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Five ways to keep business heating costs low this winter

Oh, the mighty HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system. It's designed to be all about comfort, but it can become all about cost if it's not well set-up and maintained.

Here are five hot tips that can lower the cost of keeping your business cozy this winter.

1. Stop short-cycling

Short cycling is when your system is shifting too rapidly between heating and cooling modes. This energy-intensive switching can happen for several reasons. One is when you have your thermostat's heating and cooling "set points" too close together.

For example, if you set your heat to 18 C, the system might heat beyond the target and raise the room temperature to 20 C. If your cooling is also set near 18 C, the system could begin a cooling cycle right away, which will then trigger another heat cycle, and on.

Separate your heating and cooling set points by at least three degrees Celsius. Proper adjustment of set points can save up to 10% on your energy bill.

2. Take control of your hood

People generally identify heating and cooling as heavy energy draws, but can overlook the energy waste and unnecessary costs of inefficient ventilation. In many restaurants, the kitchen exhaust fan runs at full power even when the kitchen isn't busy.

Installing a control system and an energy efficient motor in the exhaust fan can allow it to "sense" when the kitchen is not busy, and slow down. These changes make a substantial difference: when you reduce the speed in a fan by just 10%, you reduce the power used by 28%. If you cut speed in half, you drop your energy consumption to only 12.8%.

As well, restaurant hood fans are so powerful they can suck heated air out of the restaurant and vent it directly outside, pulling cold air into the building through cracks and gaps. Installing a makeup air system, which brings air into the kitchen in balance with the air being vented, can result in significant year round energy savings. It also improves the comfort level for patrons and staff.

3. Keep HVAC components clean

Following a regular maintenance schedule, as recommended by the system's manufacturer, will help you avoid premature equipment wear, keep your system running most efficiently, and can delay the need for a costly unit replacement.

Ask the technician who services your equipment to set it to avoid short cycling, especially if your HVAC uses a single rooftop unit to provide both heating and cooling. And take the time to learn about the various control options of your existing equipment. You might be surprised at all it can do.

4. Install programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats are an inexpensive way to revolutionize temperature regulation. In their most simple application, they can be set to come on and off at key times.

For example, they can warm the building just before staff arrives each day, or, in summer, you could set the thermostat to do a "night purge," which flushes the building with cool outdoor air before people arrive in the morning.

They can also enable more sophisticated heating and cooling arrangements. For example, you can segment the workspace into rooms or zones, allowing you to keep some areas heated to a higher temperature or heated at different times, depending on their use.

In addition, most programmable thermostats can prevent short cycling because they allow a lockout, which stops the system from cooling in winter or heating in summer.

Find out more about optimizing comfort and energy use by adjusting your HVAC controls.

5. Set up an energy assessment

Make a New Year's resolution to set up an energy assessment for your business. You'll be glad you did for years to come. There are two programs that provide energy advisors to small and medium-sized businesses — and both of them do it for free.

Based on a site visit, an energy advisor will provide a written report that identifies the best options for your business to reap savings from energy efficiency — and to gain support from incentive programs such as BC Hydro's Product Incentive Program (PIP).

Which program will work for you depends where you are in the province. BC Hydro's program is available to small and medium-sized businesses located in the Lower Mainland, and LiveSmart BC's new Small Business Program provides Business Energy Advisors in various communities across the province.

To request a consultation with a BC Hydro Small Business Advisor in the Lower Mainland, call the BC Hydro Power Smart Business Helpdesk at 1 866 522 4713.

To find a LiveSmart Business Energy Advisor serving your area call LiveSmart at 1 866 430 8765.