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Commercial real estate buildings require a significant amount of energy to maintain comfort levels: The 5.6 million commercial real estate buildings in the U.S.1 represent about one-fifth of U.S. energy consumption2 — and as much as 30 percent of the energy they consume is used inefficiently or unnecessarily.3 Is your building wasting energy?

Energy conservation measures can amount to big savings on your building’s operating costs, and can significantly benefit the environment: The U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings program estimates that if energy efficiency at commercial and industrial buildings improved by 10 percent, we would avert greenhouse gas emissions equal to those of 49 million vehicles.4 The collected savings would total $40 billion.5

Buildings that are more energy-efficient are also likely to attract tenants, which can lead to higher occupancy rates and property values.6

Below are ten tips to help your commercial building save energy, reduce waste and decrease operating costs.

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 Benchmark your current energy use

Understand how much energy your building is using and how much it costs. Collecting this information helps you set benchmarks, identify areas of waste, and prioritize the changes you’ll want to make first.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers the ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager®, a free tool that helps you measure emissions and energy and water use at your building. Consider getting an energy audit, or enlisting the help of professionals to install sensors, monitors and software that measure exactly how much energy your building uses. 

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 Set goals and measure your progress

It’s important to pursue energy conservation with a plan, keeping your tenants’ needs and budget in mind. Many energy-efficiency upgrades require little investment and have a rapid payback.7 More significant installations may cost more initially, but are likely to save money and even increase property asset value over the long run.8

Identify where you’ll focus first, set goals and measure progress against a baseline over time. Early wins that effectively save energy and reduce costs can help justify more significant future investments.

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 Check doors and windows for air leaks

Examine windows, doors, walls, roofs and the foundation of your commercial building—these serve as crucial thermal barriers. When leaks in the barriers exist, buildings need more energy for heating and cooling. Plug simple air leaks with weather stripping and caulking to save energy. Improve coatings, glazings and insulation materials to reduce the loss of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer.9 You might also consider window replacement, but have an energy-efficiency expert help you determine if and where new, high-efficiency windows offer a return on investment. Window improvements can cut your lighting and HVAC costs by 10 to 40 percent, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences.10

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 Save water

Heating and pumping water throughout your building requires energy. There’s a direct link between your water and sewage bill and your electricity bill.11 While these costs are often passed on to building tenants, you can reduce your building’s overall energy use and conserve energy by saving water.

Install low-flow faucets, showerheads, toilets and urinals, and set controls to turn faucets off automatically in common areas. For washers and dryers, upgrade to energy-efficient versions, and set water temperatures to be only as hot as necessary. 

Tankless water heaters can also reduce storage costs and waste. Ensure that older water heaters and pipes are well insulated, and quickly repair any leaks.

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 Evaluate existing equipment

Ensure that your building equipment, including HVAC systems, thermostats, hot water tanks, pumps, piping and air filters, are calibrated, clean, insulated if necessary and operating as efficiently as possible. Establish a regular schedule and set of procedures for system checks and maintenance. If you have energy-saving settings already in place, such as programmed thermostats, check for "operational stray" from these settings resulting from one-time resets or software glitches.12  

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   Upgrade building lighting and signage

According to ENERGY STAR, lighting consumes 25 to 30 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings.13 Often described as the “low-hanging fruit” of energy conservation, installing high efficiency lighting is an easy, often cost-effective way to save energy.

Swapping out incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) can cut lighting costs by as much as 50 percent, according to the Department of Energy.14 Some light emitting diodes (LEDs) offer even greater energy savings—as much as 75 percent, according to ENERGY STAR.15 

An upgrade to LED exit signs can save $10 in electricity costs per sign each year and significantly reduce maintenance.16 Outside, opt for metal halide lamps in parking lots, and upgrade exterior signage to LED lighting.

Finally, encourage building occupants to use energy-efficient light bulbs and turn lights off when they're not in use; this simple habit can reduce lighting expenses by 10 to 40 percent, according to ENERGY STAR.17 Occupancy sensors and timers in common areas can do this automatically.

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 Enlist the help of building occupants

Encourage building occupants to help save energy by using energy efficient computers, monitors, refrigerators and dishwashers. According to ENERGY STAR, if all computers sold in the U.S. met its requirements, the savings in energy costs would grow to $1 billion each year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from more than 1.4 million vehicles.18 Simple habits like unplugging electronic devices when they're not in use, unblocking air vents, putting monitors to sleep, keeping showers short and using natural light whenever possible can go a long way toward cutting energy use.

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 Automate energy management

Take advantage of available technology to automate energy conservation at your building. Add sensors and motion detectors to determine room occupancy, and automatically shut down equipment and lights when not in use. Smart energy management systems even learn the typical flow of people in and out of a room and adjust lighting, heating and cooling based on these expectations.

Remember to inspect these systems regularly for operational stray.   

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 Consider a renewable energy system

Once you’ve optimized your commercial real estate building’s efficiency, consider installing a renewable energy system, such as a solar array, to generate your own clean power. In many cases, there is no upfront cost to acquire solar power since solar systems can be leased.

Commercial Real Estate

If you’d like to learn more about renewable energy systems and other energy-saving initiatives for your commercial real estate properties, Direct Energy Business can help. We offer a Total Energy Management approach to lowering energy costs with data and analytics, energy efficiency and alternative energy solutions, including:

Get started today!

Download our free Smart Energy Strategies for Commerical Real Estate guide now!

  1. ENERGY STAR, “Low- and no-cost energy-efficiency measures: Lighting,” retrieved February 2016.
  2. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, Buildings Energy Data Book, Chapter 3
  3. ENERGY STAR, “Facts and Stats,” retrieved February 2016
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Think Progress, “New Study Suggests Your Typical City Office Building Wastes Lots Of Energy,” October 23, 2013
  7. ENERGY STAR, “Invest in energy efficiency measures that have a rapid payback,” retrieved February 2016
  8. ENERGY STAR, “Commercial Real Estate: An Overview of Energy Use and Energy Efficiency Opportunities,” retrieved February 2016
  9. National Institute of Building Sciences, Whole Building Design Guide, “Windows and Glazing,” updated November 4, 2014
  10. Ibid.
  11. ENERGY STAR, “Save water to save energy,” retrieved February 2016
  12. Think Progress, “New Study Suggests Your Typical City Office Building Wastes Lots Of Energy,” October 23, 2013
  13. ENERGY STAR, “Energy-saving tips for everyone,” retrieved February 2016
  14. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Office Energy Checklist,” retrieved February 2016
  15. ENERGY STAR, “Why Choose ENERGY STAR Qualified LED Lighting?” retrieved February 2016
  16. ENERGY STAR, “Invest in energy-efficiency measures that have a rapid payback,” retrieved February 2016
  17. ENERGY STAR, "Low- and no-cost energy efficiency measures," retrieved February 2016
  18. ENERGY STAR, “Computers for Consumers,” retrieved February 2016

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