Many large office buildings can benefit from quick low-cost/no-cost energy-saving solutions, such as turning things off, turning things down, and keeping up with cleaning and maintenance.
Turning things off
Turning things off seems simple, but remember that for every 1,000 kWh that you save by turning things off, you save $100 on your utility bill (assuming average electricity costs of 10 cents per kWh).
Computers and monitors. Computers and other electronic equipment are ubiquitous in large office buildings and can contribute up to 20% of overall energy consumption. You can gain significant energy savings by verifying that computer power-management settings are enabled on individual computers and monitors, forcing them to enter sleep mode after a specified period of inactivity. Effective power management settings can cut a computer’s electricity use roughly in half, saving up to $75 annually per computer. Although most computers are now shipped with some sort of power management settings enabled, they may be disabled or made less effective by users or internal IT, and can often be made more rigorous to maximize energy savings. For more information, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers detailed instructions on Energy Star’s The Business Case for Power Management page. Some users may be concerned that automatic software updates will be inhibited if power management settings are enabled, but that’s not the case; updates can automatically begin to download when the computer awakens from sleep mode.
Other office equipment and plug loads. Like computers, devices such as printers, fax machines, and coffeemakers often have energy-reduction settings that can yield substantial energy savings. Additionally, consider supplying employees with smart power strips with occupancy sensors, which are an easy way to shut off their often-forgotten energy users such as personal printers, monitors, desk lamps, radios, clocks.
Lights. Lights should be turned off when not in use, but many people forget to take this step. When properly installed, occupancy sensors and timers can do this for you. A no-cost option is to simply train staff to turn off lights as part of their closing procedures (you can also help by posting a notice that identifies the locations of light switches).
Space heaters. Space heaters are energy hogs, drawing 1 kilowatt (kW) or more of power. As a first step, plug heaters into power strips controlled by occupancy sensors (other loads such as task lights and monitors can also be plugged into the power strips). Also recognize that the perceived need for individual space heating usually indicates poor HVAC system control.
Chilled-water drinking fountains and water coolers. Water fountains generally don’t need to provide ice-cold water 24 hours a day unless it’s required for health reasons. In most cases, you can turn off the cooling systems in drinking fountains. Likewise, water coolers generally don’t need to need to be turned on 24 hours a day. The average office water cooler consumes about 800 kWh per year. Because much of this energy is from standby losses, a simple method of cutting energy waste is to attach a timer. Programming an office water cooler to only operate for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, can significantly reduce its energy waste. In addition, when it’s time to replace old coolers, choosing an Energy Star–qualified model can yield large savings over standard models because they have thicker insulation, more efficient cooling systems, and other efficiency-boosting features.
Vending machines. Refrigerated vending machines typically operate 24/7, using 2,500 to 4,400 kWh per year and adding to cooling loads in the spaces they occupy. Timers or occupancy sensors can yield significant savings because they allow the machines to turn on only when a customer is present or when the compressor must run to maintain the product at the desired temperature.
Turning things down
Some equipment cannot be turned off entirely but can be turned down to save energy.
HVAC temperature setbacks. During closed hours, turn temperature settings down in warming seasons and up in cooling seasons. Programmable thermostats make temperature setbacks a reliable option.
Peripheral and back rooms. Make sure that HVAC settings in stockrooms, rarely used offices, and other peripheral rooms are at minimum settings.
Window shades and blinds. During warm weather, blinds can block direct sunlight and reduce cooling needs; in the winter, opening the blinds on south-facing windows will let in sunlight to help heat the space.
Building automation systems tuning. For office buildings that already have a building automation system (BAS), make sure that temperature setbacks are coordinated with building occupancy on a quarterly basis. Facility engineers can align the HVAC schedules in the BAS with expected occupancy to optimize energy usage. Identify buildings that are not used at night, on weekends, or for long periods of time (such as during holiday breaks), and adjust temperature settings in those locations. Also, check that HVAC systems are not set to overcool or overheat the building. For facilities with regular occupancy schedules but without a BAS, programmable thermostats can make temperature setbacks a reliable option. The benefits of installing a BAS in a facility without one are further discussed in Longer-Term Solutions.
HVAC cleaning and maintenance
Regularly scheduled maintenance and periodic tune-ups save energy and extend the useful life of your HVAC equipment. It’s best to create a preventive maintenance plan that includes regularly scheduled tasks such as cleaning, calibration, component replacement, and general inspections. It’s also a good idea to ensure that information on setpoints and operating schedules is readily available for reference when equipment is checked or recalibrated.
Check the economizer. Many air-conditioning systems (other than those in hot and humid climates) use a dampered vent called an economizer to reduce the need for mechanically cooled air by drawing cool outside air into the building when it’s available. If the economizer is not regularly checked, the linkage on the damper can seize up or break. An economizer stuck in the fully open position can add as much as 50% to a building’s annual energy bill by allowing hot air in during the air-conditioning season and cold air in during the heating season. Have a licensed technician check, clean, and lubricate your economizer about once a year, and repair it if necessary. If the economizer is still operating, have the technician clean and lubricate the linkage and calibrate the controls.
Check air-conditioning temperatures. With a thermometer, check the temperature of the return air going to your air conditioner and then check the temperature of the air coming out of the register that is nearest the air-conditioning unit. If the temperature difference is less than 14° Fahrenheit (F) or more than 22°F, have a licensed technician inspect your air-conditioning unit.
Change the filters. Filters should be changed periodically—every one to six months, depending on the level of pollutants and dust in the indoor and outdoor air. More frequent changes may be required when economizers are in use because outdoor air is usually dirtier than indoor air.
Check the cabinet panels. On a quarterly basis (or after filters are changed), make sure the panels to your packaged rooftop air-conditioning unit are fully attached, with all screws in place and all gaskets intact so that no air leaks out of the cabinet. Chilled air leaking out can cost $100 per rooftop unit per year in wasted energy.
Clean the condenser coils. Check the condenser coils quarterly for either man-made or natural debris that can collect in them. At the beginning and end of the cooling season, thoroughly wash the coils.
Check the airflow. Hold your hand up to the registers to ensure that there is adequate airflow. If there is little airflow, or if dirt and dust are found in the register, have a technician inspect your unit and ductwork.
Follow a steam trap inspection and maintenance plan. Steam traps remove water from the steam distribution system once it has cooled and condensed in radiators or other heat exchangers. Mechanical steam traps can become stuck open, which wastes heat. A single failed trap can waste more than $50 per month, and offices with steam systems can have many steam traps within the building.
Chiller plant optimization
Sequence chillers on and off. Operators often run too many chillers for a given load. Because every chiller has a range of loading conditions in which it operates most efficiently, turn chillers off to keep the remaining units operating in their most efficient zones—typically, above the 30% to 50% load mark.
Operate multiple cooling towers to save fan power. Most chilled-water plants have excess capacity, and during low-load hours, at least one cooling tower won’t be operating. To make the most of your existing cooling towers, run condenser water over as many towers as possible, at the lowest possible fan speed, and as often as possible.
Encourage energy-saving behavior in the workplace
There’s growing interest in workplace sustainability and engagement. Green teams, interactive energy-use kiosks, training classes and competitions are emerging strategies to encourage behavioral change in the workplace. Preliminary studies show a range of savings from about 2% to 10%.