Andrew Smyser

You Are Efficient, Now What?

Andrew Smyser |

The Dominion Non-residential Energy Assessment Program provides the opportunity for businesses to learn what steps to take in order to reduce their energy use and save money. Unfortunately, some businesses do not qualify for this program. So where does that leave a business? I had the opportunity to speak with one of these building owners recently and was impressed with the steps that had been taken. I was happy to provide guidance on next steps including more advanced technologies and savings opportunities.

This 40,000 sq. ft. facility had upgraded their lighting to a combination of more efficient fluorescent tube lights and LEDs several years ago. The construction of the building provides good insulation properties and the HVAC system is being maintained and managed to reduce wasted energy while providing comfort to the employees. Since the business owner had proactively tackled the traditional “low hanging fruit” of energy efficiency, he did not know what else he could do. In most cases, an energy assessment would be the first step, but in some instances, like this one, the cost of the assessment may not be recovered from the savings that are found. Now what? In this instance, more advanced options are still available and with efficient buildings, electrical generation becomes a reasonable next step.


Replacing larger components of the build - particularly old windows - may be an investment that's time has come. In this case however, the windows are older but not awful, and replacement quotes caused sticker shock, but there is another option. Window films have made great advances over the years and are now able to provide significant insulation and reduce heat gain from the sun, while also providing UV protection to prevent fading and discoloration of materials inside. At a fraction of the cost of new windows, this building could gain additional insulation to help heat loss in the winter, and reflective coatings can reduce heat gain and air conditioning use in the summer.


HVAC equipment uses a large amount of energy. Proper maintenance and managing temperature set points is the first step for energy savings. The next step may be to consider a more advanced control system. High-rise office towers and giant facilities have very advanced control systems with costs that can run to the million dollar range. For more modest-sized buildings like this 40,000 sq. ft. example, an internet-based thermostat will provide savings and control at a more reasonable price point, beyond just a traditional programmable thermostat (which is basically a timer that can set the temperature). Internet thermostats allow both greater control and effective feedback regarding how the equipment is running. The controls can be accessed through computers and even smart phones so changes can be made as needed. Another bonus is that information regarding the efficiency of the equipment and mechanical problems can be sent automatically so they can be dealt with before expensive emergency service calls are needed.


So now your building is energy efficient but you are looking for more savings. Solar photovoltaic is a good option; yes, even in Ohio. The continued decline in costs and increases in efficiency has made solar panels cost effective for most buildings. This particular building is occupied during the day, has a large flat roof and no obstructions (like trees or other buildings) blocking the way. So it is a good candidate for rooftop solar to generate 60-80% of its annual electric need. Thanks to a variety of financing options, projects like this can be cash flow positive from day one.

Most of the buildings we see in the Dominion Non-Residential Energy Assessment Program have projects that can save energy: from the low cost/no cost opportunities that are primarily behavioral, to projects involving lighting, HVAC equipment, or the building envelope. Even buildings where the owner has previously addressed energy saving projects, is knowledgeable in this area, and motivated to be energy efficient may still be missing out on opportunities. Every building and company is different and having an energy assessment or a conversation about how the structure is operated and used may provide the necessary information to get your building to that next level of energy savings. Dominion Northeast Ohio customers under 25,000 sq. ft. can get a full assessment paid for by Dominion, which is a good idea even if you think you are efficient. If you do not fit into that category, a full energy assessment to provide guidance, project cost and savings estimates may still be a cost effective means of reducing your energy bills and more than pay for the assessment. It might be that you just need to talk with a trusted energy advisor to determine where the hidden savings can be found. You’ll never know until you call.