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Issue: 59 - Nov 15, 2013
Cut Energy Use and Help Your Bottom Line
By: Maureen Blaney Flietner
Mavourneen LLC/MBF Communications

When the owner of a small business got a utility bill larger than the month before – for no apparent reason, she started to keep tabs on her energy usage. By the next month, her bill had been cut in half.

While your business may not be able to see such a drastic reduction, chances are you may save a lot. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the typical small business can usually cut its monthly energy bill about 30% from a national average baseline for its type of facility using strategic energy management recommended by ENERGY STAR (

Rather than just considering unexamined energy charges as the cost of doing business, cut those costs and improve your bottom line.

Start with the basics

Learn how much energy you use and what it costs. Jean S Waters, Energy and Environmental Engineer with the Nebraska Business Development Center in Omaha, says that most business owners don’t pay attention. 

First, the basics: Electricity is measured in kWh, kilowatt-hours. One kilowatt-hour is equal to the power used by 10 100-watt bulbs for one hour. The meter at your facility measures the kilowatt-hours of electricity used.  Your utility bills will tell you the rate you pay per kWh. Now you’ve got your base and are ready to find your energy wasters.

Check building and systems

One area often overlooked is the building envelope. “It isn’t something people think about, but a business owner spends a lot to heat and cool,” says Waters. “You want the building to be well-insulated and well-sealed. Hire a contractor or even do it yourself.  Caulk around windows and door openings.”

Add insulation if it is needed. “Many buildings do not meet the current codes for insulation,” says Waters. “Don’t forget the little insulators behind the electric plugs. 

The EPA suggests replacing dirty filters on the heating/air conditioning system each month since they not only reduce indoor air quality but can shorten equipment life. Check the temperature on the water heater to make sure it is not set higher than needed. “It all adds up to savings and requires very little capital investment,” says Waters.

Any equipment that is "on" and not being used is wasting energy. Lighting that is on where no one is present and heating/air-conditioning that is running during non-business hours or set to run beyond necessary comfort levels are the most likely suspects in a veterinary clinic.

Benchmark your usage

If you want to get into more detail, ENERGY STAR offers a free Portfolio Manager. It allows you to benchmark your energy usage, accounts for differences in weather and gives you a score to compare your energy usage to similar businesses.

For example, it recognizes “Veterinary Office” as a specific facility type and can generate an “energy utilization index” (EUI) to help understand and track energy performance. Specific information is provided for tenants as well as property owners, and for new construction as well as existing buildings. 

To get started with the Manager, gather your energy bills and basic information about your building. The online tool lets you measure and track not only energy but water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. It can be used to benchmark the performance of one building or a portfolio of buildings.

Check for inefficient equipment

Curious how much energy is being wasted by a refrigerator, copier, printer? Get a “Kill-a-watt” meter often available through local libraries and measure actual usage.

According to the EPA, power management is important, especially since computers are often in use longer each day than they used to be. Power management features let you place computers into a low-power "sleep mode" after a designated period of inactivity. Simply hit a key on the keyboard or move the mouse and the computer awakens in seconds. Unplug laptop power cords when not in use and turn off equipment and lights at day’s end.

If you replace office equipment, remember that ENERGY STAR-rated products use less energy than average. You may be able to replace money-wasting copiers, computers, and refrigerators with ENERGY STAR equipment and have a payback of less than three years, says Waters. 

Any outdated equipment – like that still “functional” residential-style refrigerator more than 10 years old -- should be replaced with new ENERGY STAR-qualified equipment to begin immediate savings and improved product performance.

Upgrade lighting

The one easiest thing to upgrade is lighting. There’s no need for older T-12 fluorescent lighting. The new fluorescent fixtures have electronic ballasts and more efficient T-8 lamps and are said to pay back in less than two years. Utilities often have incentives for commercial lighting, making the switch even more attractive. In addition to saving money, new lighting gives your building a fresh update.

Are your exit signs -- which are on all the time – LED? If not, they should be. It’s estimated you can save $10 per year easily in electricity costs with a sign that doesn’t need replacement lamps for 10 years. 

Take advantage of tools, support

According to the EPA, ENERGY STAR provides information especially designed for small businesses at such as an online “ask for help” e-form, quarterly e-newsletter, educational materials and tools and training webinars, and the Putting Energy into Profits Guide for Small Business.

Small businesses can participate in the annual national building competition. There also is a staff position dedicated to small business and to working with small business professional and business associations.

Waters also suggests that you let your employees know that you are trying to conserve energy. “People will come up with ways to reduce the usage,” says Waters. “The behavior changes come with encouragement and conversation.”

Maureen Blaney Flietner is a freelance writer, editor and designer. Contact her through her website at