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9 Simple (and Cheap) Energy-Saving Office Tips

Jul 10, 2012

It's possible to cut energy expenses in the workplace without investing capital or alienating employees. Consider these simple, cost-effective energy-reduction tips - your budget will thank you.

While there's seldom a shortage of home energy-saving tips, the same can't be said for saving energy in the office. Some employees may be green-minded, but others may not. Regardless of the type of employees at your firm, cutting down on energy bills is always a wise decision.

A lot of green office tips are simply common sense: Make sure computer monitors are off when they're not needed; shut down photocopiers at night; make sure computers are set to power saving mode; and set up recycling bins around the office. Chances are, you've done all this already, either because of state laws or simply to cut expenses. There are some less obvious tips, however, that can also yield significant benefits.

Determine the peak electric hours in your city. There are usually two peaks for electric rates: one in the morning from around 7 A.M. to 9 A.M., and one in the afternoon and early evening from about 3 P.M. until 7 or 8 P.M. Peak hours vary in different cities. Try to schedule heavy electric use - large copy or print jobs, for instance, or major IT maintenance projects - outside of these peak hours.

Don't overdo air conditioning. Everyone who has ever worked in an office is familiar with the great summertime freeze-out: a day when the air conditioning is set so cold that people are putting on sweaters and complaining their fingers are too frozen to type. If your employees are dressing up like workers at Antarctica's McMurdo Base, you've got air conditioning overload. Consider setting the air conditioning lower during off-peak electric hours and raising the internal temperature after about 3 P.M. If the building is well sealed, the cool air will linger and the office will remain comfortable. Shut the AC off during the weekends and at night, and use a programmable thermostat to lower the temperature early in the morning so it's comfortable when employees arrive.

Only chill what you need to chill. While most IT rooms need to be kept cold to prevent servers from overheating, many companies are guilty of cooling far more than they need to. Yes, your servers need to be kept very cool, but your file cabinets, office furniture, monitors, boxes of paperwork and stacks of old catalogs don't need to be chilled. Consider putting the servers into as small a cold room as possible, which will allow you to reduce the AC bill significantly.

Shop around for electric rates. If you live in a state with a deregulated energy market (electric, natural gas or both), you can look for better rates through a utility co-op, and you might be able to save significant cash on electric bills, particularly if you work through the co-op to better understand your energy use, peak versus off-peak energy and how a smart meter can help you save. To determine the status of energy deregulation in your state, click here.

Turn up the shade on "hot" windows. In any building, there's always that one office or conference room that faces south and roasts occupants in the summertime. Installing venetian blinds or window-darkening film can block the sun, control the temperature in the room and eliminate the need to run the AC on overdrive to compensate for the heat. Consider using temporary fixes so you can use the sun's warmth to help heat these rooms in the winter.

Blow some insulation into the walls. You do it at home when you want to slash your bills, so consider doing it at the office, too. You can also wrap hot water pipes and switch to a tankless water heater, which is about 10 percent to 30 percent more energy-efficient than a hot water storage tank.

Unplug everything. It's a little known fact that when appliances are switched off but still plugged in, they continue to draw electricity. These "vampire electronics" include coffee machines, water coolers, adding machines, computers and monitors that have been shut off, wireless device chargers, desk lamps, LED display boards and many others. Unplugging them is a simple fix that can save real money with little effort. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, about 40 percent of the electricity used to power home and office electronics is consumed when they're in standby mode.

Switch to laptops. Laptop computers use considerably less power than desktop computers, take up less space, create less heat (requiring less power to cool them) and allow employees to be more mobile. The average laptop uses a maximum of 15 watts, while a typical desktop computer and monitor system uses about 130 watts. And if you're still using old-fashioned CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors instead of flat LCD (liquid crystal display) monitors, try to get rid of them as they cost 80 percent to 90 percent more to power.

Ditch the office. Consider choosing one or more days a week to allow your employees to work from home, and keep the office as dark as possible. (Obviously, you can't shut down your email or application servers if you host those functions on-site, but nearly everything else is fair game.) With the right Web-based technologies and unified communication system, business will carry on as usual, your employees will be delighted with the lack of a commute and your energy savings will be significant.

Combining energy-saving activities like these can lead to significant savings: not simply a paltry 2 or 3 percent difference, but a noticeable gain that can mean real cash retention. The best part is that these steps can be accomplished with almost no capital and little grumbling from employees.