If you are a Las Vegas business owner, your commercial HVAC system probably consumes more energy than any other equipment on the premises. ENERGY STAR has stated that after lighting, air conditioning uses the most electricity in commercial buildings, accounting for 15% of your monthly bill.
When you’re spending that much money to keep the premises comfortable for employees and customers, the last thing you want to hear is that you may be wasting energy in the process. However, the U.S. Department of Energy has found that the average commercial building wastes 30% of the energy it consumes!
Sometimes the waste source is obvious, like a window or exterior door left often. Others, such as ductwork leaks, can be more difficult to spot. Fortunately, there are DIY steps you can take to improve the effectiveness of your commercial HVAC system. In this blog, we present an in-depth overview of eight of them.
1. Open all vents
When you’re spending a lot on heating and cooling, you may be tempted to save money by closing the vents in rooms that you seldom use, such as unoccupied offices, stockrooms, and utility closets. Sometimes vents are blocked unintentionally: over time, furniture and stacked materials like books and paper can create an obstruction and interfere with the surrounding airflow.
The problem is that your HVAC system will still attempt to cool the entire building, and it takes up to 25% more energy to distribute air if your vents are blocked. For maximum efficiency, leave the vents open until you can talk to your HVAC contractor about a zoning system.
With multi-zone temperature controls, your building is divided into separate climate control areas. Each zone has its own thermostat, allowing you to apply a higher temperature setting to unused spaces. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, zoning your heating and cooling system can save you up to 30% on your HVAC costs.
2. Invest in a smart thermostat
Your heating and cooling needs can change according to the time of day. In Las Vegas, the hottest time of the day is typically 3:00 p.m. because the sun is highest in the sky at noon and the heat continues to build up afterward.
If you keep adjusting the thermostat as outdoor temperatures rise and fall, your HVAC system won’t operate efficiently, but leaving it at the same temperature all day wastes energy. If you invest in a smart thermostat and program it to apply cooler air during specified hours, you’ll save energy while minimizing stress on the system.
Try to strike a comfortable balance between the outside temperatures and your indoor climate. When it’s hot out, setting your HVAC system at 72°F will consume an estimated 39% more energy than setting it at 78°F.
To ensure accurate results, keep lamps, printers, computers, and other heat-producing fixtures and equipment away from your thermostat. They can make the air around the device too warm and cause the system to work longer and harder than it really needs to.
3. Banish the sun!
Few things are more uplifting than a bright and sunny morning. While it’s tempting to open the curtains or blinds in the office to brighten the space and take advantage of the natural light, doing so will raise indoor temperatures and cause your commercial HVAC system to work overtime.
To improve the effectiveness of your A/C unit, close all curtains and blinds on windows that face the south and west during the day. In Las Vegas, it may be worth it to invest in a solar screen, which can lower cooling costs by deflecting solar heat. These screens also block up to 99% of the UV rays that can damage merchandise, cause office furniture to crack or fade, and create a distracting glare on computer screens.
4. ‘Close up’ the building
If hot or cold air infiltrates your building, your heating and cooling system will go into overdrive trying to keep your store or office at the right temperature. To prevent this from happening, take the following measures:
- Keep exterior doors and windows closed whenever the HVAC is running.
- Confirm that your wall and ceiling insulation are in good shape. If it isn’t, arrange for a replacement.
- Direct the employees in your shipping and receiving area to keep the bay doors closed whenever a truck is not backed up to the loading dock. Investing in an inflatable dock shelter, which closes tightly around incoming trucks to reduce exposure to outside temperatures, may be worth it if you ship or receive a lot of merchandise or supplies.
If you find that you’re still experiencing temperature issues, check for air leaks. Unless your building was constructed within the last few years or renovated for maximum HVAC efficiency, you may find issues that need attention, such as leaks in the following areas:
- Utility pipes and uninsulated ducts
- Seams where the roof and walls intersect
Some cracks are difficult to see, but you can use a thermal imaging camera to visualize infrared heat waves and detect where your commercial space is experiencing air loss. Sealing these leaks can reduce your HVAC costs by up to 37%.
5. Change the air filter
Clogged air filters are a common cause of HVAC effectiveness issues. Your filter keeps dust and other airborne contaminants from collecting inside the system and damaging parts. It also traps pollutants before they can recirculate through the building’s air supply. Over time, the filter becomes clogged due to accumulated dust, causing your equipment to run longer and consume more energy.
To preserve system condition and performance, change the air filter at least every three months. During the summer months, monthly filter replacement can ensure optimal efficiency, but if you notice indoor air quality problems like the following, contact your HVAC technician.
- Stale air
- Excessive dust
- High humidity
A heating and cooling professional will inspect your system and recommend measures that will resolve your air quality issues and improve your commercial HVAC performance.
6. Reduce your load capacity
Load refers to the amount of temperature control your building requires while capacity is the amount of heating or cooling that your HVAC system is capable of providing. The lower the load, the less you will pay in energy costs.
You can reduce load capacity by ‘closing up’ your building. (See Tip #4.) If energy usage remains unusually high, look for elements that may be causing your system to work too hard. For example, incandescent bulbs are known to elevate load capacity because they:
- Use a lot more energy per kilowatt-hour than other bulbs
- Emit up to 90% of their energy as heat instead of light
Switching over to LED bulbs will reduce your building’s load because they are more energy-efficient and don’t emit enough heat to make a difference in HVAC operation.
Another source of unwanted heat emission is office equipment. When CPUs, printers, and other devices work hard, they throw off excess heat. If possible, consolidate standalone equipment like high-speed printers and use networking to attain a ratio of one device per 10 or more users. In addition to lowering your HVAC and energy costs, this approach will save money in equipment consumables (e.g. toner and paper) and maintenance.
7. Educate your employees on energy-efficiency
You can’t be on the premises 24-7, so educate your employees about how their activities affect HVAC system performance. If you own a larger company with multiple departments, ensure that representatives from each division understand the importance of energy conservation and are trained in basic energy-saving practices. If you have a smaller workforce, hold regular staff meetings on energy use in the building and how they can make a positive difference.
Other tips include:
- Creating an energy patrol to monitor conditions that could affect your HVAC system, such as doors leading outside being propped open, blinds left open on a sunny day, or vents blocked by desks and equipment.
- Rewarding everyone when their new habits and behaviors reduce HVAC costs. You could throw a midsummer ‘ice cream social’ to celebrate in spring and summer and a pizza lunch for conserving costs during the fall and winter.
8. Create a planned maintenance schedule
You tune up your car to keep it in top performance condition. Regular maintenance does the same thing for your commercial HVAC system: it ensures that aging components, blocked ducts, or faulty performance are not causing your energy bills to go up. It can also extend the working life of the unit and reduce service costs by up to 40%. Routine HVAC commercial maintenance steps include:
- Lubricating all moving parts to prevent friction.
- Checking the air conditioner’s refrigerant level.
- Cleaning the evaporator and condenser coils. When dirt and grime accumulate on the coils, it prevents heat transfer. Cleaning them helps restore the system to proper levels of efficiency.
- Adjusting pressure and repairing any detected leaks in compressed air systems.
- Changing the blower belts if needed.
- Replacing damaged or missing insulation
Your local HVAC technician will provide the expertise, quality work, and honest advice that are crucial to keeping your system and equipment in good shape.
Keeping your commercial HVAC unit running efficiently will ensure that it remains in top working condition when you need it most. Sometimes, however, the best way to improve effectiveness is to upgrade or replace your system: When you use equipment beyond its recommended lifespan, it can lead to excessive energy and maintenance costs.
If your heating and cooling system is over 10 years old, consider replacing it with ENERGY STAR-certified equipment, which is more sustainable and can reduce your monthly energy bill by up to 20%. Additional benefits to newer systems include:
- Higher SEER ratings, which indicate greater efficiency. In Las Vegas, the minimum SEER rating is 14, but some HVAC systems have a rating of 21 or 22. The higher the rating, the more efficient the unit.
- Variable refrigerant flow (VRF) technology that automatically moves the refrigerant from one area of a building to another in order to transfer heat to where it is needed and away from where it is not. These systems can deliver significant energy savings.
- Better indoor air quality due to special features that filter dust, pet dander, and other allergens. This capability is especially beneficial if you or any of your employees suffer from asthma or allergies.
Business owners who want to improve the effectiveness of their commercial HVAC system while reducing operating costs and supporting environmental sustainability should consider the eight DIY tips listed in this blog.
Although simple, they’re effective and can offer an excellent return on investment.
When combined with scheduled visits from your local HVAC contractor, these proactive measures will keep your employees comfortable year-round and make a positive difference in your company’s bottom line.