Concerned about rising utility bills? Looking to make investments in energy improvements? About to remodel and wondering what energy improvements to include?
Getting Started: Energy Audit
The best place to start is an energy audit, a comprehensive look at lighting, appliances, heating, cooling, insulation and air sealing, and more.
An energy audit is the first step in identifying opportunities to reduce the energy expense and carbon footprint of your commercial building. After a site visit, and analysis of your utility bills, an energy consultant will provide a detailed report of how your building currently uses electricity and fuel, with a list of very specific recommendations to cut waste, save money and shrink your building's carbon pollution.
Through NYSERDA's FlexTech program, businesses and non-profits can get an energy study of their building to help identify issues and opportunities to reduce energy costs.
NYSERDA will cover up to 50% of the cost of the study for eligible organizations, and 100% for NYS farms.
In addition, small businesses in rural areas and farms may qualify for an additional 25% grant for energy efficiency improvements through the USDA Rural Energy for America Program.
Taitem Engineering conducts these audits in Tompkins County. Call (607) 277-1118.
deeper dive: 2030 district
Commercial building owners and managers that want to take a more concerted look at their energy use and costs should consider joining the Ithaca 2030 District, a project coordinated by the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative.
Contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, (607) 272-2292.
David and Kelly Moreland, owners of the building that houses Mama Goose, Mimi’s Attic, Bishops Carpet One, and other offices and apartments, knew they had to do something about their heating and cooling systems. The 28,000 square foot building in Ithaca’s West End, which is a collection of many structures (the earliest built in 1872) that have been cobbled together over the last century, had hanging gas heaters that were over 50 years old, some not working. Employees shivered through winters, then sweated in summer with air conditioners poorly suited to the space.
David, who manages the building, signed up for an energy audit as part of a workshop series organized by the Chamber of Commerce, Get Your GreenBack Tompkins, Taitem Engineering and Tompkins County Cooperative Extension. David’s initial apprehension about the project’s potential cost disappeared when he received his audit. Payback time for the recommended improvements were reasonable and financial incentives were available. He was delighted to find that the new system was going to cost less to operate and make stores and offices more comfortable. “Not only are we going to save money, we’re going to have happier staff and happier customers, too.”
This was not the Morelands’ first audit. A NYSERDA energy assessment in 2008 spurred several changes, including new lighting throughout the building, with 75% of all equipment and installation costs covered by NYSEG. David made an agreement with a few commercial tenants to keep the utility payment at the pre-efficient stage for a few years until the improvements were paid off. Some tenants in their apartments qualified for Tompkins Community Action’s Weatherization program, which covered 75% of the cost of insulating the attic and replacing the huge windows (which David then sold online for a few thousand dollars). As a result, the building’s total utility bill dropped by over 30% from $35,000 in 2008 to $24,000 in 2012 (partially due to a drop in the price of natural gas). Commercial tenants today enjoy lower bills and residential tenants more comfortable apartments.
For this next round of upgrades, in addition to tackling the HVAC system, David plans to insulate some walls and water pipes. One challenge David mentions is getting contractors to bid on the project. “You’d think they’d be all over a $70,000 HVAC project, but it’s been like pulling teeth.” David is also considering upgrading the lighting once again, this time to LEDs. He would again take advantage of NYSEG’s 70% cost-share program. The projected savings from all this work is a 23% reduction in electricity use and 36% reduction in fuel used for heating, saving over $5,000 a year on utility bills. David may finance the work with a home equity loan, and is also looking into new commercial PACE financing offered through Tompkins County.
David says he has appreciated the workshop series and the audit as it has given him the opportunity to learn, think about and be attentive to his building. His words of wisdom to other building owners? Take the time: “Even if you are not ready to make the changes right now, a few years down the road you are going to need to repair or replace something, and the energy audit will help guide you in a direction that will be better for the building, better for your wallet, better for your employees, and better for the environment--a direction you might not have thought of in the first place.”