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What's That Sound? Listening for Energy Savings

Key Points
  • More than 30 percent of the energy used in U.S. commercial facilities is wasted. 
  • Unusual noises from facility equipment (or your staff) could be a sign of energy going to waste.
  • Sounds range from buzzing from fluorescent lights to hissing from compressed air hoses. 

ListeningHAVE YOU HEARD? U.S commercial and industrial facilities spend about $400 billion a year on energy costs—and more than 30 percent of that is wasted, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. You can try to ignore that waste, but it will still make quite a racket on your energy bills.

How do you find ways to save energy in your facility? Start by opening your ears, because energy waste does have its own vibe. Colorful language from the maintenance crew or comfort complaints from staff could be your first sign of trouble. Beyond those voices, there are a number of sounds of energy loss you should be listening for.

Buzzing noise in fluorescent lights. If your fluorescent lights are flickering and creating an audible buzzing sound, that means you're likely using older magnetic ballasts and T12 lamps. These technologies are no longer manufactured for sale in the U.S. due to energy efficiency regulations. A simple solution is to upgrade with LED replacement fixtures, which use up to 65 percent less energy than T12s. LEDs also start instantly, making them a perfect fit for energy-saving controls.

Heating or cooling system turning on and off frequently. This is known as short cycling, which reduces system energy efficiency by 5 to 10 percent and can shorten the life of system components. An 'on' cycle that lasts less than 10 minutes indicates a problem. Oversizing is a common cause of short cycling. Consult with a qualified professional about upgrading to a high-efficiency system that's sized correctly to fit your needs.

Fans running on little-used office machines. Fans running constantly on frequently idle copiers and printers means you're wasting energy. Enable power management 'sleep' settings on all computers and office equipment. Sleep settings on computers, for example, can save you $50 or more a year for each machine. Also, plug this equipment into advanced 'smart' power strips, which automatically shut off power to idle devices.

Vibrating motors. Loose bearings, a coupling misalignment or other mechanical issues may cause motors to have internal vibrations, which can reduce efficiency and increase wear and tear on moving parts. Have the motor tested and inspected by a qualified professional and repair if necessary. Consider upgrading to premium efficiency motors, which are up to 8 percent more efficient than standard units.

Hissing sound from compressed air hoses or fittings. That hissing sound is a sign of leaks, which can waste energy and reduce system performance. A single 1/32-inch leak can cost you $150 a year. Also, inspect your system using an ultrasonic detector to identify high-frequency hissing sounds that you can't always hear. Repairing leaks depends on the situation; it can be as simple as tightening a connection, or as complex as replacing faulty equipment.

Whistling noise from steam lines. That whistling sound is likely the result of steam leaking from a trap that is stuck open. A single failed trap can cost up to $5,000 or more per year in lost steam. Repair or replace any failed traps and establish a regular program for inspection and maintenance.

You've taken steps to silence the sounds of energy waste. Now, go further by hiring a qualified professional to conduct an energy audit of your facility. Your auditor will provide you with a list of targeted energy-saving recommendations. You'll be able to sit back and enjoy the quiet, and the lower energy bills.

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