There are three basic elements of your business’s energy use:

  • The building itself.
  • The systems and appliances inside the building that draw power.
  • The people who use the space.

You can (and should!) take charge of your energy use by addressing inefficiencies in each of these areas.  For the purpose of this site, we’re focusing primarily on the Building Envelope and Systems.

If it ain’t broke…
The proof is in the pudding
Recycling & Proper Disposal
Before you buy

…don’t fix it, right?

Not necessarily. Sometimes it actually makes more sense to upgrade or replace items that are still in good working order.

This may seem counter-intuitive and downright wasteful! But in evaluating whether and when to replace older building systems – from boilers to signage – it’s critical to consider the cost of an item’s operation over the course of its lifetime (in terms of energy consumption and maintenance).

In other words: Even if your decades old refrigerator still does its job, it probably uses a lot of power. A new model might (literally) use 1/3 as much energy. This means that replacing your old appliance with a new, energy efficient one will significantly reduce your operating expenses, and will – from an environmental perspective – better conserve natural resources.

Finally, you might also upgrade your equipment simply because the current, high efficiency products are just that much better – in terms of convenience and appearance.

When it comes to energy efficient products, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Comparing the energy use of a conventional light bulb with an LED over time makes the case for replacing energy inefficient items now, rather than later.

Let’s compare these common bulbs:

60 W Incandescent 9.5 W LED
Price/bulb $1.50 $5.00
Cost to operate for 25,000 hours ($.17/kW) $255 $40.38
Total cost to buy and operate for 25,000 hours $256.50 $45.38
Lifespan (hours) 1,000 (assuming 8 hrs of use/day, 1 bulb will last = 125 days of use with an 8 hr day) 25,000 (= 8.6 years of use at 8 hours/day)
Assuming 8 hours of use/day, how long will the bulb last? 125 days 8.6 years
How many times will you change this bulb in an 8 year period? 23 times 0 times
CO2 emissions from 25,000 hours of use 1.1  metric tons

(equal to 1,100 pounds of coal being burned)

.17 metric tons

(equal to 178 pounds of coal being burned)

The energy savings of other efficiency upgrades – like those affected by weather – are harder to predict. But with numbers like these, “You’d have to be brain dead” not to upgrade your lighting, right?

Recycling and properly disposing of old, inefficient products and appliances isn’t just environmentally-responsible, it’s the law.

  • CFL bulbs contain mercury, while refrigerators and freezers contain coolants and oils that can leach into soil and groundwater if put in landfills.
  • Many appliances and electronics contain are made of recyclable plastic and metals.

Find your local options

  • Check with your utility, which may pick up old equipment and offer rebates when you replace it with ENERGY STAR-certified products.
  • Your waste disposal service may have special drop-off locations or pick up days for appliances or hazardous items.
  • Some hardware stores accept spent batteries and CFLs.
  • Search for programs by appliance and location on the ENERGY STAR recycling page.

Especially for Do-It-Yourself-ers and non-experts, choosing ENERGY STAR-certified products is the simplest way to make sure you’re putting the most efficient systems in place.

You’ll find the aqua ENERGY STAR label on everything from copy machines and refrigerators to boilers and roofing materials.  ENERGY STAR-certified products deliver energy savings without compromising functionality.  (Note that this is different from the yellow EnergyGuide label. The ENERGY STAR label certifies high efficiency performance, while the EnergyGuide label simply tells you how much energy the product uses.)

ENERGY STAR is also full of resources for small businesses, including information about products, tax credits, energy tracking and more.

ENERGY STAR Building Certification

 It’s not just appliances that can be ENERGY STAR-certified – high performing commercial and industrial buildings can, too!

Measuring your building’s performance not only helps you track and quantify your energy savings, it can also mean a feather in your business’s cap.  Displaying your ENERGY STAR building decal or plaque is a great way to let your customers and staff know that your business is doing its part to be a good steward of the environment.

In accordance with Michigan’s energy laws, your utility is required to provide rebates on some energy efficient products.  These incentives vary from year to year and potentially from utility to utility.

To access rebate information, visit the Efficiency United website. In the “Commercial & Industrial” section of the home page, select your utility from the pull-down menu.  Then choose “Commercial & Industrial Programs.”


Air Sealing

Air leakage through your building’s envelope – exterior walls, windows, doors, and basement – wastes a lot of energy and increases your utility costs. A well-sealed envelope, coupled with the right amount of insulation, can make a real difference, not only on your business’ utility bills, but on creating a comfortable environment for your customers and staff.

Simple D-I-Y fixes include installing weather stripping and door sweeps on doors and caulking around windows, while bigger jobs might include sealing leaks and adding insulation.


Feeling a draft?  Seeing condensation on your window panes?  These are signs that heat is escaping through your windows and/or that they not well-sealed.

Making your windows more efficient can make your space much more comfortable in any weather.  This is one upgrade your customers and staff will definitely thank you for!

You can improve the efficiency of your existing windows by:

  • adding exterior storm windows.
  • caulking around the window frame.
  • using rope caulk and weather-stripping to seal cracks along the side jambs and interior sash.
  • covering the window from the inside with plastic.
  • using window treatments like insulated curtains.
  • making sure your windows are closed when the HVAC is running.

When it’s clear that your building needs new windows, note that:

  • ENERGY STAR qualified double- or triple-paned glass windows contain an insulating gas than can save your business 7-15% on energy bills.
  • Windows with tints, heat reflective coatings, or laminates will reduce heat gain.

Windows with low-e coatings help keep the heat in in the winter and reflect back the sun in the summer.


Lighting - Interior

Lighting is one of the most significant energy expenses a commercial facility has. It’s also an area where the latest generation of technology is vastly more energy efficient than its predecessors.

Today, one LED lamp can last up to 25 years—20 times longer than a comparable incandescent—all the while using a fraction of the energy.  And, in just the last few years, the price of LEDs has plummeted, making them an affordable option for everyday consumers.

What else is great about LEDs:

  • They often give better illumination than other light sources and come in a variety of color temperatures
  • No “buzzing” sound like CFLs
  • They light up immediately after being turned on
  • They don’t emit heat, which makes a big difference in the summer
  • They don’t contain mercury
  • They don’t give off UV rays, which cause eye strain

The longevity and affordability of LEDs mean lighting upgrades have one of the fastest rates of return, relative to other efficiency projects.

Common upgrades include:

  • Swapping a 60W incandescent with a 10W LED – 83% reduction
  • Swapping a 32W 4-ft. fluorescent T8 with a 22W LED – 30% reduction

In addition to the lamps and fixtures themselves, your business can also employ lighting controls and/or motion sensors, to make sure you’re illuminating spaces only when needed.

LED Exit Signs

 Exit signs are probably not a major part of your business’ energy consumption.  Even so, because they operate at all times, upgrading to your exit signage with LEDs yields savings with a fast payback.  It’s also important for safety reasons to ensure that your exit signs are in good shape.

LED-illuminated exit signs use 90% less energy than incandescents.  Upgrading to LEDs typically pays for itself in less than a year, and saves more than $500 over the anticipated 10-year life of the equipment.

Swapping out incandescents with LEDs can often be done without having to change the fixture.  While they won’t work in every case, a variety of LED exit sign retrofit kits exist, including LED bulbs and bracket systems.

Other benefits of LED exit signs:

  • The bulbs need changing much less frequently. This increases property safety and reduces maintenance costs.
  • LED exit signs generally have better contrast and uniform illumination, making them more effective than their conventional counterparts.
  • Because they require less power, battery backup may last longer in case of an electricity outage.


LED digital signage is not only energy efficient, it’s also attractive, eye-catching, and helps your business make a great first impression.  What’s more, it offers great flexibility, giving you the ability to quickly change your messages electronically.

Given that they’re typically on 24/7, high-efficiency signs can deliver quick savings. Over the equipment’s anticipated life, this really adds up.

Lighting - Exterior

By providing excellent illumination, energy efficient exterior lighting not only shines a spotlight on your business, it can also increase safety and security.

High efficiency lighting and controls that adjust the intensity of lumen output by sensing ambient light and/or motion together can return substantial savings on fixtures that operate for long periods (such as overnight).

Exterior LEDs are now available in a wide range of fixture types and wattages. They have a longer anticipated equipment life than standard lighting, requiring less maintenance, in addition to returning substantial energy savings and a quick return on investment.

Computers & Office Equipment

Monitors, copiers, gadgets and other electronics around your office pull power that adds up—accounting for up to 10% of your electricity bill.

Here are some tips to consider for computers and other equipment in your office:

  • Use power management features: place computers (CPU, hard drive, etc.) into a low-power “sleep mode” after a designated period of inactivity. You can also purchase a commercial software power management package.
  • Print double-sided pages; much more energy is used in the manufacturing and distributing of paper than the actual printing at your office.
  • Many offices have a variety of kitchen appliances such as refrigerators and dishwashers. ENERGY STAR-certified appliances incorporate advanced technologies that use 10% to 50% less energy and water than standard models.
  • Maintain an air-gap of at least three inches between the back of refrigerators, water coolers, and freezers and the wall. Also, keep the condenser coils clean.
  • Use timers to ensure that coffee maker heating elements are not operating during off hours.
  • Use dishwashers only when full to conserve energy, water, and detergent.

You can estimate your office’s savings potential for computers and laptops using the ENERGY STAR Office Equipment Savings Calculator and check out the guidance on purchasing ENERGY STAR certified computers.

Programmable Thermostats/HVAC Controls

It used to be that you had to remember to set back your thermostat when the building wasn’t in use and had to manually adjust it depending on the weather. With today’s programmable thermostats – and even “smart” thermostats that can be controlled remotely – the technology does the work for you.

There are many sophisticated “smart thermostats” on the market that can be controlled from your smartphone, tablet or computer.  Over time, a smart thermostat can even “learn” your building occupants’ behavior, and automatically adjust itself when your building is unoccupied. Larger buildings with multiple zones may consider the use of Building Management Systems (also known as Building Automation Systems), to ensure that optimal conditions are met using the least amount of energy.

Destratification Fans

Conventional forced-air HVAC systems often don’t do a good job of evenly distributing temperature-controlled air.  As winter makes us acutely aware, heat rises and stays near the ceiling, while the floor level remains cold.

Whisper-quiet destratification fans use a process of “thermal recovery” to mix the ceiling air and the floor air.  By ensuring thermal equalization between floor and ceiling—to within 1 degree—destratification fans make spaces significantly more comfortable, ensuring consistent temperatures in and between rooms.

By equalizing temperature, destratification fans prevent your furnace from cycling on and off frequently, and thus yield significant energy savings—30% or more. The fans themselves are also energy efficient—20 fans use about as much electricity as 1 refrigerator—they also eliminate the need to install costly ductwork.

The process of thermal equalization takes less than 24 hours, can be maintained indefinitely.  Destratification fans are most applicable for large commercial or industrial spaces such as warehouses, distribution centers, athletic facilities, gymnasiums, greenhouses, grocery stores, etc.

Read about how Metro City Church (Riverview, MI) is using destratification fans to keep its cavernous space comfortable in all seasons.


Many commercial buildings rely on boilers, which heat by distributing hot water or steam through a network of pipes.  Because space heating is likely your building’s largest energy expense, smart decisions about your boiler can have a big impact on your energy bills.

High-efficiency boilers – measured in Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) percentage – can be up to 12% more efficient than models that simply meet the federal minimum standard. ENERGY STAR-rated oil boilers have an AFUE rating of 87% or higher – 90% or higher for gas boilers.

A few factors to consider when servicing or replacing your boiler:

  • Cost of energy use over time.  Though a high efficiency boiler may come with a higher price tag, the savings you’ll achieve over time will more than make up for the initial cost.
  • Making sure your building envelope is in good shape.  Before upgrading your heating and cooling system, ensure that your building is properly insulated and well-sealed.  If these measures reduce your energy needs, you may be able to purchase a smaller unit, saving you money on the upgrade as well as ongoing operations costs.  (The cheapest source of energy is the energy you’re not using!)
  • Electronic ignition.  This eliminates the need to have a pilot light burning all the time.
  • Controls. Outdoor reset controls adjust the hot water set point according to the outside air temperature.  Cutout controls shut down the boiler automatically when the outside temperature reaches a predetermined set point.  So, the warmer the outside air temperature, the lower the hot water temperature can be set.