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Personal Appliances Get in the Way

Key Points
  • Employee personal appliances can reduce the effectiveness of energy-efficiency programs.
  • Maintaining a comfortable indoor environment can discourage the use of personal appliances.
  • Policies eliminating personal appliances should be implemented on a gradual, phase-out basis.

Office fanEnergy-management programs focus on increasing the efficiency of primary building systems, such as lighting and space conditioning. Often however, personal appliances brought into the facility by employees bypass these efforts and reduce their effectiveness. While personal appliances can increase employee comfort and convenience, they are not very efficient and difficult to control. By taking steps to discourage or eliminate their use, you can save on energy costs.

Personal appliance energy use

How much energy do personal appliances use? The answer depends on the type of appliance and how it is used. A microwave oven for example, draws more than six times the amount of power used by a mini fridge. However, since a microwave is used for only short periods of time, the energy use of a mini fridge on an annual basis may be much higher.

The typical power rating and annual energy use in an office environment for commonly used personal appliances is shown in the following table:

AppliancePower (watts)Annual Operating HoursAnnual Energy Use (kWh)
Space Heater 1,500 500 750
Mini Fridge 150 Year-round 320
Microwave 1,000 125 125
Portable Fan 180 500 90
Coffee Pot 300 250 75

How much does it cost to operate these appliances per year? At an average cost of 10 cents per kWh, a space heater with an average annual energy use of 750 kWh would cost $75 per year. A large commercial building operating 20 personal space heaters would pay an extra $1,500 in energy costs!

Reducing the use of personal appliances

The costs for operating personal appliances in your facility can clearly add up. Reducing or eliminating their use can yield significant savings. The following are some steps you can take to discourage the personal use of energy in your facility:

  • Maintain indoor temperatures that will help to optimize occupant comfort and productivity without driving up heating and cooling costs. A temperature range of 68°F to 79°F should prove acceptable to most occupants.
  • Make sure the building is well-insulated and windows are properly sealed. This will help to maintain the building at comfortable temperatures and discourage the use of space heaters and fans.
  • Provide adequate refrigerator space and kitchen appliances in central break rooms. While these larger appliances may use more energy than a smaller unit on an individual basis, you save energy by eliminating multiple personal appliances. Centrally located units are easier to control in terms energy-saving practices and efficiency.
  • If employees must use personal appliances, provide them with a power strip. Personal appliances are often left on at night and on weekends, wasting even more energy. With a power strip they can be plugged into one place and turned off simultaneously.

It is becoming more common for organizations to have established policies that eliminate or limit the use of personal appliances. These policies typically include exceptions allowing staff who meet certain criteria to use personal appliances, such as those with a medical condition or a disability.

If you decide to establish a personal appliance policy, consider implementing a phase-out program. This will give employees time to ask questions, remove their appliances or apply to keep them if necessary.

Image source: iStock

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