Five Energy Items that are Not as Scary as They Appear

October 28, 2019
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With just a little effort, these things can be mitigated.

  1. Phantom Loads. Otherwise known as vampire draw, ghost loads or standby power, this is what your electronics use when turned off, but still plugged into the wall. For a small business, this can equate to tens of dollars a year. The larger your operation, however, it just goes up from there.
    Solution: Isolate electronics that don’t have to be on 24/7, and plug them into power strips that can be completely turned off for the night and weekends when your business is closed.
  2.  Sick Building Syndrome. Not to sound immediately disingenuous early, this could actually be a bigger problem than it seems, not less. However, the symptom of sick building syndrome: multiple employees feeling lethargic, unwell, and unproductive could be as simple as correcting a ventilation – or lack thereof – issue in the building.
    Solution: Ventilation in office buildings and commercial space is a code requirement. However, more often then not, an older system might have the dampers that bring on outside air blocked or sealed shut by some genius that decided it was costing too much to bring in outside air. This should be checked. Also, make sure your air filters are changed often. If these fixes don’t resolve a chronic issue, get air testing down – it could indicate a bigger problem like hidden mold growth.
  3. High Energy Bills. Feel like you’re paying more than your share? There are ways to check on this now. Many utilities have online tools to help you determine if you are paying less, more or average than everyone else’s utility costs.  Once you find out, if you are higher than average, it could be as easy as doing a lighting retrofit; or installing motion detectors in low-use offices or rooms.
    Solution: look for online benchmarking tools advertised on your utility’s website. Also, many have contractors that do free energy assessments. This can be a virtually painless way of getting a list of low-cost ways to reduce your energy by a third-party expert.
  4. Electric Heater Free-For-All’s. For every desk that uses a space heater for an eight-hour day, you are paying an average of $35.00/ month at a .10c/ kWh rate. Need I say more?
    Solution: This might take a little effort, but doing a little sleuthing yourself, or hiring the auditor from solution #3 above could solve your comfort issues. Understanding why one office may be too cold while one down the hall is too warm will lead to upgrades that will result in happier, more productive employees (see previous blog* that discussed how “freezing” office temperatures also impact employee productivity). The fixes to these problems might be as simple as finding a closed damper in the ducts; or adding some shade to a westward facing bank of windows.
  5. Starting an Office Recycling Program. Not an energy issue, you say? When you look at how much energy it takes to make something new versus using recycled product, you understand immediately how it absolutely is all about energy. If this sounds daunting, know that these programs can also promote unity and cooperation among employees that want to be a part of something sustainable too.
    Solution: No need to reinvent the wheel. This blog has a really thorough list:

Have a happy, safe, fun, comfortable, healthy and efficient Halloween, Everyone!


Mary English has been working in sustainable construction and building science for over twelve years. She has worked with multiple designers and builders in the Kansas City region testing and consulting on best practices from building envelope to HVAC. She currently serves as the Committee Chair for the USGBC Central Plains Programs Committee.