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Energy Audit as Cost-Control Tool
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Energy Audit as Cost-Control Tool

As the economy becomes increasingly uncertain and fuel costs continue to rise, every business owner is seeking ways to curb costs. Perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit, in terms of potential cost savings and overall management, is energy. According to ENERGY STAR—an arm of the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy—small businesses in the U.S. collectively spend more than $60 billion a year on energy.

The organization notes that small businesses that invest strategically can cut utility costs by 10% to 30% without sacrificing service, quality, style or comfort, all while making significant contributions to a cleaner environment. If you’re paying the utilities for your office space or you own your building, an energy audit can help you make the smart investments that save you money in both the short and long term through minimal changes in lighting, heating and air conditioning systems. In addition, the tips and tactics you learn about can help you manage costs more effectively going forward. And the audit is often provided inexpensively or at no cost from your energy supplier or utility company.

Jerry Lawson, National Manager of ENERGY STAR Small Business and Congregations at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., outlines what’s entailed in an audit and how small changes can save you money: Before going to a site visit, an auditor will review your utility bills from the past year. During the site visit, the auditor will look at your building and get information about your operating hours, whether equipment is turned off when not in use and whether you use programmable thermostats or other energy-management systems. He or she will also examine the condition of insulation, windows, doors, weather stripping, roofs; do a lighting inventory; and gather basic information about your heating and cooling systems. Once all the information is gathered, the auditor analyzes the data and prepares an energy audit report summarizing the energy savings and cost savings potential. Often, the reports can connect you with vendors, engineers, designers, contractors, rebates, etc.

According to Lawson, "most small businesses can cut their energy costs by 10% with minimal investment, or even with simple operation and maintenance actions." In addition to the savings available through an audit, you can start saving immediately by:

  • Replacing incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR-qualified compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), wherever appropriate. CFLs cost about 75% less to operate, and last about 10 times longer than standard lighting.
  • Changing HVAC filters (or clean if reusable) every month during peak cooling or heating season—new filters are very inexpensive, and dirty filters cost more to use, overwork the equipment and result in poorer indoor air quality.
  • Using an ENERGY STAR-qualified programmable thermostat (these "smart thermostats" range from $25 to $150 and automate your HVAC operation "24/7" based on your schedule).
  • Using fans. They can help delay or reduce the need for air conditioning, and a temperature setting of only 3 to 5 degrees higher can feel as comfortable with fans. Each degree of higher temperature can save about 3% on cooling costs.

For more information about energy audits and for other energy-saving tips, check out the ENERGY STAR site.

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