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Reopening your office? Keep energy efficiency in mind

Saving energy is a strategy that should be considered as offices seek out cost reductions.

Offices across Ontario are preparing to reopen their doors safely. While employee and customer health are the most important considerations for office reopenings, keeping costs under control will also be a priority. 

When it comes to reducing costs, energy efficiency can help. Here’s what offices should keep in mind for their reopening plans.

Consider your lighting needs

With many offices operating for fewer hours or with lower occupancy, reducing lighting needs may help curb energy costs. Occupancy sensors in boardrooms, lunch areas and washrooms mean that if these rooms aren’t in use, or if people forget to turn off lighting, you can still save energy.

De-lamping is another easy way to reduce energy use. This simply means removing lighting where it’s no longer necessary. As lighting is also critical for employee productivity and safety, remember to be strategic in how you de-lamp.

Upgrade to energy-efficient LED lighting if you haven’t already. LEDs use significantly less energy and last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. You’ll save on both immediate energy costs and on long-term maintenance costs. LED lights also offer more flexibility in design, lighting colour and lighting levels, which can help with employee comfort and productivity.

Look for other opportunities beyond overhead lighting, including outdoor lighting and signage. ENERGY STAR certified LED exit signs, for example, can last up to 10 years.

With Save on Energy incentives, small businesses can receive a free on-site assessment and $2,000 for energy-efficient lighting upgrades – making this a simple way to improve your business and reduce costs – while protecting your bottom line. If you are considering other energy-efficiency upgrades for your business, you may be eligible for additional incentives through the Retrofit program.

Communicate early and often

If your business is open for reduced hours, or even staying closed on certain days, having clear protocols in place for shut-down procedures is helpful. Remind employees to fully power down their computers, and to unplug their technical devices and turn off their power bars. If you have an office kitchen, also be sure to unplug appliances there. Sending a simple reminder email at the end of the day, posting signage, or even assigning different employees to walk around and turn off devices can go a long way in saving energy.

You should also look closely at your current needs. If more employees are working from home or you’re operating for fewer hours each day, you may not need the same amount of technology or equipment as you did before. Unplugging or removing unused equipment can help keep your energy costs in check.

Automate ventilation where possible

Indoor air quality is always critical, and it’s particularly top of mind now. Organizations such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and BOMA Canada (which represents commercial building operators) are updating their guidance on ventilation and energy management regularly, so visit their websites to learn about their latest recommendations.

Natural Resources Canada has developed a self-evaluation tool and guide for efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that will provide feedback on the impact of your HVAC strategies during and after the pandemic. It highlights key areas and best practices for efficient HVAC operation during these times and will help your operations team respond with greater confidence.

Talk to a certified contractor, your building manager or landlord about your space’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, the kinds of filters it uses and whether there are opportunities to improve ventilation based on current best practices.

Existing building commissioning, or recommissioning, is one way to achieve new operational requirements and reduce energy. Commissioning an existing building means ensuring building operations, such as HVAC and lighting systems, are correctly installed and optimized for energy efficiency and comfort. This can not only reduce peak energy demand and generate ongoing energy savings, but in some cases can even improve property value. 

If you have a building automation system, this may present another opportunity to meet standards for occupant safety and comfort, as well as save energy. Many building management systems have different modes for their HVAC settings, such as fire safety modes that cut off oxygen to prevent flames from spreading. You may be able to create a mode that meets pandemic-related requirements. For example, a new setting could allow for increased fresh, outdoor air during times when occupancy is higher, but not when the space is empty, which may save energy.

Find future cost-savings opportunities

With health and safety requirements and day-to-day business operations in hand, you can turn your attention to other ways to reduce costs moving forward. Having a dedicated energy manager can help you discover new opportunities. The Energy Manager Program provides large businesses with incentives to hire an energy manager who can identify savings they didn't know existed.

Despite some uncertainty, Ontario’s businesses are opening again. As you get back to work, and take the steps needed to protect your employees and customers, remember that energy efficiency can also help protect your bottom line.