Reducing Energy Costs in Commercial Buildings

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering and the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation released a study July 22 that concluded that “as cities grapple with climate change, making commercial buildings more efficient is a key part of the solution.”

The study highlighted that the “building sector in the U.S accounts for 39 percent of energy use, with commercial buildings responsible for about half of that.”

All told, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2020 the combined end-use energy consumption by the residential and commercial sectors was about 20 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu).

Types of Energy Used in Commercial Buildings

Commercial buildings, including offices, hospitals, schools, warehouses, hotels, shopping malls and other types, have unique energy needs but the EIA estimates that space heating accounts for about 25 percent of the total energy use in commercial buildings.

The EIA took a deep dive on the subject in 2012 and found the following highlights:

  • Office equipment, including computers, has contributed to the increase in electricity consumption since 1979.
  • Lighting is the largest single use of electricity in commercial buildings, consuming 17 percent.
  • Commercial buildings in the South Region have the most floorspace and use more energy than other regions.
  • Large commercial buildings use the most energy with buildings larger than 200,000-square feet making up less than 1 percent of commercial buildings, but they accounted for 26 percent of total commercial building energy consumption.

Ways to Reduce Energy Costs in Commercial Buildings

Young man holding a light at his hands against polluted and ruined landscapeThe Department of Energy says that the “potential to reduce energy consumption in existing and new commercial buildings is enormous.”

In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that on average 30 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings is wasted.

Here are some methods to reduce energy costs in commercial buildings:

  • Energy Audit: An Energy Audit can be the first step to identifying opportunities to reduce energy consumption and expense. An Energy Audit is an in-depth look at your commercial building that determines:

o   Where and how energy is being lost.

o   Which systems are operating inefficiently?

o   What kind of cost-effective measures can be put in place to make your building more comfortable and energy efficient?

Some cities, such as New York City require buildings of a certain size to undergo an Energy Audit every decade by a certified auditor.

  • Energy Benchmark: Sometimes an Energy Benchmark will go together with an Energy Audit. Energy Benchmarking measures and compares your commercial building’s energy use to similar buildings, past consumption, or other reference levels. says that “benchmarking turns the information on your utility bill into knowledge you can act on.”

  • Energy “Treasure Hunt”: For those that do not have the time or resources to do an Energy Audit or Benchmarking, an Energy “Treasure Hunt” can be a quick way to identify potential energy savings. says that “the first step to saving energy in your building is to start by looking. During an Energy Treasure Hunt, teams walk around a facility looking for quick ways to save energy. Those quick fixes can add up to big savings. Hundreds of organizations have used Energy Treasure Hunts to reduce their facilities’ energy use by 15 percent or more.”

  • Upgraded Lighting: With lighting being the top user of electricity in U.S. commercial buildings, swamping older lighting for more energy-efficient types can produce substantial savings. says that “If your building relies on inefficient lighting, such as incandescent, halogen, HID, or T12 fluorescent, you’re missing out on significant savings. Updating your lighting can be a great first step when it comes to making your building an efficient one.”

  • Operations and Maintenance Best Practices: Integrating energy efficiency into your facility’s operations and maintenance (O&M) program can reduce energy use without significant capital investment. O&M strategies that “tune it up, turn it off, and check it out” can:

o   Reduce operating costs

o   Reduce the risk of early equipment failure and unscheduled down time

o   Increase a facility’s net operating income

o   Maintain comfort, leading to fewer “hot and cold” complaints

  • Add Insulation: Adding or replacing older insulation in a commercial building can lower energy bills while making the building more comfortable. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, Stetson University saved over $15K a month on energy bills by installing 30 percent more insulation than required by local building codes.

Many commercial buildings take advantage of insulated metal panels (IMPs) which have a nominal R-value of R-8 per inch and suffer little to no long-term R-value over time as the insulation is encapsulated between two metal skins.

  • Upgrade HVAC and Ducts: says that up to 60 percent of your heated air is lost before it reaches the register if ducts are not insulated properly. also estimates that energy use for heating and cooling can be slashed from 20 to 50 percent by “combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, air sealing, and thermostat settings.”

Contact Green Span Profiles today to find out how insulated metal panels can play a big role in making your commercial building energy efficient.

Topics: Energy