A kilowatt in time Featured

9:58am EDT July 22, 2002

Some building managers offer a variety of reasons for putting off making improvements to the energy efficiency of their facilities. Several of the more common reasons are nothing more than myths. Let’s look at some of these myths and see why they should not prevent businesses, particularly small businesses, from upgrading a building and reducing energy costs.

The myth: If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Old equipment should be replaced only when it burns out, wears out or breaks.

The fact: Heating and air conditioning equipment that is more than 10 years old uses more energy than modern replacements. The energy saved usually pays for the new equipment in less than three years. For example, new T-8 fluorescent lights use 25 percent less energy than T-12 fluorescent lights. Waiting for equipment to break down or lights to burn out is equivalent to throwing money away.

The myth: Energy conservation and energy efficiency are the same.

The fact: Energy conservation reduces the amount of energy used in a building without regard to employees’ comfort or productivity. Turning back thermostats in the winter and up in the summer will save energy. The result is that people feel cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Energy savings occur, but at the expense of employee comfort.

Energy efficiency also reduces the amount of energy used, but the comfort level is maintained or improved. Replacing older-style fluorescent tubes with new modem tubes can reduce the energy used by as much as 35 percent and produce an improved lighting level.

The myth: Energy-efficiency upgrades are expensive.

The fact: Simply turning off lights when leaving a room for more than a few minutes costs nothing and results in significant savings. Adjusting thermostats at night and on weekends creates energy savings, as does closing window shades during the hot part of a summer day. Some upgrades are very inexpensive. A programmable thermostat costs less than $100 and can reduce heating and cooling bills by as much as 30 percent. Motion sensors in offices and waiting rooms cost less than $100 and turn off lights automatically when no one is in the room. Some incandescent light fixtures will accept compact fluorescent light bulbs for less than $20 per bulb. Each CFL uses 75 percent less energy and requires one tenth the maintenance. Replacing filters on a warm-air furnace on a regular schedule will prevent restricted air flow caused by a dirty filter and allow the furnace to operate more efficiently.

The myth: Delay upgrades until after the electric industry is restructured, because the cost of electricity will decrease and some upgrades may no longer be cost effective.

Fact: Restructuring either is under way or under investigation in all but two states. The price of electricity is expected to go down in most areas as a result. However, in some areas, such as the Midwest, where coal-fired plants are predominant, electricity costs are low. Here, it is possible that electricity costs will increase for some customers as competition begins and other suppliers move in. Energy efficiency improvements temper any increase in price. Further, the largest price decreases may be available only to larger customers. From the suppliers’ perspective, small businesses normally have their peak demands at the wrong time of day or the wrong time of year, so they are not considered very desirable customers.

The myth: Fluorescent lights last longer if you don’t turn them on and off repeatedly.

The fact: Turning fluorescent lights on and off does shorten their life slightly. However, if a room is unoccupied for more than 10 minutes, you save more energy by turning off the lights than the shortened life of the fluorescents’ costs.

Robert J. Smith is senior project engineer with Aspen Systems Corp. in Rockville, Md.