How To Improve Energy Efficiency In Commercial & Industrial Buildings

Global warming is a growing concern, and as large commercial and industrial facilities can be some of the largest producers of greenhouse gases, there's a call for companies to start considering more energy-conscious solutions. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, up to 30% of commercial buildings' energy is wasted due to a lack of energy-efficient systems. This puts utility power stations in overdrive to compensate for that energy loss, burning more fossil fuels and adding to global warming.

While conducting a deep energy efficiency analysis on a large facility may be a job for an experienced electrical contractor, that doesn't mean there aren't things that every property owner can do to make an impact on their consumption. Keep reading to learn a few ways you can lower energy costs and reduce your corporate carbon footprint.

Industrial engineer work on site. engineer visit and inspection site engineer at industrial site.

Where Do Buildings Lose The Most Energy?

It is completely normal for buildings to become less energy efficient as they get older. This doesn’t mean that something can’t be done to reverse the process or even make the building more efficient than it was before.

Identifying potential signs of energy loss in commercial buildings may be a bit easier than you think – especially if the building is a lot older. Typically, buildings will start to lose energy in similar ways, so knowing what to look out for could save you a fair amount of money every month.

Heating & Cooling

The heating and cooling system is one of the most common places where older buildings can leak energy. HVAC systems have several components that can create efficiency problems when not working correctly, such as ducts, fans, and wiring. The energy loss could be amplified if multiple components begin to degrade simultaneously.

Bad Wires & Cables

People unfamiliar with electrical systems tend to think that wires either work or don’t. However, wires and cables can become quite degraded and deprecated over time while still being capable of conducting electricity.

Even though these wires can still pass electricity, they’re likely putting unnecessary strain on your electrical system, leading to higher electricity bills and additional maintenance costs.

In addition, faulty electrical wires are one of the leading causes of fires, so regular electrical inspections won’t just benefit your bottom line, they’ll make your building safer too.

Windows & Doors

While most people already understand that windows and doors are susceptible to energy loss, they may not realize just how much of an impact they can have on your overall energy efficiency (or lack thereof). One straightforward thing to visually inspect and fix would be the seals around your doors and windows. These seals can break down over time due to exposure to UV and moisture, even when on the inside of the building. Luckily, you can usually fix most of these issues with a few tubes of caulk with silicone.

In addition, older windows don’t have any of the energy-saving enhancements modern windows have. Newer windows can be tinted and treated to repel heat, while still letting in plenty of natural light. Depending on how many windows your building has, and how long they are directly exposed to the sun, you could be wasting a ton of money on lost energy each month from your windows alone.

Structural Issues

Any structural issues your building is experiencing could also contribute to your energy loss. Everything from cracking in your building’s foundation or walls, insulation that needs to be replaced, damaged siding, or any other structural issue that creates small openings or inefficiencies could create energy loss.  Since these small cracks tend to let through moisture and heat, they will get progressively worse over time, thereby worsening your energy loss. If left alone for long enough, your energy loss issues could turn into much larger structural problems.

While some structural issues may be clearly visible to the naked eye, sometimes it can be harder to spot the problems if you’re not a trained professional.  If you think that your building may have structural issues, your best bet is to schedule a full structural assessment as soon as possible. Structural damage can very quickly lead to catastrophe under the right conditions, so it’s best to not leave something like that to chance.

The Benefits of Improving the Energy Efficiency of Buildings

Significant savings, lucrative incentives, and environmental benefits are just a few reasons to invest in energy-efficient upgrades. Improving a property’s energy efficiency helps building owners to:

  • Save money. Energy-efficient buildings have lower utility bills and more straightforward energy upkeep. Owners can use these savings to accomplish other building upgrade goals.
  • Generate higher ROI. If you plan to put your property on the market, a green energy building is likelier to attract buyers and produce better offers. Green efforts are a favored attribute buyers are willing to pay for.
  • Qualify for federal and state incentives. Florida offers several attractive tax incentives to property owners who invest in renewable energy. Depending on your property’s exact location, you may qualify for other national and local rebates.
  • Reduce harmful GHG emissions. Energy-efficient buildings produce a lower carbon output and help alleviate environmental damage.
  • Promote an eco-friendly brand. In an eco-conscious era, a business that shows environmental values gets an edge over competitors. Whether you run a retail store, an office building, or an apartment complex, improved energy efficiency will help you attract clients or tenants.

How to Improve Energy Efficiency in Your Building

Improving a structure’s energy efficiency hinges on two principles: to use less nonrenewable energy sources and to reduce energy escape. More efficient appliances and systems will help to achieve the first point, while the second depends on building materials and insulation. Some tried-and-true ways to improve your building’s efficiency are to:

Upgrade to High-Efficiency HVAC System

The HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system accounts for a significant part of energy use in your building. Replacing old and outdated HVAC setups with high-efficiency systems is vital for energy savings. Using smart management and regular maintenance will ensure your system performs at its best.

An annual professional HVAC inspection will help spot leaks, damaged ducts, and other issues, allowing you to solve them quickly before they become serious.

Clean Out Air Ducts

Over time, the air ducts in your building collect dust, dirt, pet hair, and other residues that serve as a breeding ground for bacteria and mold. These pollutants can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people.

Cleaning air ducts improves the air quality in your building and promotes the health of its occupants. It also helps you save money since the HVAC system doesn’t have to work as hard to push air through clean, unclogged ducts. Professional duct cleaning every couple of years will prevent blockages and improve HVAC performance.

Change Air Filters Regularly

Dirty air filters reduce airflow, making your HVAC system work harder to achieve the programmed temperature. This strains your system and translates into a higher energy bill.

Most air filters require changing every three months to help your HVAC system perform at top efficiency.

Enhance Your Building’s Envelope

Your building’s envelope includes all parts that separate the building’s interior from the outdoors: the foundations, exterior walls, windows, doors, and roof.

An enhanced envelope design can reduce energy waste and save money over time. Energy-efficient buildings have tight envelopes that keep cooled or heated air inside and prevent energy escape.

If you’re working with an existing structure, its envelope may have some inherent flaws, especially in older buildings. There are still ways to upgrade your older building’s envelope to reduce energy waste. For example, installing energy-efficient windows or choosing a reflective roofing material when replacing the roof are two massive changes that drastically affect the efficiency of your building.

Switch to Energy-Efficient Lighting Fixtures and Bulbs

If you haven’t upgraded to LED lights yet, there is no better time than now to start. LED lights offer a safer, more durable, and more energy-efficient option than fluorescent tubes. For buildings still using incandescent bulbs, the U.S. Department of Energy is phasing them out in 2023, so it’s crucial to replace them immediately.

Switching to Energy Star light bulbs is one of the quickest and easiest ways to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

Install Light Sensors

Lighting controls will reduce energy loss and save money by detecting where and when your building needs lights and turning them on when necessary.

In office buildings, simple timers that switch off lights after work hours may do the trick. For larger facilities, lighting control options include motion and occupancy sensors, which detect when someone enters or exits a room and turn lights on or off accordingly.

Dimmers are another useful lighting control option. Dimmers use photosensors to adjust the light brightness depending on natural light. With this setup, lightbulbs will dim when there’s more sunshine and turn brighter when it’s dark or cloudy.

Install Smart Thermostats

Smart thermostats are web-connected devices easily controlled through a user interface or remotely through apps. Some smart thermostats have a voice control option via home assistants like Alexa or Google Home. Smart thermostats are much easier to manage than traditional programmable thermostats, reducing maintenance times and improving efficiency.

Aside from the ability to set heating or cooling schedules, smart thermostats have learning algorithms that help them pinpoint optimal temperature settings for buildings at various times throughout the day. A smart thermostat will save the history of your interactions, detect when occupants are present, and remember how long it takes to heat or cool an area in your building. The more you use your smart thermostat, the more energy savings it generates.

Use Energy Efficient Water Heaters

Over 50% of fuel energy goes to waste through standby, combustion, and distribution losses in conventional tank storage and gas-fueled water heaters. In a large apartment complex, hospital, or hotel, inefficient water heaters are like dumping money down the drain.

When upgrading your building’s water heaters, look into on-demand and heat-pump heaters, which may be more efficient than standard tank heaters. Solar water heaters can also provide an abundant supply of hot water, but you will need a standby heating method for cloudy weather and dark hours.

If considering fuel-based water heaters, it’s important to compare the prices of different fuel options. Depending on your location, natural gas or propane may be cheaper than electricity.

Shift to Energy Star-Approved Appliances

When it comes to appliances, the gold standard for efficiency is Energy Star approval. Appliances with an Energy Star label consume around 15% less electricity than conventional appliances.

Energy Star labels often include the following abbreviations:

  • SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). This term indicates the total efficiency of a cooling system over a season.
  • EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio). EER measures the efficiency of a cooling system at a specific outdoor temperature (95 degrees F), which is especially important in oppressively hot summers.
  • HSPF (Heat Seasonal Performance Factor). This factor measures a heat pump’s efficiency.

Upgrade the Building’s Insulation

Proper insulation is an essential step in improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Good insulation is like a thermos: it keeps your building’s desired temperature longer and reduces unwanted air leaks, which make your HVAC system work overtime and wastes energy.

A professional inspection of your facility can keep you up-to-date on where you’re lacking in sufficient insulation, paying extra attention to doors and windows, which account for a significant part of energy waste in buildings. Simple measures like re-caulking and weather stripping can significantly lower energy losses.

Utilize Renewable Energy Sources

If your building has rooftop space, you can use this space for solar panels that will supply part or all of your building’s energy needs. A PV system can generate a surplus of energy, which can be sold to your utility company through a net metering program.

While installing a commercial solar system is a significant investment, the system should pay for itself within a few years and continue generating free energy for up to 30 years. Clean energy tax refunds and installation incentives can also help offset the upfront costs of going solar.

Install Cogeneration Systems

Cogeneration or CHP (combined heat and power) systems can make large facilities, like hospitals, schools, and hotels, more energy efficient. Often, these facilities use electric generators that run on fossil fuels and waste heat. Instead of letting this heat dissipate, a cogeneration system channels it towards space or water heating, thus improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

Cogeneration applications may convert up to 90% of fuel into useful energy, compared to 30% in conventional grid systems. Installing a cogeneration system in your building can dramatically improve energy efficiency and reduce the amount of energy you purchase from a utility company.

Contact Us Today To Schedule An Energy Efficiency Analysis

If you’ve done all you can to improve your building’s energy efficiency on your own and are ready to bring in the pros, contact Suncoast Power today to schedule an energy efficiency analysis. Having provided commercial electrical services in South Florida for more than 30 years, we understand the unique conditions and situations that commercial and industrial buildings in Florida are faced with.

Call us today at (754) 200-5872 to discuss your property and goals with a member of our team. We’re standing by to schedule your site visit.