Energy is a major expense for small businesses
According to the EPA's ENERGY STAR program, U.S. small businesses collectively spend a staggering $60 billion on energy each year.1 Additionally, a survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) found that energy costs are a top-three business expense for more than one-third of the nation's small businesses.2
But, small businesses also possess significant energy savings potential. Depending on the building and business type, small businesses could reduce their energy costs between 10 and 30 percent through competitive rates, straightforward efficiency upgrades and simple behavioral adjustments – all without sacrificing service or comfort.3
We've put together a comprehensive list of 50 energy saving tips for small businesses to help them reduce their energy use, cut emissions and save money.
1. Switch to a retail energy supplier.
It's important to get great electricity and natural gas rates. If your business is located in a deregulated market, you can switch from your utility to a retail energy supplier to gain price protection, real cost savings, best-in-class customer care and access to the latest technology.
When choosing a retail energy supplier, be sure to do your homework. Visit provider websites to view pricing and plan options. Beyond pricing quotes, look into the supplier's credit rating, their customer service, and technology offerings. Your best option will likely be an established and financially stable supplier that can meet your billing, service and price requirements.
2. Lock-in flexible electricity and natural gas rates.
Energy prices can fluctuate at the drop of a hat. That's why you should ensure your business has the flexibility to take advantage of beneficial price changes. With ChooseAgain by Direct Energy Business, small businesses can select a new electricity or natural gas rate at any time without fees or penalties. As long as you remain with Direct Energy Business, you can switch rates at any time — even if our rates drop.
3. Protect your business from energy scams.
The Financial Fraud Research Center estimates that a whopping $40 to $50 billion are lost to fraud each year in the United States alone.4 Energy scams — or schemes that specifically target energy consumers — account for a large portion of those losses.
You can protect your business by taking a number of precautions against energy scams: know your utility and energy supplier, safeguard your personal information and hang up the phone if you ever feel pressured to provide personal information.
4. Consider solar power.
Solar power can offer your business long-term price certainty that may protect against rising costs and regulatory changes. It can also be a valuable tool in your overall energy strategy with little or no up-front costs.
The Solar Investment Tax Credit (SITC) – a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar systems installed at businesses – has been extended through 2019, making it a great time to invest in solar energy.5 After 2019, the SITC will scale down incrementally through 2021 and remain at 10 percent permanently starting in 2022.6 Check out this solar checklist to help decide if solar is right for your business.
5. Participate in a Demand Response program.
Demand Response is a load management program that pays participants to reduce electricity usage during periods of peak demand across the system. With the Direct Energy Business Demand Response program, large businesses can earn potential monthly income by curtailing their electricity usage during times of significant stress on the grid. Depending on your business size, type and location you may be able to participate. Visit our Demand Response page to learn more.
6. Take advantage of tax breaks and other incentives.
Your business can take advantage of the investment tax credit (ITC) with solar systems. There are also many state and local tax incentives for investing in your business's energy efficiency, especially when purchasing energy efficient appliances and equipment.
7. Connect with other businesses.
Your business isn't alone in trying to find the best offer. Connect with other business owners in your community to learn about their energy challenges, strategy and provider. Hear some success stories from these Direct Energy Business customers.
8. Conduct an energy audit.
Hire a company to conduct an energy audit of your business. The EPA's Energy Star program also offers a set of tools called Portfolio Manager that can help you better gauge your business's energy and water use.
9. Set clear energy saving goals.
After you have an accurate assessment of your current energy use, set clear and attainable energy-saving goals for your business. Identify target focus areas, set benchmark goals and measure your progress.
10. Get employees invested.
Saving energy is a team sport – it shouldn't just be the responsibility of business owners. Employees should be informed on how they can save energy and be encouraged to share their own innovative ideas on how to cut down on energy costs. By having an open dialogue, you can create an energy efficient work culture at your business.
11. Pinpoint your energy waste with data analytics technology.
It's vital to understand how your business uses power in order to identify where energy is being wasted or where operations can be more efficient. Now more than ever, businesses have access to cutting-edge technology that helps them pinpoint energy waste and inefficiencies.
Panoramic Power — which analyzes 8 billion data points per month and counting – offers larger businesses a device-level energy management solution.7 The wireless sensors clip directly onto circuit wires, capture device level data in real-time and process data in an analytics platform. The technology's insights are estimated to help save 12 percent for businesses, allowing operators to see how they can become more energy efficient, how their equipment is functioning and how they can improve their overall operations.8
12. Examine your business's energy usage online.
If you're a Direct Energy Business customer, you can track your business's own energy usage by logging into MyAccount. In MyAccount, you can access all of your account information in one place, see a rolling 13-month view of your usage, renew your contract in just a few clicks (if eligible) and access it on all of your devices. By actively tracking your usage, you're more likely to save energy and money.
13. Seek expert guidance.
Businesses are inherently busy and energy markets can move quickly, making it difficult for business owners to take advantage of beneficial prices. Depending on your business size and type, it may make sense to seek assistance from an energy advisor. They can provide you with an additional layer of expertise and guidance, positioning your company to leverage pricing that's more closely aligned with the markets.
For more information on how energy strategic services can potentially benefit your business, check out our "How to Get the Maximum Benefit From Energy Strategic Services" strategy guide.
Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
14. Tune-up your HVAC system.
Even an ENERGY STAR-qualified heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system can decline in performance without regular maintenance. An annual maintenance contract ensures that a HVAC contractor will provide a tune-up before each cooling and heating season. Your system may then last longer with minimal repair costs.
15. Change or clean your HVAC filters.
The more you use air-conditioning and heating, the more air and particles are being run through your HVAC system. Regularly change (or clean if reusable) HVAC filters every month during peak cooling or heating seasons. New filters are relatively cheap and dirty filters cost more to use, overwork your equipment and result in lower indoor air quality.
16. Control direct sunlight with blinds.
Depending on the season and temperature, control direct sunlight with blinds. During cooling season, block direct heat from sunlight through windows on the east and west sides of the facility. During heating season, unobstructed southern windows can contribute to solar heat gained from sunlight. Solar screens, solar films, awnings and vegetation can all help keep your business cool.
17. Plant trees.
Plant shady trees outside of your business to keep your building cool and help clean the air. Depending on your location, vegetation can help weather the summer heat and chilly winter winds. Interior curtains and drapes also help, but it's more effective to stop summer heat before it hits your window.
18. Use fans.
Fans can help your business maintain comfortable temperature, humidity and air movement. Moving air can make a somewhat higher temperature and humidity feel more comfortable and reduce the need for air conditioning.
A temperature setting of only three to five degrees higher can feel as comfortable with fans and each degree of higher temperature can save about three percent on cooling costs.9 When the temperature outside feels more comfortable than inside, use a box fan in the window or whole facility fan in the attic to pull in the comfortable air.
19. Plug leaks with weather stripping and caulking.
It's important to locate any leaks in your business to prevent costly heating and cooling loss. You can easily plug leaks with weather stripping and caulking. They allow you to more efficiently manage your ventilation.
20. Set your thermostat.
One of the easiest ways to save money on your energy bill is by controlling your thermostat. Turn thermostats higher when cooling and lower when heating an occupied building or unoccupied areas within a building (e.g., during weekends and non-working hours). In the summer, set thermostats between 78 and 80 degrees during business hours and above 80 degrees during unoccupied hours.10 In winter, set office thermostats between 65 and 68 during business hours and 60 to 65 degrees while occupied.11
21. Have a casual dress code.
Depending on your business, consider allowing your employees to wear more comfortable clothing during hot weather. If employees are better dressed for the weather, you can more easily adjust the temperature.
22. Upgrade to a smart thermostat.
Smart thermostats are changing the way people use energy. A number of leading models have a range of energy-saving features – including mobile and web applications that analyze your usage, motion sensors that detect when people are present, etc. – that take the hassle out of managing your building’s temperature and let you focus on running your business. Of course, if a smart thermostat isn’t in the cards for your business right now, you can simply go with a programmable model, which has also demonstrated real energy savings.
Lighting to Save Energy
23. Use natural light.
Instead of using lights during the day, let the sun shine in. After all, it's free, renewable and efficient. Just remember that it can impact your business's temperature depending on heating and cooling season.
24. Turn the lights off.
According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, more than half of the country's energy use is ultimately wasted, which directly translates to higher energy bills.12 Remind employees and coworkers to turn off lights (and, of course, other equipment) when not in use.
Additionally, over-lighting can cause other problems in the workplace such as glare, eyestrain and headaches. Too much light can be as bad for visual quality as too little light – except it drives up the cost of your energy bill.
25. Change your light bulbs.
If your business still uses incandescent light bulbs, switch them out for more efficient and cost-effective lighting. Energy-efficient light bulbs — which include halogen bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs) — use up to 80 percent less energy than conventional lighting and can last up to 25 times longer.13
If your business or office currently uses T12 fluorescent lights, consider switching to T8 lamps and electronic ballasts. The switch could reduce your office lighting energy consumption by up to 35 percent.14
26. Install occupancy sensors.
Install dimmers and occupancy sensors in proper locations to automatically turn off lighting. It's vitally important to ensure that the sensors are properly installed: even good equipment can be installed wrong, so don't install the sensor in an obstructed location (e.g. behind a coat rack, door, bookcase or other furniture). The sensor must be clear to identify motion.
27. Use energy efficient exit signs.
As exit signs are almost always using energy, it's important to ensure that they are efficient. Install ENERGY STAR-qualified exit signs to reduce maintenance costs. An energy efficient exit sign can eliminate costs related to lamp replacement and save up to 10 dollars per sign each year in electricity costs.15
28. Turn off unused equipment.
Turning off machines can translate to significant energy savings. Office computer monitors are an easy way to save on your business's energy bill as they use a lot of energy — about 100 watts per day.16 If left on during nights and weekends, that can add an extra 30 dollars onto an office's energy bill each year.17 Ensure that monitors are set on automatic sleep mode or are manually turned off when not in use. Screen savers do not reduce energy use by monitors.
29. Unplug appliances or use a power strip.
It's important to unplug equipment not in use as many devices continue to draw a small amount of power even when they are switched off. These "energy vampires" continue to suck energy with everything from computers to food equipment. You can easily avoid this energy waste by unplugging the appliance or using a power strip's on/off switch to cut off all power to the appliance.
30. Use power management features and software.
Be sure to place computers into a low-power "sleep mode" after a set time of inactivity. You can also purchase commercial power management software to help ensure your machine is running as efficiently as possible.
31. Purchase ENERGY STAR qualified office equipment.
Whenever purchasing equipment for your business, ensure it's ENERGY STAR-qualified. Why? Because the ENERGY STAR logo highlights the most energy efficient computers, printers, copiers, refrigerators, televisions, windows, thermostats, ceiling fans, and other equipment for your business.
32. Switch to a laptop computer.
On average, laptop computers are more efficient and use 80 percent less energy than desktop computers.18 Laptops generally have a maximum draw of 60 watts, where common desktop computers can soar to 175 watts.19
To maximize savings with a laptop, put the AC adapter in a power strip that can be turned off (or will turn off automatically) as the transformer in the AC adapter draws power continuously, even when the laptop is not plugged into the adapter.
33. Use rechargeable batteries.
For devices that require batteries, use rechargeable batteries. Studies have consistently shown that rechargeable batteries are more cost effective than disposable batteries. If you must use disposable batteries, consult with your trash removal company about safe disposal options.
34. Reduce paper usage.
Paper and printing can be costly for your business. Print only when necessary and double-sided when you do. This will reduce paper waste and help cut the energy required to run your printer, which directly reduces your energy costs and may extend the life of your printer.
35. Install hand dryers.
36. Clean your refrigerator.
Clean refrigerator coils twice a year and replace door gaskets if a dollar bill easily slips out when closed between the door's seals. This will help ensure your refrigerator is using energy efficiently and retaining coolness.
37. Conduct regular maintenance on refrigerators.
If your business has a large or walk-in refrigeration system, make sure it is serviced at least once a year. The service should include: cleaning, refrigerant top-off, lubrication of moving parts and an adjustment of the belts. With annual maintenance, your refrigerator will function more efficiently and have a longer life.
38. Retrofit display cases.
If you have refrigerator display cases, consider retrofitting them with anti-sweat door heater controls and variable speed evaporator fan motors and controls.
39. Purchase efficient food service equipment.
As with any type of equipment for your business, purchase ENERGY STAR-qualified commercial food service equipment as it can help you tap your energy savings potential.
Qualified refrigerators and freezers can save more than 45 percent of the energy used by conventional models, which can translate to annual savings of $140 for refrigerators and $100 for freezers.21 It can also pay off with other types of kitchen equipment, such as ENERGY STAR-qualified hot food holding cabinets, which can save up to $280 per year.22
40. Address water leaks.
Make sure to address any water leaks at your business. Small leaks may add up to many gallons of water and dollars wasted each month.
41. Use automatic taps.
Install automatic water-saving faucets, showerheads and urinals to save your business money on its water bill.
42. Insulate your water heater.
If your business's water heater is older than seven years, be sure to wrap it in insulation to retain water heat. Regardless of whether your water heater is old or new, insulate the first three feet of the heated water out pipe.
43. Upgrade to a more efficient water heater.
If you're in the market for a new water heater, buy the most energy efficient model. If your water heater is used infrequently, consider a tankless model to reduce standby storage costs and waste.
44. Set your water temperature.
You can save money by setting your water heater at an optimal temperature. Set the water temperature only as hot as needed (generally between 110 and 120 degrees) to prevent scalding and save energy.23 Check your city's local codes to identify the best temperature.
45. Use sustainable practices when landscaping.
When landscaping at your business, use plants that are native to your local environment, require minimal watering and possess strong pest resistance. Also consider diverting gray water for irrigation, if your city code allows.
46. Hold virtual meetings.
In the 21st century, it's possible – and even expected – for businesses to hold virtual meetings. New technologies allow you to meet across the world, give presentations and make long distance calls without leaving your business. By meeting virtually, you can save your business money on gas or flights.
47. Encourage employees to work from home.
If possible for your business, encourage employees to work from home on designated days. With VPN technology, an employee can safely and securely connect to your business's network. With fewer employees in office, less lighting and cooling would be required, thereby reducing energy expenses.
Carpooling can save your employees and business significant money. Encourage your employees to catch a ride to work with coworkers to cut down on transportation costs. Whenever traveling on business, require your employees to split cab rides or rental cars.
49. Improve the fuel economy of your vehicles.
By improving the fuel economy of your business's vehicles, you can significantly reduce business costs. There are a number of resources on the various tax incentives, grants, loans, leases and rebates for improving your fuel economy. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Energy has a number of online tools to help you calculate your business's fuel economy, including a fuel costs and savings calculator as well as a car comparison engine.
50. Consider alternative fuel vehicles.
Diesel and gasoline fleets are expensive to run and their emissions are harmful to the environment and public health. However, there are a number of alternative vehicle options.
One option is compressed natural gas (CNG). With CNG, your business can realize immediate cost savings and make a positive difference to the environment. Direct Energy Business partners with American Natural Gas, LLC (ANG) to build, own, operate and maintain heavy-duty CNG fueling stations for businesses across North America.
For more energy saving tips and information that can help you take control of your small business's energy use, subscribe to the Direct Energy Business Blog.