It costs a lot to control the air conditioning and heat inside a building, and sometimes it can feel like you’re throwing money into a hole. The good news is that you can lower HVAC energy consumption in your commercial building in a variety of ways. From replacing old equipment with energy-efficient systems to simply changing your cooling schedule, there are things you can do on any type of budget.
Understanding HVAC Energy Consumption
First, let’s talk about how much energy HVAC systems use to understand the problem.
What Percentage of Total Energy do Buildings Consume?
Transportation and industrial sectors use a lot of energy, of course, but buildings consume their fair share. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the buildings sector uses 76% of total electricity and 40% of total primary energy like natural gas and other fossil fuels. That’s huge.
How Much Electricity Does a Commercial Building Use?
According to Iota Communications, the average office building spends $30,000 per year on energy costs. The average building uses 22.5 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per square foot, though some industries use up to 50 kWh/square foot or more. Commercial buildings with high energy use are found in sectors like healthcare and food service/food sales.
How Much Energy Does HVAC Use?
The combination of heating, ventilation, and cooling often consumes the most energy for a commercial building. According to the Department of Energy, HVAC systems use about 35% of a building’s energy on average. That’s why improving energy efficiency for your HVAC system can save you a significant amount of money on power bills.
9 Tips for Saving on HVAC Energy Consumption in Commercial Buildings
Here are a few best practices you can use to decrease HVAC energy consumption and save money.
Perform Regular Maintenance
Of course, the first step is to make sure you have a good maintenance schedule in place with routine HVAC inspections. This will ensure you’ll spot potential problems early. Also, your system will run at optimal efficiency when everything is working properly and wear parts like filters are routinely replaced.
Use a Demand-Controlled Ventilation System
The basic purpose of ventilation is to remove exhaled carbon dioxide and bring in fresh air. However, not all rooms in a building always need the same level of ventilation. Demand-controlled ventilation uses CO2 sensors to monitor the air in real time and adjust ventilation accordingly.
Replace Your Boiler
If you have an old boiler, you could save up to 35% or 45% in heating costs by updating to a new model. Older conventional boilers have an 80% thermal efficiency (when everything is working right), while newer energy-efficient units can have 95% or more efficiency.
Manage Peak Demand Charges
During times of peak demand, energy costs more. One example of this is the afternoon during the warmer months. Everyone turns their air conditioning on as the sun starts to heat the indoors, so power companies charge more during this time.
By simply cooling your building earlier during the day, you can reduce peak demand costs since the system will use less energy in the afternoon. You can also stagger multiple HVAC systems during the day to avoid concentrated use during peak hours.
Install Smart Blinds or Windows
While insulated windowpanes can protect against heat transfer between inside and outside air, sunlight still passes through and heats up the interior of the building. Commercial buildings can make use of smart blinds or smart glass to reduce the sun’s radiation indoors and save on energy costs. These can function on schedules, on data from light and heat sensors, or by occupant control. Whether or not they are worth the cost will depend on multiple factors, like the sun’s intensity during the day, window direction, and window size.
Harness the Power of Variation
Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems allow you to have multiple ductless heating/cooling units that are independently controlled. A VRF system delivers the right amount of refrigerant to each unit when needed, and the system can heat and cool different zones simultaneously.
You can also use variable frequency drives in pumps, fans, and blowers. These drives allow many different speed settings, so the system will cycle on and off less often, which saves energy. Variable drives allow more control over heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, which helps employees be more comfortable and productive.
Employ Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV)
Heating and cooling systems work hard to change the temperature and humidity of incoming air, so it’s a good idea to conserve that energy. Energy recovery ventilation is a technology that can transfer temperature and humidity from ventilated air to the incoming air stream. This reduces the energy required to condition incoming air, which can lower your electricity bill.
Check Seals and Insulation
It’s also important to know if there are any spots where you’re losing heat and energy. Leaks can develop in ductwork over time, for example. Inefficiencies increase energy usage as the system works longer and harder to maintain the temperature.
As you perform regular maintenance and inspections, you should tighten up connections, seal leaks, clear drains, and the like. If you’re dealing with an older building, you can investigate updating the insulation (including windows) to improve efficiency.
Use Thermal Energy Storage
Thermal energy storage is another energy saving technology. First, a chiller freezes water overnight. The next day, the HVAC system can use the ice to cool the building for part of the day or the whole day. This saves money because the electricity to run the chiller is cheaper a night, since it avoids peak demand charges.
Improve HVAC Energy Savings for Your Commercial Building
It’s always nice to save money. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning use a lot of power, but there are ways to improve energy efficiency and lower your overall costs. If you’re unsure of the best next step, a thorough HVAC inspection can be a good idea.
Our team at Wm. T. Spaeder has experience in a wide variety of industries, from higher education and healthcare to industrial and refining. We can work with you to improve your system’s energy efficiency to save money. Whether that involves a simple repair or a major system upgrade, we’re available to help in the Erie, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh areas. Reach out to an HVAC specialist today for more information.