Key Points

  • Leaky ducts, failed steam traps and poorly-tuned controls can increase heating and cooling loads.
  • Phantom load and personal appliances waste electricity and reduce overall energy efficiency.
  • With a little investigation, you’ll likely discover these and other hidden sources of energy waste.

When it comes to improving energy efficiency, it’s natural to look first at lighting upgrades or some other system-level project. Unfortunately, this focus on the big fix can leave you in the dark about less noticeable, but equally important cost-saving opportunities. With a little detective work, you can uncover these often hidden sources of energy waste. Keep an eye out for the following:

Leaky ducts. Duct system leaks can spill over on to your energy bills in higher heating and cooling costs. While some leaks are easy to locate, testing systems help to identify the extent of system leakage. Those within reach can be fixed with mastic tape while large-scale leakage can be tightened using an aerosol sealant. This technology works by blowing tiny particles through the duct system where they adhere to leaks and form a seal.

Poor tuning. Building controls are designed to save energy. If they are out of tune, however, they can actually increase heating and cooling costs and reduce comfort. Inspect and adjust building controls regularly to account for operational and seasonal variations, and to ensure that sensors and controls are properly calibrated. Well-tuned controls can save up to 30 percent on heating and cooling costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Phantom load. Many electronic devices, such as office equipment and vending machines, use energy 24/7, even when no one’s around. Don’t let your facility be haunted by this kind of energy waste. Use power management settings on computers. Plug devices into smart power strips that automatically shut off power when they are not in use. Install occupancy sensors on vending machines; they turn on lights and the compressor only when someone is present.

Failed steam traps. Steam traps are valves located on your steam distribution lines. In systems that are not regularly maintained, up to 30 percent of steam traps may have failed, wasting energy by allowing live steam to escape. That wasted steam won’t fail to show up on your energy bills. A steam trap inspection and replacement program can significantly reduce your operating costs and pay for itself quickly.

Personal appliances. They may be small in size, but space heaters, fans and mini fridges are not very efficient, and they are difficult to control. How much do these devices cost you? One 1,500 watt space heater operating at 500 hours a year will cost you about $75 at an average kWh rate of 10 cents. A lot of these little appliances can take a big chunk out of your energy budget. To limit their use, maintain building temperatures in a comfortable range of 68°F to 78°F and make food-related appliances readily available in a common area.


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