Heating a building in cold weather can quickly become expensive. Taking steps to winterize your building can help save energy (and money) during the colder months. Some winterization projects are simple and can be done quickly, without much planning ahead, while other projects involve significant renovations or capital improvements and require more planning. These five energy-saving tips for businesses run the gamut from afternoon DIY projects to serious capital investments.
First, let's look at some "quick fix" energy-saving projects. These are simple and relatively inexpensive things that business owners can do to help cut down on winter energy bills. They're the kind of projects that you might do at home to save on heating, but they can also be worthwhile in commercial buildings.
1. Air Seal the Building
Making your building more airtight can help lower your energy costs.
- Install door sweeps and weatherstripping to close up the gaps beneath doors. Use adhesive-backed gasketing or foam tape to close the gaps in window frames and door frames. Learn about types of weatherstripping.
- Install plastic sheet window insulation over older windows. Curtains and drapes can also help reduce heat loss through windows when closed at night.
- Use caulk to close up small air leaks (less than a quarter inch) in the building exterior.
- Use spray insulation (also called cured spray foam) to seal larger air leaks in building cavities. According to trainings created by the U.S. Department of Energy, spray insulation should not be left exposed in living areas because of its fire rating.
Some air leaks will be obvious, especially in older buildings. To find less obvious leaks, professional energy auditors often conduct a blower door test. This process involves mounting a special fan on an exterior door and using it to lower the air pressure in the building, then observing the outside air that enters through unsealed holes and cracks.
2. Subdivide Large Spaces
Another basic way to save on heating is simply to heat less space. Use curtain walls to subdivide large, drafty areas in warehouses or large workshops, creating smaller areas that can be heated rapidly and evenly. Curtain walls are removable and can be repositioned, adapting to your space in all seasons.
3. Install a Smart Thermostat
With the right kind of thermostat, you can make sure you're heating only when it's really necessary. Basic programmable thermostats allow you to bring the building up to comfortable working temperatures on business days while keeping it cooler during the night and on days when the facility is closed. More advanced WiFi or smart thermostats can automatically factor temperature, weather and your preferences into choosing the right time to turn on the heat. These devices can automatically learn about your climate and preferences to control heating, and they fit wherever existing thermostats are installed. Many advanced thermostats can also work with occupancy sensors, helping to make sure you're not heating empty rooms.
4. Plan for Future Energy Savings with Bigger Projects
If you're planning renovations or other capital improvements to your building, it's worth thinking about whether you can incorporate any significant energy-saving projects into those plans. These are not quick fixes, but they can be worth doing as part of larger projects:
- Sealing gaps or breaks in ductwork can help it deliver heat more efficiently. You can seal ducts with foil tape or mastic, and you can insulate them to retain even more heat.
- Replacing windows is a straightforward but very effective solution for insulating and saving on heating. Old, inefficient windows leak heat and are often plagued by gaps and broken seals. New windows also can include features that help heat retention for colder climates. Windows with a gas fill (typically krypton or argon) minimize the heat transfer between the inside and outside of the window. Low-e coatings reduce amount of heat that the windows transfer, but some also reduce the amount of light that the window admits. Spectrally selective glazings or coatings are special low-e coatings that reduce heat transfer while permitting as much light as possible.
- Installing a high volume, low speed (HVLS) fan can support HVAC efficiency year-round. HVLS fans have large blades that rotate slowly and circulate the air throughout a room. Without proper circulation, hot air rises and tends to get trapped near the ceiling. This problem can be especially notable in high-ceilinged workshops or warehouses. HVLS fans help distribute that heat more evenly.
- Replacing insulation can be effective in some buildings. Insulation can degrade over time. It may also be attacked by pests—and in some cases it may have been installed improperly in the first place.
- Installing a heat-recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy-recovery ventilator (ERV) can reduce heating costs in winter and cooling costs in summer. HRVs and ERVs bring outdoor air into a building, but unlike traditional ventilations systems, they include a heat exchanger. In the winter, this allows the heated exhaust air to transfer some of its warmth to the incoming outdoor air. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, ERVs and HRVs are most effective in climates with extreme winters or summers, and most ERVs and HRVs can recover 70% to 80% of the energy in the exhaust air.
5. Get Help with an Energy Audit
There are many choices and factors to consider when looking for ways to cut energy costs in your building, whether you're thinking of inexpensive solutions or significant capital improvements. Businesses often turn to outside specialists for help. Energy services companies, consulting firms and engineering firms can conduct energy audits to help guide your decision making and to document the results of your energy-saving efforts.
In an energy audit, investigators look at utility data, inspect the physical building to benchmark its energy use against similar buildings' and develop recommendations for improving energy efficiency. Energy audits can be targeted to heating systems used in the winter months, but they typically take a "whole building" approach and that also considers lighting and other building systems, as well as operations and maintenance procedures.
There are three levels of energy audit defined by building trade group ASHRAE:
- Level 1: Walkthrough Survey
- Level 2: Energy Survey and Analysis
- Level 3: Detailed Analysis of Capital-Intensive Modifications
Each level builds on the one before, becoming more comprehensive and more costly. Level 1 and level 2 energy audits are typically focused on uncovering no-cost and low-cost opportunities for energy savings. The level 3 energy audit is sometimes called an "investment grade" audit because it's often used to guide significant capital investments.
According to "A Guide to Energy Audits" published by the U.S. Department of Energy:
- Even smaller facilities that have little planning or budget for capital improvement may find that level 1 audits are worthwhile.
- Larger facilities that have never been audited are more likely to benefit from level 2 or level 3 energy audits because their potential savings are greater.
Full details of the audit levels are given by ASHRAE standard 211-2018.
The Grainger Energy Services team can help plan an energy audit for your facility.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What kind of weatherstripping is best?
A: When choosing weatherstripping, think about how heavily the doors and windows are used, and consider more durable materials for more highly trafficked areas. According to the U.S. Department of Energy's weatherstripping guide, tapes backed with foam or EDPM rubber are inexpensive but not especially durable, making them suited to places where less wear is expected. Vinyl is typically a little more expensive, but also more durable. Also, remember when installing weatherstripping that the point is to create a tighter seal around the moving pieces of a building that open it to the environment—but these doors and windows should still be able to move easily. Read more about types of weatherstripping.
Q: What's the difference between one-part and two-part spray foam insulation?
A: One-part spray insulation comes in cans that dispense that material either via a straw or "gun" applicator. One-part foam is good for sealing small holes, but isn't cost-effective for large jobs. It can also need a long time to set, and it doesn't adhere well to ceilings or overhead surfaces. Two-part spray insulation comes in two-tank kits and can also be installed from truck-mounted rigs. Two-part spray foam adheres better, takes less time to set and is quick to apply. However, it can be expensive, and it requires specialized personal protective equipment (PPE) to dispense. Also, many two-part foams are best dispensed at warmer temperatures (above 75° F).
Q: What's the best way to apply spray foam from a can?
A: One-part spray foam insulation cures by drawing moisture from the air, so some manufacturers recommend spraying a mist of water into the area being sealed or onto the uncured foam after it's applied. Misting can help one-part foam cure properly (and more quickly), especially if you're working in dry conditions. When filling a larger space, try applying spray foam in layers, lightly misting between each layer.
Q: What parts of a building should be inspected for air leaks?
A: Look on the outside of the building wherever two different materials meet. Look at beam pockets, soffits, places where pipes, electrical conduits or other penetrants pass through the wall, and the areas where the roof meets the wall. Look at windows and doors. Look at electrical boxes and control panels. Keep in mind that visual inspection is unlikely to find all leaks. To most effectively air seal a building, consider an energy audit that includes a blower door test that depressurizes the interior space.
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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.