To save money on electric bills this hot summer, consider a tip from Broward Health Medical Center. The sprawling Fort Lauderdale, Fla. hospital has cut more than $250,000 from its electric bill in the past year by keeping an eye on how efficiently it uses energy.
The hospital works with a three-year-old energy company, Entic of Pembroke Pines, Fla., to check on its air-conditioning system. Entic uses software to monitor how well commercial air conditioners run. It notifies customers of changes in performance, so they can fix problems and boost efficiency.
A fix to a simple valve in the hospital’s chillers has provided the bulk of savings to date.
“Entic offered us new technology that helped us peer inside the system and find where we were wasting energy,” said Diana Dominguez, facilities services manager at the massive hospital, which employs 3,200 people and often spends more than $300,000 per month for electricity during the summer.
Homeowners and small businesses have numerous options to check the efficiency of their air-conditioning and electrical systems to minimize their energy waste.
Households and small businesses can hire specialized companies or utilities for energy audits. Audits can show, for example, if cooled air is leaking out of ducts or windows, and suggest ways to boost performance of energy systems.
Carlos Diaz, co-founder of Entic, draws analogies to cars. When gas was cheap, no one cared about miles per gallon. But now that drivers pay nearly $4 per gallon, that’s a common measurement that motorists use in deciding what vehicle to buy and to check how well their cars are running.
“The key is to measure efficiency,” said Diaz, 37, a specialist in information technology. “You don’t have to invest big dollars to achieve peak performance.”
Chris Block, a principal with Habify of Coral Gables, Fla., conducts energy audits for homes and businesses and also makes home improvements. He said the biggest savings on electric bills can come from sealing holes in ducts or around windows or walls to keep cool air from seeping out.
“You can have the most energy-efficient air-conditioning system in the world, but if your duct system is in need of repair, then your air-conditioning is just going out the window,” said Block.
He also suggests the use of digital thermostats that can be programmed to raise temperatures when no one is home or shut off appliances when not in use, and other functions to reduce unneeded energy use.
Block does not recommend customers buy more energy-efficient appliances if theirs still work. Instead, check that existing air-conditioners, washers, dryers and other devices work at peak efficiency. That means cleaning the air-conditioning filters regularly and ensuring other routine maintenance.
“People tend to look at maintenance as an afterthought,” lamented Carlos Borja, who runs Weatherol of Miami, an air-conditioning servicer that uses Entic technology for its commercial customers. Too few check that sensors, valves and computer systems are working well enough to keep electricity flowing properly.
At Broward Health, managers also are turning to more efficient lighting to save on energy.
The hospital is installing light-emitting diodes, or LED, bulbs that use less energy and last far longer than cheaper, incandescent or compact-fluorescent bulbs. Households can follow suit, experts said.
“You can’t just focus on one thing to save,” said Borja. “You need a systemic approach.”
ARE YOU WASTING ENERGY?
To boost your energy efficiency, consider:
- An energy audit.
- Routine maintenance, such as changing air-conditioner filters and cleaning ducts.
- When systems need replacing, switch to more energy-efficient technology, such as light-emitting diode or LED bulbs.