The government is predicting that it won't be as hot this summer as it was last year. But you'll probably still have the air conditioner going full blast at your small business. And you could probably shave some money off your electric bill without much effort.
If you take some steps now, you can save a lot. And not just this summer. The same things you do to cut your cooling costs now will save you money when it gets colder and you turn the heat back on.
Here's a comforting thought for a new business owner who has an office for the first time: The same sort of things you do at home to cut your air conditioning expenses will apply for your workspace.
GET A NEW THERMOSTAT -- AND SOME FANS
If you don't have a programmable thermostat, get one. You can set it so the air conditioner goes on half an hour or an hour before your staff gets to work. And it can shut down automatically when it's time for everyone to go home. You can bet that someone will forget to turn your cooling system off several times during the summer, but that won't be a problem if you have an automatic shutdown scheduled.
Consider buying some fans or air circulators as well. They're inexpensive, and they can help move cool air around an office. They can be particularly helpful if you have window or wall air conditioners rather than a central system where the cool air comes out of several ducts.
GET YOUR EQUIPMENT SERVICED
You need to have your air conditioning unit serviced. Don't try to save money by skipping a service call this year. You'll end up spending more to run it if your unit hasn't been checked and cleaned. The last thing you want is to have it die on you at the hottest part of the summer.
Don't assume that because you had the a/c serviced at the start of summer you're done. Energy consultants recommend that air conditioning unit filters be changed at least monthly.
If your unit is on its last legs, consider replacing it now. You can probably get a good price from an appliance dealer because many small companies are still being careful about spending.
Beyond air conditioning, you can also save money by being sure that all your equipment is running efficiently. Remember that electricity rates are higher during the summer. So it costs more to run your lights and computers and, if you have a factory, your manufacturing equipment. If they're working well, it'll cost you less.
And if you're buying any new equipment, make sure it's the most energy-efficient you can get. The government's Energy Star website, www.energystar.gov, has advice on how to find appliances that will help you save on electric bills.
FILL THOSE CRACKS AND CREVICES
You might not realize that the cracks in your walls or crevices between floor boards are costing you money. In the winter, you'd feel the drafts as cold air comes in. But warm air that comes into your air-conditioned space isn't as jarring. Look around your entire premises for spots that need caulking or filling and get it done. If your window sashes don't shut tight, get some of those foam-pellet-filled snakes to block the air flow.
NEED MORE IDEAS?
The Internet has plenty of sites with information about how you can save energy in your business. Among them:
_The Small Business Administration has energy saving tips at www.sba.gov
_The Energy Department's Energy Star site has information about making your small business more energy efficient, and about appliances and machinery that will save you money. It also has tips for specific kinds of businesses, like stores and restaurants. Visit www.energystar.gov
_State government websites may also have information. Here's the address for Oklahoma's: www.okcommerce.gov/State-Energy-Office/Energy-Saving-Tips
_Many utilities also have tips. Here's the Georgia Power site for businesses: www.georgiapower.com