How to Improve Energy Efficiency Without Spending Money

Simple ideas to save energy at your facility.

There are countless options to consider when thinking about how to improve energy efficiency in your building. You don't always have to make large upfront investments in new technology and equipment for a big impact, however. Simply tweaking building processes or systems is often enough to have a noticeable impact.

Consider these four options to boost efficiency without dipping too far into your budget.

1. Day Cleaning

You might be able to improve your building's energy efficiency by adjusting your cleaning schedule. Traditionally, building cleaning occurs after occupants leave for the day. After hours, when the janitorial staff comes in, the lighting and HVAC systems continue to run so the crew can complete their tasks comfortably and effectively.

As long as it's not disruptive, consider cleaning during the day. This approach allows you to turn building systems down or off sooner, creating energy savings. If day cleaning isn't an option, custodial staff may still be able to help trim energy usage by team cleaning. Instead of spreading throughout the building, they can work as a group, cleaning one area at a time — and turning lights and systems on only in that area.

2. Changing HVAC Filters

It's easy to forget about changing HVAC filters, but regularly changing them can save energy and provide several other benefits, too.

Dirty filters reduce airflow, which forces the equipment to work harder. This increases energy costs and may shorten equipment lifecycles. Changing air filters often ensures that airflow is maintained at expected levels without overworking systems.

Dirty air filters can also circulate dust and pollen, creating a need for more frequent cleaning and potentially causing allergies and health issues to flare up among staff. Clean HVAC filters regularly to maintain healthy indoor air quality levels and keep dust and pollen circulation at bay. Energy Star recommends changing filters at least every three months (and checking them monthly, especially during winter and summer, to see if they're dirty enough to replace).

3. Conducting a Night Survey

Technology helps us gain 24/7 control over building operations. But there's no replacement for walking through your building during the evening hours (when the building is "closed") to pinpoint what's still running and what was left on.

Things that may be revealed include:

  • Lighting levels that are higher than needed (or lights left on that shouldn't be)
  • Audio/visual systems and computers that are left on
  • HVAC units that are operating past scheduled operating hours
  • Lamps that are burned out and need to be replaced
  • Systems that aren't operating according to the building's controls schedule
  • Equipment humming, rattling or vibration that may signal the need for maintenance or repair

Walk through the building the next time you have an evening or nighttime visit, and create a plan to correct any issues you find. That may include restocking light bulbs, setting aside time to fix or adjust equipment operations, and sending a memo to building tenants with a reminder about turning electronics or lights off at the end of the workday.

4. De-Lamping

The Illuminating Engineering Society offers recommendations about lighting levels for commercial buildings. After assessing your building's lighting to determine how it compares to these recommendations, you can embark on a de-lamping projects — in other words, removing unnecessary lamps or fixtures. Once you identify illumination levels that are higher than the guidelines, you can remove unnecessary light sources in those areas. This tactic can yield surprisingly large savings: A school district in Canada now saves $188,000 annually after a successful de-lamping project, according to Energy Manager.

Remember to look at vending machines, also. De-lamping them can save energy by ensuring that their lights aren't on 24/7. If you're worried about the lack of lighting impacting vending sales, a simple machine decal or sign can explain why the lights are off (and that the machine is functional).

To measure progress after making these changes, analyze your energy consumption and compare it to prior usage levels. Over time, you should consume less energy, save more money and improve your building's environmental footprint.