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5 simple energy-saving ideas for non-food retailers

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For most non-food retailers, the largest energy expenditure is lighting

When energy advisor Ben Mills visits small-scale retailers he nearly always sees the same missteps: simple things that, if acted upon, could save operators money. If you work in non-food retail, consider these simple energy-saving ideas next time you walkthrough your store:

Determine when and where you use energy

"Knowledge and information are critical when it comes to energy conservation. The more you know, the more energy — and money — you can save," says Mills. "But before you can reduce your consumption, you need to determine how you're currently using energy."

"MyHydro, which is a free online tool for BC Hydro customers, is a great way to keep tabs on your business' electricity usage. It's also easy to set-up, simple to use and completely free."

With MyHydro, business owners can monitor exactly how much electricity their business uses during its normal hours of operation. They can also drill down, hour-by-hour, to see their business' peak consumption time(s) or when consumption is unusually or unnecessarily high. When you know your peak consumption days and times, it's much easier to develop an action plan.

Mills recommends comparing the data that you get from MyHydro (such as hours or days where you see a spike in electricity use) with information that you already know about your business. Is there equipment that runs weekly on that day? Does the HVAC system kick in shortly before opening hours?

Crunch the numbers; determine how much energy you can save and don't be afraid to ask for help

"It's perfectly normal to be a bit hesitant about a lighting upgrade," adds Mills. "For a lot of businesses, it's a big investment. That's why it's important to do the math up-front to see how much electricity you can save by switching to LEDs or another energy-efficient alternative, such as T5s."

Mills recommends consulting a professional. Members of BC Hydro's Power Smart Alliance are there to help you identify immediate and long-term energy saving opportunities and to determine the improvements best suited to you business, aesthetic and budget. They also know the ins and outs of the Power Smart Express Program and can help you apply for financial incentives to offset the cost of improvements.

Upgrade display lighting; it's a simple fix that's often overlooked

"For retailers, lighting is crucial to a store's ambience, customer navigation, product presentation and sales strategy," says Mills. "Still, a lot of retailers use inefficient, screw-in incandescent and halogen lights — which have a reputation of burning out quickly — to highlight their products."

Multifaceted reflector (MR) LEDs are a good alternative, says Mills. They work well in applications that require directional lighting — like retail displays — and are four to six times more energy efficient than incandescents and two to three times more efficient than halogens. They last much longer too, which means your replacement and maintenance costs will also go down.

On a lease? Invest in efficiency upgrades with a short payback period

"Retailers can be reluctant to invest money in lights and fixtures they can't take with them if they relocate," explains Mills. "But when you lease a space, you're usually responsible for paying the BC Hydro bill, so it may be in your best interest to invest in improvements."

If you don't know how long you'll be in a building, Mills recommends energy-efficiency upgrades with a short payback period. If you use screw-in halogen and incandescent lights in your fixtures, installing screw-in LEDs is straightforward and the cost savings are immediate.

Check all external doors and windows to ensure they close and fit properly

"During site visits I always inspect external doors and windows to ensure that they close and fit properly, and that automatic door-closing mechanisms are working well. Gaps and cracks around windows and doors allow cold air to sneak in during the winter, causing your heating system to work harder. In the summer, these drafts bring hot air in, making your store less comfortable, which may lead you to turn on the air conditioner or fan to keep cool."

Mills suggests sealing up your doors and windows with weatherstripping, which is one of the most cost-effective steps you can take to immediately improve your store's efficiency.

A number of efficiency improvements qualify for incentives through the Power Smart Express Program. To learn more about the Power Smart Express and its incentives, or to speak with a Power Smart representative, call the Business Help Desk by dialling 604 522 4713 from Greater Vancouver or 1 866 522 4713 from elsewhere in the province.