No matter how cold it gets outside, the school year must continue. Unless piles of snow are stopping the buses from rolling, your schools need to be kept warm for the health and well-being of both staff and students. However, keeping the doors open and the lights on during a winter this cold can be surprisingly costly. Raising your thermostat even a single degree can equal up to an 8% increase in your school’s monthly power bill. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to improve the energy efficiency and make the most of the heat your HVAC system generates to keep your winter power bill as low as possible.
There’s one aspect of winter energy efficiency that almost everyone forgets about. It’s the fact that you are dealing with shorter daylight hours. In the middle of winter, your employees could come in before light and leave after dark every day for weeks; if not months. This means you’ll be using more lights more of the time, increasing your power bill more than most would expect. You have several possible solutions to this issue. This includes installing more efficient LED or halogen bulbs; working with motion sensors and timers to ensure that unused rooms stay unlit; and keeping lights off in storage closets and unscheduled meeting rooms by default.
During the entire stretch of time between fall and spring, your furnace is going to get a serious workout. (And so will your power bill!) It will be running constantly throughout the entire winter; alternately keeping your employees warm during the day and your pipes from freezing at night. You want it in top condition to make sure you’re running at optimal power efficiency. You also want to protect your employees from the very unpleasant possibility of coming to work on the day your furnace just happens to give out. Even if you skipped your late-fall inspection, it’s never too late to get your furnace inspected and maintained to improve the efficiency and reliability of the unit for the rest of the winter.
Knowledge is power, and at no time is this more literally true than when you’re monitoring your own energy usage. An increase in data about how you use energy can mean a reduction in your power bill. By installing a smart meter for your total consumption, and local smart outlets to monitor area and appliance use, you can identify your biggest power expenditures and start optimizing in the best ways for your school building. You may discover that older appliances are guzzling more power than they need, or that devices are being left on overnight costing you much more energy than anyone would have realized without monitoring. Speaking of monitors, don’t forget to turn off computer screens at night.
You might be surprised just how much cold drafts affect the comfort and efficiency of your employees, much less your HVAC system. Every school has unused rooms, under-heated areas, and spaces that are closer to outside doors than others. This means that from floor to floor, section to section, and from room to room, you want to prevent drafts as much as possible or intentionally create areas that are uniform in temperature by keeping doors open. Any door that you intend to keep closed from the external doors to doors between offices should be insulated. This not only makes your building more efficient (and your power bill lower), it also allows your employees to isolate areas for personal comfort.
Most schools realize they don’t need the same amount of heating at night after everyone leaves as they do during the day. But you can detail your thermostat use even more than this. You will need the most heating in the morning and evening when employees are still in the building but the sun has gone down, warming from the sun will reduce your need for heat by a certain amount during the day. Make sure your thermostat kicks up to the office’s preferred temperature about an hour before the earliest shift. If it’s a sunny day, your HVAC can give itself a break during mid-day, kick up again in the evening, and finally spin down to just-above-freezing after the last person goes home. If you close section by section, your HVAC can prioritize only the areas that are occupied.
There are a surprising number of ways to reduce the cost of your HVAC system in the winter. Join us next time for the second half of this two-part article; we’ll cover everything from warm blankets to individual room vents. For more ways to reduce the power bill costs for your school and district, contact us today!