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How to cut your utility bills Featured

10:06am EDT July 22, 2002

Every year when Earth Day rolls around, many big businesses seize the opportunity to publicize their commitment to clean environment. Often, their stories are about new energy-efficient technologies enabling them to save money while dramatically cutting pollution.

Now, this same story is one that many businesses can also tell, thanks to Energy Star Small Business program, a service of the Environmental Protection Agency.

ESSB helps businesses overcome the obstacles associated with gaining profits from energy efficiency. Small business may be the most dynamic sector of the economy, but the reality is that harried small-business owners often lack time, money and knowledge when it comes to being energy-efficient. How can they know if it's worth pursuing or not?

A larger business will have an engineer to make a technical analysis and an economist to figure out costs and benefits. Now this same kind of advice and assistance is available to small businesses through ESSB.

The new program is designed to provide assistance without the red tape or requirements of the typical government program. Through ESSB, s small business agrees to look into energy-conserving upgrades and to voluntarily institute those that would have a payback of three years or less. Meanwhile, EPA agrees to provide non-biased technical information and public recognition.

Because cost-cutting is second nature to a small business, the good news is the ESSB program offers small businesses the chance to cut costs and help protect nature. How?

Every time a light, computer or monitor is turned on, a power plant consumes fuel to generate electricity. This fuel-to-energy conversion results in some pollution. When fossil fuels are burned to produce electricity, carbon dioxide - a significant contributor to the negative effects of climate change - is released into the atmosphere. So is sulfur dioxide, a contributor to acid rain.

So far, EPA's Energy Star and Green Lights Programs have prevented the emission of more than 3.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide-voluntarily, at a profit to business. And smaller firms are increasingly supporting these pollution-reduction efforts.

One small company that came out a winner through ESSB is Manic, Gold and Chatter, a Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based law firm renting a 20,500-square-foot office. By using more efficient lights and exit signs and installing infrared occupancy sensors that turn off unneeded lights, the 50-person company has been able to cut its electric bill by more than $11,000 a year and reduce annually 188,000 pounds of carbon dioxide power-plant pollution.

Any small business with a facility of less than 100,000 square feet-about the size of a "big box" retail store or an average five-floor office building-can participate. It's purely voluntary and free. Companies are flocking to take part.

Here are a few easy tips for small businesses to get started:

  • Calibrate your thermostats and then adjust them for colder weather. Find the lowest temperature you can set it at where employees and customers are warm. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on where you live. Cost: none. Savings potential: about $1,000 a year for a small office building open during regular business hours.

  • Open drapes or other window treatments in cooler months to let the sun shine in and warm your office. Then keep the thermostat a little lower. Do the opposite in the warmer months. Cost: none. Savings potential: about $7 per window in January. Savings will vary according to location, window orientation, month, and shading coefficient.

  • Check all doors and windows for drafts and leaks. Caulk and weather-strip them as necessary. Cost: $5 or less. Savings potential: about $2 per fixed leak, plus savings associated with increased employee productivity from improved comfort.

  • Clean your air filters. Cost: none or about $2 if you need to replace one. Savings potential: from $5 to $60 per filter, depending on the size of your HVAC system.

  • Turn off your office equipment when it's not in use. Cost: none. Savings potential: up to $44 per computer. Savings depend on what you pay per kwh.

  • Install occupancy sensors in corridors and other areas where lights could be left off most of the time. Cost: $25 to $80. Savings potential: about $40 a year depending on placement of sensors.

  • Turn off your water heater overnight and on weekends. Cost: nothing, or $30 if you buy an automatic timer to do it for you. Savings potential: up to about $54 a year depending on the use of hot water.

  • Lower the thermostat setting on your water heater. Cost: nothing. Savings potential: about $24 a year, if the temperature is dropped 10 degrees F and operates at the lowest allowable temperature for normal operating usage.

  • Install LED exit signs. Cost: about $70 to retrofit. Savings potential: about $24 a year per sign.

  • Set back your thermostats at night and on weekends. Cost: none. Savings potential: nearly $1,800 a year for a 33,000-sq.ft. office building, if the thermostat was set at 75 degrees F, 24 hours a day during the heating months.

    To join and receive all the benefits of Energy Star Small Business, call (888) STAT-YES or visit www.epa.gov/smallbiz Terri White is an environmental protection specialist for Region 3 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.