Cost Effective Ways To Improve Your Commercial HVAC Energy Efficiency

Cost Effective Ways To Improve Your Commercial HVAC Energy Efficiency

by | Commercial HVAC, Energy Efficiency, Facility Maintenance, Facility Management

If you’re a Facility Manager for a national multi-site brand, it’s very likely you’ve either heard this stat below already, or you have first-hand experience which proves its legitimacy.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, on average, commercial HVAC systems account for 51% of a building’s energy usage.

Whether you’re a part of a large organization and oversee numerous retail and restaurant sites, or you manage one location, this percentage likely represents a large chunk of change for you and equates to a substantial piece of your budget pie.

So, if there’s an opportunity to reduce that percentage and increase your commercial HVAC energy efficiency, which will allow you to direct funds toward other needs, you should jump all over it… right?

Well, yes – with a few caveats.

First, if you have to spend money upfront to realize these savings, make sure the payback period is reasonably short. You want that initial investment to pay itself off so you can start truly realizing those savings as quickly as possible.

For those that need assistance in making creating the capital expenditure for a new commercial HVAC system, there are some tax savings codes currently in place that can assist you.  CMI Mechanical has helped several businesses leverage this opportunity.

Also, don’t sacrifice the integrity of your commercial HVAC system. With any change in this realm, you want to reduce your energy spend but do so while maintaining tenant, employee, and customer comfort and air quality. Don’t cut corners.

So, what are a few tangible, practical, and cost-effective ways to accomplish your goal of reducing your energy costs accumulated by your commercial HVAC system? In this open whitepaper, we’ll dive in and unpack some common methods which you can implement into your future plans and processes.

Proper Commercial HVAC System Maintenance

Commercial HVAC Energy Efficiency - Image 01You may have heard this one before; developing and sticking to a commercial HVAC preventative maintenance plan helps ensure your units are operating at maximum capacity and can help significantly reduce your energy costs over time.

In fact, The New Buildings Institute found that by using best practices in commercial HVAC maintenance, you could reduce energy use by 10-20% across all climate zones in the United States.

In contrast, they also found poor maintenance practices (or none at all) can increase energy usage by as much as 30-60%.

So, when putting together or re-evaluating your preventative maintenance program, what areas should you focus on to ensure maximum savings?

Here are a few to consider:

Commercial HVAC Coil Cleaning

Coil Cleaning Before & AfterGenerally speaking, the condenser and evaporator coils are where a lot of the work happens in a commercial HVAC system.

For those who don’t know, evaporator coils absorb heat and humidity from the air within your space and condenser coils expel that heat outside of your building.

When dirt and debris collect on your coils they have a much more difficult time transferring that heat. This reduction in effectiveness can lead to higher energy consumption, the system overheating, and even a condenser failure.

In fact, studies have shown that unmaintained coils can reduce the overall efficiency of your equipment by up to 30%.

There are a number of different methods within the commercial HVAC coil cleaning domain and you should do your due diligence for each approach. Regardless, their results are the same with respect to energy and cost savings along with equipment health.

Reason To Clean Your Commercial HVAC Coils

To help prove the point, let’s turn to an ASHRAE coil cleaning study from 2005. In it, they performed coil cleaning on 2 of a building’s 4 commercial HVAC units and compared the energy usage results. They found one of the cleaned units dropped energy consumption to the tune of $40,000 in one year!

Something to keep in mind – the rate at which debris collects on each set of coils will be different. Condenser coils are exposed to unfiltered, ambient outdoor air which will cause dirt and debris to collect faster than evaporator coils which are exposed to the internal air of your building which is filtered.

This obviously means condenser coils will have to be cleaned more often than evaporator coils. However, common thinking suggests if you already have a technician on site and the equipment on hand to clean your condenser coils, you might as well spend the extra few minutes cleaning both sets.

The long and short of it – get your coils cleaned. In doing so, determine a cadence that’s right for you, your business, and your budget.

Dirty filters hinder airflow which can lead to an overworked HVAC system. By simply replacing filters on a regular schedule, you can reduce wasted energy by 5-10%.

Dirty filters can also increase costs (and the number of unhappy tenants) by reducing air quality, thus resulting in additional maintenance bills and other problems.

Changing filters should be a mainstay within your preventative maintenance program.

We recommend changing commercial HVAC filters on at least a quarterly basis.

Change Your Commercial HVAC Filters

Dirty vs Clean Commercial HVAC FilterAlso, something to keep in mind – the higher the efficiency of the filter you use, the smaller the particles it will capture. And clean filters ultimately helps provide better protection for your aforementioned… evaporator coils!

This also brings up a good point worth highlighting; don’t compartmentalize the pieces of equipment that make up your unit. They are all working as a team, where one piece of equipment can have a big impact on another.

What Is An Economizers?

Economizer diagram for commercial HVAC systemLet’s start by reviewing what an economizer is/does. A commercial HVAC economizer is a damper vent designed to save energy and give your unit some much-needed relaxation. Economizers have sensors which compare the temperature and humidity of the ambient, outdoor air against that of the air inside the building

If the ambient air is the right temperature, the damper is opened to bring in outside air, thereby reducing the need for mechanically altered air. This allows the HVAC system to turn off giving mother nature permission to do all of the work.

If the outside air is not the correct temperature, which is monitored by the aforementioned sensors, the damper is closed.

What’s great about installing economizers on your unit is that it has a payback period of roughly 2 years. However, and this is extremely important, that is only true if it is working properly.

Big Data Behind Economizers

A presentation created by the Western Cooling Efficiency Center of UC Davis highlights a multitude of economizer studies and surveys which each show that roughly 40-60% of economizers don’t work properly or aren’t calibrated correctly.

Those with improperly functioning economizers are not only missing out on the potential savings the equipment can bring, but it could also cost them big bucks.

For example, if the damper is open on a very hot day, letting in steamy ambient air, the HVAC unit needs to now work even harder to keep the site at a consistent, cool temperature.

When an economizer is doing its job as it’s supposed to, it can lead to big savings – as much as 10-40% on energy costs. That can really add up to massive savings, especially across a large number of sites.

If you either currently have economizers at the locations you manage or you’re considering installing them on your equipment, make the small investment to make sure they are a part of your preventative maintenance program.

Your maintenance technician will ensure your economizer is calibrated and working properly so you can receive maximum benefits of your commercial HVAC energy efficiency.

Programmable Thermostats And Controls For Commercial HVAC Units

Outside of your commercial HVAC preventative maintenance program, there are quite a few ways you can cost-effectively reduce energy costs. Programmable thermostats are one of them.

Programmable thermostats are everywhere these days and the cost to install one is dropping by the day. It’s slowly becoming a no-brainer that every building should have one.


Well, what’s the point of keeping your building at a cool and comfortable 68 degrees in the middle of summer if it’s a Sunday afternoon and you’re closed?

Programmable thermostats help you manage when your unit is running and how hard it’s working so you don’t have to. This takes away the burden adjusting the thermostat at the beginning and end of business hours every day.

That all sounds great (and it is), but you must remember, it’s paramount you have your thermostat(s) programmed properly or every one of the benefits disappears. In fact, an improperly programmed thermostat could not only eliminate your potential energy savings, but it could also end up costing you money over time.  Essentially eliminating your commercial HVAC energy efficiency plan.

By simply fixing the timing and output variables of an improperly programmed thermostat, the Building Efficiency Initiative claims you can reduce your energy usage by up to 40%!

As an FYI, you can also invest in controls that not only automate your commercial HVAC usage but also dim the lights and perform other energy and cost saving tasks. Gotta love technology!

Benefits of Sealing Your Commercial HVAC Duct

Commercial HVAC Aerosol process for ductworkThis one is certainly lower on the list mainly due to its longer payback period (typically 4-7 years). Duct sealing can bring the largest value to large commercial buildings, especially those which have a good chunk of ductwork on the roof or exterior of the building.

According to ASHRAE, just a 20% leakage in an exhaust system can increase fan energy use by 95% and can result in an imbalance of heating or cooling across your space.

One of the most popular methods to plug up leaks is aerosol duct sealing due to it being the simplest solution available.

Here is an explanation of how it works from HPAC Engineering:

“Aerosol duct sealing is administered as an aerosol mist of microscopic sealant particles that are blown into the interior of a duct system. Rather than coat the interior of the duct system, the sealant remains suspended in the air until it comes in contact with a leak. It clings to the edge of the leak and then to other sealant particles until the hole is filled.”

With the advancement of the aerosol approach to duct sealing, it’s non-intrusive nature and quick turnaround time.  Many Facility Managers are jumping on board. Despite the longer payback period, duct sealing, or at least a test for leakage from a reputable national HVAC service provider, may be worth looking into especially if you notice an imbalance within your facility.

Whether you oversee one location or manage a large number of facilities across a wide geographical footprint, juggling the various service and maintenance tasks needed to keep your occupants, employees, and customers comfortable and happy can be overwhelming at times.

CMI Mechanical has the experience and processes in place to help take some of that weight off of your shoulders.

Whether it be here in our home of Denver, Colorado or anywhere else around the country, we partner with our customers. We’ll help you develop customized commercial HVAC solutions that cover the entire lifecycle of your equipment.  And we’ll provide quality, on-time service, done right the first time.

CMI Mechanical has been providing commercial HVAC and refrigeration services for nearly 40 years. The mechanical experience of our management team may be unrivaled in the business. Each account is managed by a senior member of our staff to ensure quality work gets done at the right price every time.

CMI Mechanical Clients Also Enjoy:

  1. Single Point of Contact – From 1 store to 1,000, our clients no longer have to juggle the management of technicians all over the country. We take care of the entire process from start to finish.
  2. Invoice Consolidation – We centralize multiple work orders from multiple sites into one invoice which includes a detailed summary of work completed at each site. This cuts down on paper flow and simplifies invoicing for our clients.
  3. Volume Discounts – Due to the large volume of work we give our local technicians, we receive volume discounts which we pass onto our clients. This means our services come at no extra cost to our clients compared to doing all of the managerial work on their own.

Questions About CMI Mechanical

We hope you’ve found this guide useful. We invite you to call us for a quote on your commercial HVAC mechanical service or maintenance needs. We think you’ll agree that hearing what we have to say will be one of the best decisions you make in researching your mechanical needs.

Reach a CMI Mechanical specialist today at 303-363-3443 or email jlozano@coloradomechanical.com.

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The experiences I have had with the CMI team out of Denver has been nothing but positive.

Maile K.

Facilities Manager, REI Co-Op