Lower your utility spend this summer with these basic steps

Friday, July 15 2016 9:48 AM
By Jon Goering

 Summer heat affects commercial buildings in many ways.

Summer heat packs a powerful punch. It stresses living things from people to pets to plants. What we don’t often think about, though, are the effects that the heat has on buildings and the way they consume energy.

Consider this: commercial buildings can consume up to 35 percent more energy in the hottest summer months compared to other months. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent organization specializing in energy collection, analysis and dissemination, U.S. commercial buildings paid $14.2 billion in monthly electricity costs in July 2015 compared to January 2015 totals of $11.4 billion.

Does the power of the sun leave you feeling powerless to reduce your utility spend? It shouldn’t. There are ways to beat the heat by taking a proactive approach to building systems. Here are some steps to help reduce energy consumption and increase your bottom line without compromising comfort.

Building Automation Systems

Many commercial buildings utilize a building automation system (BAS) to manage their heating and air conditioning equipment. BAS systems regulate temperatures in different areas of your building based upon set points. Today, automation systems are internet based, allowing users to controls their building systems from just about anywhere.

Like anything mechanical, BAS systems occasionally need to be fine-tuned by a service professional. For example, consider what you are cooling. Schedules once created for meetings or events that no longer take place need to be changed. Buildings evolve, space gets added and areas get repurposed. Therefore, BAS and HVAC systems need to be updated to meet the increased needs. BAS systems that are synchronized with your cooling equipment will give you the most efficient operation.

Energy Usage

Another benefit of a BAS system is its ability to monitor your building’s energy usage. The data it generates gives you the ability to see potential problem areas where energy is being wasted and where systems can be scaled back or shut down periodically.

Does your air conditioning system start too early in the morning or run too late at night? It’s easy to think that cooling your building earlier in the day will get you to your desired set point sooner. It will, but such a move is often not necessary. Cooling a building longer than necessary also increases your energy spend. Make sure your BAS system is working as it should for the longer days and summer heat, but don’t operate your system unnecessarily.

Equipment Maintenance & Optimization

Another way to reduce your energy spend is to ensure your equipment is maintained properly. Tighten belts, change filters and clean tubes and coils. Equipment that has been regularly maintained operates more efficiently and consumes less energy.

Does your equipment take in too much outside air during the cooling process? Doing so can negatively impact your building’s efficiency. Adjusting the outside air intake can fix this problem easily.

In some areas where humidity isn’t a problem, increasing your indoor temperature set points a few degrees can lead to savings of 1 to 3 percent for each degree increase. Combining any number of these steps can lead to savings of up to 25 percent.

Commercial buildings can consume up to 35 percent more energy in the hottest summer months compared to other months.

Peak Demand Charges

Utility companies charge for your building’s energy use based on consumption and demand. If your building uses the most electricity at a peak time of day – when other buildings are doing the same and utility costs are typically the highest - that can set the minimum monthly demand charge you’ll pay for up to 12 months. Determining when your building reaches its peak demand and finding ways to shift that demand to times when costs aren’t as high can lead to significant savings.

One option is to allow your building to “coast” during peak demand times instead of running systems at maximum capacity. Another option is to utilize thermal storage, such as ice storage. Adding ice storage to your system can shift equipment operation to times when operations costs are lower.

Create a Contingency Plan

What would happen to your building if your HVAC equipment broke down? Could you continue to operate without cooling? If not, do you have a backup plan? Commercial HVAC contractors are busiest in the hot summer months, and it may take days to get to your site to repair your system. Having a contingency plan in place to address emergencies puts you ahead of the game.

A contingency plan should address the steps to be taken in the event of equipment failure, a power outage, and even a natural disaster. In addition, having equipment redundancy – being able to call upon another piece of equipment to handle the cooling load temporarily – could save you from headaches and financial loss.

Building Walk-Through

Performing a walk-through of your building assists you in identifying potential energy waste. These are the deficiencies that often prove easiest to correct. Look for anything that can be unplugged or turned off. Do employees use space heaters in the summer? Space heaters require a significant amount of energy to operate, and when used in the summer you are paying to cool the air and reheat it.

Check your building’s interior and exterior for potential problem areas including doors, windows, roof drainage, and filters. Doors and windows that don’t close or are not sealed properly allow in heat and roofs that don’t drain properly can lead to water damage. Air conditioning systems must work harder when filters are clogged, not to mention the particulates they allow into your building’s air stream.

Look at your building’s lighting system. Can lights be turned off, or can they be shut off sooner? Can you upgrade to lighting that uses less energy?

Be Prepared

Don’t dread the summer heat and resign yourself to paying more when the mercury rises. By being proactive with the health of your building and its systems, you can realize savings when temperatures reach their peak. Plan ahead and spend the summer with the peace of mind knowing you are prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.

Would you like to know more about preparing your building’s HVAC systems for the cooling season? For more information, please email Jonathon Goering by clicking here or call 316-265-9655.

Knipp Services works with commercial and industrial building owners to identify solutions to reduce downtime and increase building efficiency. We provide services that enable building owners to have a high-performance building.

Topics: Summer’s effect on commercial buildings, utility spend and ways to save

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