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Businesses Can Find Energy Savings

Energy-consuming equipment doesn’t have to be a financial drain on small businesses.

Ventilation fans are humming, refrigerators are cooling and vending machines are glowing in small businesses everywhere.

However, energy-consuming equipment doesn’t have to be a financial drain on small businesses. Those businesses have ways to save energy and cut costs.

Unbalanced Intake or Exhaust Systems

Have you ever entered or exited a building on a calm day but still noticed a gust of wind on your back or face? This indicates the intake or exhaust system is out of balance, says Russ Schell, owner of RJ Energy Solutions in Fargo. He advises small businesses and homeowners about more energy-efficient practices.

Commercial buildings have air exhaust and intake systems in kitchens, restrooms, generally occupied areas and swimming pool areas.

“If the system is out of balance and the exhaust system is overpowering the intake system, there will be an inrush of air due to negative air pressure in the building when the front door is opened,” Schell explains.

If the fresh outside air intake system is overpowering the exhaust fans, air will be leaving the building when the doors are open.

“This is a huge energy waster because of the conditioned air being released to the outside,” Schell says.

A simple adjustment on the exhaust of inside air or the supply of outside air will balance the system. Business owners should check fan belts and filters as a first step in balancing the ventilation system.

“If you have air blowing in your face, that’s usually a sign of a loose or worn fan belt or dirty intake filter,” Schell says. “It’s a simple fix, but it’s something people don’t think about.”

An unbalanced system probably is causing air to enter or leave through other openings in the building as well. This can lead to moisture problems in walls.

“If you have a lot of pressure within the structure, not only is the air going to flow out the door, but it’s looking for any other opening that it can find, including carrying moisture into the wall,” says Ken Hellevang, a North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer.

“Balancing the system becomes very critical when we’re looking at the whole structure,” he adds. “It becomes more than just an energy issue; it becomes an indoor air quality issue because indoor pollutants may not be removed.”


Customers shouldn’t need a winter coat when walking through the freezer section in a grocery store. Worn seals around the doors of coolers or freezers can be wasting energy and money. Replace the door seals if a dollar bill easily slips out when closed between the door’s seals.

“It’s a quick way to check your refrigeration seal,” Schell says.

He suggests doors that stay open due to weak springs also should be replaced.

In addition, he recommends cleaning refrigerator coils twice a year and having large and walk-in refrigeration systems serviced at least annually. This includes cleaning, adding refrigerant, lubricating moving parts and adjusting belts. This will help ensure efficient operation and longer equipment life.

On open refrigeration cases, fans create an air curtain that keeps in the cold air. If nearby aisles are particularly cold, those fans should be checked to make sure they are working properly.

Small grocery stores should avoid purchasing used equipment that will cost more long term, Hellevang advises.

“There’s a significant difference between purchase price and total cost,” he says. “Used equipment may be cheaper to purchase, but operating inefficient equipment may be more costly.”

Check with utility companies and government agencies such as U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development for grant or loan programs to help purchase energy-efficient equipment.

Vending Machines

Vending machines, including those that keep food cold or warm in convenience stores, often emit heat that could be dealt with more efficiently. Rather than simply placing an air-conditioning unit above the area to keep it cool, put an exhaust fan over the vending area, Schell advises.

“So rather than cooling it, you’re exhausting it,” he says.

That warm air can be vented outside during the summer or ducted to areas needing heating during the winter. Lowering the air temperature around the vending machine also will allow it to operate more efficiently because the condenser unit is operating in a cooler environment.

Consult with experts trained in building science or energy efficiency practices to find the best solutions for a commercial building.

NDSU Agriculture Communication - June 21, 2016

Source:Ken Hellevang, 701-231-7243, kenneth.hellevang@ndsu.edu
Editor:Luann Dart, 701-584-2172, luann@westriv.com
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