cannot thrive without lights, heat, water, and internet service. That doesn’t mean you need to spend an enormous amount of your budget on them.
Saving Money on Utility Bills – A Budget Item You Control
Many people think that the simple act of turning off a light will only save pennies. So why bother? The key to saving is in multiplying those few pennies into a windfall.
Switching to a motion-sensor light in your conference room might only save four cents per hour. Four cents becomes 96 cents per day. Annually, from that one switch, your business can save $350.40. One room and the cost of one $50.00 switch.
Imagine if you did that in all your office spaces. How often are the lights left on in the cafeteria or break room? What about hallways? Loading and receiving dock? The savings you can make on your utility bills might mean you can hire that extra assistant in accounting.
Getting Started — DIY Utility Audits
The first step in determining where you can save money is to perform an energy audit. If the hairs just prickled on the back of your neck, you’re not alone. But this type of audit isn’t going to do anything except help your bottom line. Most small businesses can perform a do it yourself (DIY) audit; or get assistance from the local utility company.
Think of an energy audit simply as a survey and analysis of your business’s energy usage. Separate parts of the audit can be performed in-house to save money. Among items your audit should include are:
- Natural gas and electricity audit
- Water usage audit
- Sewer usage audit, and
- Waste audit (yes, as in evaluating your actual trash disposal procedures)
NREL suggests a data collection form that is readily available for download. A small portion of their detailed form is below. Whether you use the NREL form or develop a checklist, it’s important to document your findings. We’ll cover contracted audits — and how to determine if your business needs to pay someone to audit your utilities — later.
Preliminary Energy Use Analysis
Whether you perform a DIY energy audit or hire an evaluation company, every utility audit begins with a preliminary energy use analysis. This basic analysis involves compiling past billing information and calculating current use levels. You will probably want to compare your levels with comparable buildings and businesses. The preliminary energy use analysis will offer a starting point as your company embarks on an energy saving adventure.
Once you have completed your preliminary analysis, you are ready to take the next step.
Checking your electrical equipment.
- Check lights. Where can motion sensor switches be utilized? Additionally, where can energy efficient LED bulbs be used? Can the wattage be lowered without compromising visibility? Finally, can natural lighting be used during daylight hours?
- Check computers and electronic equipment. Is equipment set to shift into standby mode when not in use? Additionally, is “low use” equipment — such as printers and copy machines — turned off when not in use? Do employees power down desktop computers at night?
- Check the thermostat. Is it programmable? Also, can you dial down the heat or raise the air conditioning without sacrificing comfort levels in the office?
- Check heating and air conditioning units. Are the filters changed regularly? Also, have they been serviced by an HVAC professional annually? Do the units have energy-efficient controls or power-saving modes? Finally, are they energy-efficient?
Checking the physical structure.
- Check windows and doors. Is there airflow through closed windows and doors? Also, do exterior doors close automatically? Finally, do receiving dock employees keep bay doors closed when not in use?
- Check the cafeteria/break room. Is unused equipment — such as toaster ovens, microwaves, vending machines, and coffee pots/warmers — turned off and unplugged when not in use? Finally, can equipment be plugged into one power strip for ease in turning off?
- Check unused or seldom used rooms. Can heating and air conditioning be individually adjusted? Also, can vents be closed partially? Finally, are the lights on dedicated switches?
Checking your water usage and waste.
- Check water usage. Are toilets and sinks in good repair and not leaking? Do toilet flush mechanisms utilize water-saving features? Also, are automatic faucets and automatic flushing toilets in use? Is there a sink in the break room/cafeteria? Is there an automatic dishwasher? Does your facility have on-site laundry capabilities? Are there maintenance closets with deep sinks or running water and are they in good repair? Finally, does the building have exterior hose spigots and are they in good repair?
- Check the sewage system. Does wastewater drain properly from all sinks, toilets, floor drains? Additionally, is your parking area free of rainwater runoff? Is your building equipped with water collection or channeling equipment — such as gutters, rain barrels, and downspouts — to funnel water away from your building?
- Check your waste disposal practices. Does your company use recycling services? Also, are trash disposal costs included in your lease? Does your local municipality cover trash services?
Determining Where to Cut Costs
Based on your DIY audit, you know where your energy and water usage is going. Additionally, you know the type of equipment you have installed. Finally, it’s time to figure out what changes can be made to increase your energy efficiency. Develop a cost-saving plan and implementation schedule based on your findings.
Electrical system changes and upgrades.
- Replace regular light bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs
- Where possible replace light switches with motion sensor switches
- Replace thermostat with a programmable unit
- Make sure computer equipment is in standby status when not in use
- Physically turn off seldom-used equipment, especially at night and on weekends
- Decrease the heat setting by at least one degree during work hours
- Increase the air conditioning temperature at least one degree during work hours
- Schedule regular HVAC inspections
- Check and change heating and air conditioning filters regularly
- Install energy efficient HVAC equipment
- Install power strips to enable easy shutdown of break room appliances
Physical structure changes and upgrades.
- Seal and caulk around exterior windows to prevent air leakage
- Replace seals around doors to prevent air leakage
- Instruct receiving room personnel to keep bay doors closed except when in use
- Close doors to seldom-used rooms
- Adjust vents in seldom used rooms
Water system changes and upgrades.
- Install water-efficient flushing mechanisms on all toilets
- Install automatic faucets with sensors
- Make sure installed equipment is energy-efficient (dishwasher, washer, dryer)
- Make sure exterior faucets are not leaking
- Keep sewage grates clear of debris and other obstruction to ensure proper drainage
- Keep gutters and downspouts clear of debris
- Work with local authorities to ensure that sewage and rainwater runoff systems are functioning properly
Tying it All Together
You’ve done your inspection. The results have been evaluated. Your action plan is ready for implementation. Now what?
First, if you have a dedicated maintenance staff, getting the work done to increase your energy efficiency is simple. If you are in a leased building, you must work with the building owner on some structural and HVAC equipment issues. Include these factors in your action plan.
Additionally, determine what your personnel can accomplish. Then, buy the necessary supplies (light bulbs, switches, power strips) and designate staff to do the work. If you have a maintenance staff, let them handle things that fall under their purview.
Finally, designate an employee to be the end of shift energy officer. Task that person with assuring all equipment is turned off at night and on weekends. Instruct all employees to completely power down computer equipment and individual printers, fax machines, and electric pencil sharpeners. Make sure all sound systems are off evenings and weekends.
Using An Energy Consultant or Energy Broker
If you have a large company, you may want to consider hiring a professional to perform your energy audit. Determine what you need before you sign a contract. The type of audit you need will factor into the cost of using an outside firm. The difference between an energy consultant and an energy broker involve the service they offer and the prices they charge.
A consultant generally works on a contingency basis, sharing in your business’s savings. Some charge a flat fee rate. From Business Cost Consultants:
…consultants tend to monitor the energy markets all year round and so will advise the best times to purchase energy, provide up-to-date market info and tariffs and provide support and advice for your energy portfolio to reduce consumption and costs.
A broker tends to work on an annual scale. They receive commissions from energy companies based on how many businesses they can sign up. Their prices might not always reflect the best price for you, but the highest commission for them.
As stated above, every energy audit begins with a preliminary energy use analysis. This will normally be performed in-house before a hired consultant steps in.
Using a Hired Utility Audit Firm
There are three basic levels of energy audit available, each with increasing levels of detail (and, of course, cost). If you use an outside firm, assign one person or a small team of people to work directly with the consultant. This will allow your business to continue operations without as much interruption. First, conduct due diligence when selecting a contractor to work with. Compare their past audits and check their references. The end result will save enough to cover the expense of a good auditing firm.
All outside consultants should offer options to select the level of audit you want to undergo. There are three levels, with each successive level offer more in-depth analysis, charts, and reports.
Level One Utility Audit
A very basic, walk-through type of audit that will pinpoint specific areas where there is room for improvements. First, a consultant or auditing firm will check your preliminary analysis. Then, they will visit your business and speak with your employees. Following that, they will analyze provided information and the results of their walk-through. Last would be a meeting with the owners or management team to review their recommendations.
Level Two Utility Audit
The Level Two assessment includes everything that is conducted as part of a Level One utility audit. In addition to much more in-depth examinations. Additionally, they will perform a very detailed site visit. This assessment includes a review of maintenance and engineering design. This will also include checking the condition and operation of your building. Additionally, auditors conduct a capital management review. Projected savings take into account a complete building and equipment inventory. Finally, your business gets detailed reports, graphs, and charts. The audit team will meet with management and provide very detailed recommendations. This is the most requested type of contracted utility audit.
Level Three Utility Audit
The Level Three assessment includes all the components of Level One and Level Two audits, with more detail. Additional tests are, of course, in this level audit. Systems monitoring conducted over a greater period of time, too. This level offers the most comprehensive audit money can buy. Because it will tell you everything you never wanted to know about your building, your energy use, and your trash service. Basically, no stone unturned and no brick uncounted.
Should We Go Solar?
Speaking of energy costs, you may also be wondering if your company should go solar. The 30 percent federal tax credit’s still good till 2019, plus many states and cities also offer credits. In addition, The Balance reports commercial property owners reduced their electric bills by 75 percent on average.
Solar panels can even save money even in cloudy, northern states in the dead of winter. 40 states allow net metering, so you can get credits by supplying excess power to the grid. Some customers even wind up with negative electric bills. Unfortunately, this might not last long, as the big power companies are starting to push back.
Even with today’s less solar-friendly policies from Washington DC, companies can save big on solar. Here are a few factors to consider.
- Can your business afford the upfront costs and financing?
- Do you own the building, or will your landlord pitch in?
- Can your roof support solar panels? If not, are ground-mounted solar panels feasible?
- Will your company stay in the same location long enough to reap the full benefits of this investment?
- Will your energy savings offset the costs?
Related Links and Videos:
Watch: The Walk-Through Energy Audit.
Watch: The Comprehensive Energy Audit.