Utility costs vary depending on the size of a business, but the U.S. Small Business Administration notes that prospective business owners must estimate and include such costs when seeking loans to start their businesses. Estimated utility costs can be intimidating, especially for those owners who have never before owned their own businesses. Traditional conservation methods such as recycling and reusing are great ways to conserve and save around the office, but business owners also can embrace some other ways to lower their office energy costs while benefiting the planet at the same time.
Order an energy audit
Many utility companies will conduct energy audits free of charge or for nominal fees. These audits typically include onsite visits, during which auditors will look for areas where business owners can conserve energy. Tom Coburn, owner of Home Energy Savers in Glen Allen, typically performs three tests during an audit: a blower door test to see how much air is coming in and out of the building; a duct pressure check to see if there’s any leakage; and an insulation level check to see if the insulation is adequate. Coburn says it’s rare to find a building that doesn’t need some work done. He recommends using a diagnostic auditor, someone he compares to a doctor who’s “not trying to sell medicine, but just trying to cure the problem.”
Determine how much space you truly need
Current business owners and prospective owners can save substantial amounts of money and avoid wasting energy by giving ample thought to how much office space they truly need. Recent trends such as consolidating desk sizes, having open office plans, and employing co-working spaces are beneficial for businesses, said One South Commercial Associate Broker Ken Campbell.
“Tenants may want to look at buildings with amenities, such as a common conference room. That can obviously be quite beneficial because then it doesn’t have to go in your space. Some of the higher-end buildings, Class A or Class B+ buildings, a lot of times will have common conference rooms and can save you some money,” said Campbell.
Campbell works with clients to help them determine the right space for their business. For smaller tenants, it can be as simple as inputting numbers on a spreadsheet, while for larger tenants, a space planner or architect may be required to plan the layout, he said.
Large office spaces may not be necessary for businesses that recently downsized staff, while those starting out may want to start in small spaces before upgrading to larger spaces if and when their businesses expand. Flexibility is key, and businesses may want to consider shorter term leases if the need for expansion or contraction arises, said Campbell. Small business owners leasing their office space can speak with their leasing agents to determine if they can include a clause in their lease that allows them to move into larger spaces if the need arises before their existing leases expire, but Campbell says this is rare, as it’s a “landlord’s market” right now due to a dearth of available space.
Allow employees to telecommute
Based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2005-2014 American Community Survey conducted by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, a typical business would save $11,000 per person per year if it allowed its employees to work from home just half the time. Those cost-savings can be traced to numerous factors, and lower utility costs in the office as well as the need for less office space are among them.
Embrace green technology
Many homeowners use programmable thermostats and other eco-friendly tech products to lower their monthly utility costs at home, and businesses can follow suit. LED lighting around the office can substantially reduce office energy consumption and costs. “One thing that’s really nice about them is that they don’t put out a lot of heat. One thing that you have to deal with in office spaces and retail spaces is that lights produce a lot of heat. As far as air conditioning is concerned in designing AC systems, we have to account for that,” said Kelleher HVAC Senior Vice President Erin Kelleher. “If you change those lights out [from incandescent to LED], you’re going to cut your energy costs tremendously and you’re going to cut your air-conditioning costs.”
Kelleher also notes that while LED lighting is an investment initially, “they don’t burn out like incandescent bulbs,” so businesses will not only save on energy costs, but on the cost of replacement bulbs.
Business owners who own their office buildings might want to consider another up-front investment - installing solar panels that will dramatically reduce energy costs and even pay for themselves over time.
Conservation is not just for home, and business owners confronted with rising energy costs can find numerous ways to lower their energy expenses while simultaneously helping the planet.