Published August 1, 1998

Lower Utility Bills for Business: Energy Saving Ideas and Tips

Many businesses have gone down the tubes because management failed to curb wasteful energy use. Even if you rent your building space, chances are you have a triple net lease that will result in higher rent payments if utility costs rise.

For years, a furniture retailer deliberately left all the lights burning in the showroom. It cost the store at least $500 a month to do this, but the owner justified the expense as a form of "advertising." Customers who drove past the store when the lights were blazing late at night would surely remember the place, he reasoned.

Ultimately, he was convinced that there are more cost- effective methods of building customer recognition for his business. He bought a beautiful neon sign that offered ten times the exposure of his lit-up showroom at one-tenth the cost. As it turned out the store paid for the sign out of electricity savings during the first three years.

The management company of a medical office was wasting the owner's money because some of the tenants kept evening hours and left the air conditioning running all night.

The extent of the problem didn't become clear, however, until several of the internists and gynecologists in the building began losing patients. It seemed the building was so chilly in the morning that disrobed patients were getting goosebumps!

This building operator consulted a specialist in the air conditioning and heating area, and invested more than $25,000 in a computer system to regulate temperatures in offices year round. That was six years ago, and although it seemed like a lot of money at the time, the energy savings paid for the system in less than three years. Since then, it's been pure gravy.

You probably don't need a $25,000 computer to shave your utility bills. There are automatic setback thermostats that will turn off your heat or air conditioning in the evening after everyone has left the building, then turn it on again in the morning before anyone arrives.

A word of caution, though: utility experts warn that it is possible for energy-conscious building operators to outsmart themselves. The cost of reheating some facilities is so high that it more than offsets any savings from turning the utilities off at night. In these cases, the most efficient approach is to set the thermostat at one temperature and leave it there 24 hours a day.