Commercial HVAC: How to Be More Energy Efficient
Energy is one of the greatest overhead costs for businesses. The HVAC system accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the primary energy consumed in commercial buildings. The more energy a building uses, the bigger the impact to the bottom line. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, inefficiencies cause average buildings to waste 30 percent of the energy that it consumes. Because most power comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it is important to conserve as much energy as possible. By identifying HVAC-related energy losses in your building or commercial property, you will take steps that not just benefit the environment, but the bottom line as well.
Financial Costs of Commercial Air Conditioning Systems
A building’s efficient use of energy is relative. It’s about more than calculating how much it costs to keep the environment comfortable. Energy auditors also take into consideration factors such as:
- Building size
- Building age
- Number of occupants
- Operating hours
- Number of hours the building is occupied
- Purpose of each space in a building
- General energy sources (e.g., electricity, natural gas, solar)
- Space heating and cooling energy sources
- Types of heating and cooling equipment
- HVAC unit lifecycle costs
- HVAC unit’s energy consumption in British thermal units (Btu) per hour
- EER ratings
In 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that total energy consumption decreased by about 9,000 Btu per square foot from 2003 to 2013. Similarly, space heating energy use dropped by about 7,000 Btu per square foot during the same period.
According to a 2004 Berkeley Lab report, the electricity for an HVAC unit with a 10.1 EER that operates at or more than 65,000 Btu per hour costs just over $1,600 per year. Lifetime operating costs were over $20,000. An HVAC unit with a 9.5 EER that operates at or more than 135,000 Btu per hour cost nearly $3,500 per year in electricity. Lifetime operational costs were just over $40,000. The report demonstrated that electricity and operating costs decreased when equipment had higher EER ratings.
Environmental Costs of Commercial Air Conditioning Systems
Non-renewable fossil fuels produce the vast majority of energy that commercial buildings consume. The emissions from the burning of fuel are:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Carbon monoxide (the greenhouse gas most associated with climate change)
- Nitrogen oxides
- Fluorinated gases
Emissions from fossil fuel burning trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. When sunlight reaches the planet’s surface, it’s absorbed by the Earth or reflected back into space. The Earth naturally absorbs a certain amount of sunlight in the form of heat, or infrared radiation. When greenhouse gases accumulate, they trap more of the sun’s heat, similar to a blanket. This greenhouse gas effect is slowly causing the Earth’s surface temperature to rise.
Staying Comfortable, Saving Costs and Reducing Your Carbon Footprint
With the ongoing advancements in technology and energy management strategies from the U.S. Environmental Protection and other agencies, there are simple steps that you can take to mitigate the high financial and environmental costs of keeping a building comfortable.
- Change the HVAC filters regularly: Dirty filters increase an HVAC system’s load. Changing them as often as the manufacturer recommends reduces waste by up to 10 percent.
- Switch to a programmable thermostat: Forgetting to adjust the heater or A/C when you close for the evening or weekend results in wasted energy. Programmable thermostats maintain comfortable temperatures only while people are in the building, according to a schedule that you set.
- Schedule regular HVAC maintenance: Annual HVAC maintenance keeps a system running optimally and prevents energy wasting malfunctions.
- Duct inspection and sealing: Air leaks in ductwork can make an HVAC system 20 percent less efficient. Schedule an inspection every few years.
- Replace old HVAC equipment: New heating and cooling equipment can reduce energy costs by up to 30 percent. Look for equipment with the ENERGY STAR label and high EER ratings.
- Install advanced control sensors: Advanced controls sense the number of individuals in a space and adjust the temperature accordingly. Integrating the sensors with an HVAC system can reduce energy waste by up to 40 percent.
- Renewable and high-efficiency energy sources: Clean energy sources such as wind, geothermal and solar energy reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you are not able to install on-site renewable energy generating equipment, consider purchasing energy generated from renewable sources.
You don’t have to compromise the comfort levels in your building to save costs or reduce eco-guilt. Many times, the most effective changes are also the simplest. To learn more about making your system more efficient, get in touch with AAA Heating & Cooling today.