Finding Ways to Reduce Utility Costs

Winters where I am, in northeastern Oklahoma, can be mild to severe and back again. Sometimes it seems unpredictable. In my lifetime, we have had white Christmas seasons and Christmas parties when everyone wore short sleeves. It’s a collective joke around here that you never quite know what the weather will be like the next day. No matter where you are, your buildings should provide ideal thermal comfort for their occupants, no matter the weather. That should be achieved using as little energy as possible, but we all know that a huge amount of energy is used to heat our buildings during winter. We’re spending 90% of our time indoors these days, and we want to be warm while we are indoors.

  • Existing Buildings:
    • Fixing air leaks, especially around windows and doors.
    • Inspect roofs for existing insulation and opportunities to increase it. This could be with a green roof or other methods.
    • Upgrading windows and doors to types with higher R-values, meaning they are more energy efficient.
    • Analyze past utility bills and find opportunities for improvement.
    • For historic districts and buildings, find ways to stay within historic renovation rules and guidelines while increasing older buildings’ efficiencies. 
  • New Buildings
    • Should be designed with local weather and climate in mind, so that the building systems perform at their highest levels.
    • Building designers should spec doors, windows, insulation, and other applicable materials that support a high performing building envelope with no unplanned air leaks.
    • Architects, engineers, and designers should work together as an integrative team to design high performing building systems that work for the building occupants’ needs. These building systems include HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), plumbing, electrical, fire protection, and other infrastructure.

Providing a Comfortable Indoor Environment during Winter

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all work cozied up with our pet, a fireplace, and some hot chocolate? Yes, yes, it would. For many people, that luxury is out of reach. Our essential workers in healthcare, food & beverage, and construction are braving winter weather conditions throughout their workdays. For indoor workers, a comfortable indoor environment is essential for worker happiness and productivity.

There are several strategies to provide a comfortable indoor environment including the strategies listed above. Additionally, based on your building’s location, you can take advantage of opportunities for solar heat gain in the winter. This can be achieved with a combination of the orientation of the building on the site and the window placement and shading. Building Information Modeling (BIM) can be especially helpful in guiding the orientation of the building. It allows architects, planners, and designers an instant 3D visual representation of the sun’s position based on the project’s location and time of year inputted. The main BIM software used by architects and engineers is Revit. These pre-planning efforts will reduce the need for energy consumption of the building once it is actually built. Commissioning services can act as a watchdog to make sure the building systems function as they were designed over time. Building owners will be pleased with the cost savings on utility bills throughout the life of the building.

Reduce Heating Needs this Winter

The first question to ask on this subject is if people are actually working in your building? Many people are working from home currently, which means that entire suites and floors of office buildings do not currently need to be heated as if they were constantly occupied. Check your lease requirements to see if you are able to lower the temperature significantly. Of course, you want to avoid freezing pipes or other cold temperature related issues. Generally, there are codes and guidelines to follow in buildings, so it is up to us to find all available opportunities for efficiencies to reduce our need for as much heating. If building codes or lease language is dated and doesn’t consider modern day advances that allow for energy efficient measures, you can challenge said language and join the fight for more efficient and less wasteful building systems.

Additionally, to reduce the amount of heating needed, if you work in an older building that has yet to be renovated to a more efficient version of itself, consider wearing layers to work. That way you can adjust your outer layers depending on how well the heater is working that day. You may also bring a blanket or efficient space heater to give you added coziness.

How Building Users Can Influence Building Owners

I listened to a wonderful panel this week put on by Social Venture Circle that covered green real estate and the many opportunities that tenants have in influencing building owners and landlords. Tenants, either individuals or companies, can inquire about a building’s energy performance as a tenant or even when searching for a new place in which to live or work. This is the first step to starting a conversation with the decision makers for the building about instituting and promoting energy efficient measures. Businesses entering into a lease agreement can negotiate efficiency improvements in their discussions on tenant improvement renovation projects. The increase in interest and demand from tenants will shift building owners’ and developer’s minds to prioritize energy efficiency measures. They should already be prioritizing these, in my opinion, based solely on the savings in operational costs that efficient buildings can experience. This may be the only reason for some to pursue energy efficiency. The decrease in energy consumption and the related carbon outputs could be tremendous if the building development industry shifted its standards and thinking around energy efficiency. 


To finish up, there are many measures that building owners and operators can take to reduce their own building’s consumption of energy resources and reduce the waste of those energy resources. For future builders and developers, the time is now to standardize energy efficiency, clean air, and healthy indoor environments. The positive outcomes of these actions are both tangible and intangible. It is clear that my generation wants to live, work, and play in healthier, more sustainable buildings. Whether you are an employee, tenant, owner, or developer, you have the power to influence the direction that your building or development company goes. This winter, find big and small ways to improve your building’s efficiency for the betterment of your indoor environment as well as the environment as a whole.


Social Venture Circle & American Sustainable Building Council: Capitalizing on the Green Real Estate Revolution Panel; Panelists: Deepinder Singth, CEO and Founder of 75F; Deb Noller, CEO of Switch Automation and Summer Johnson, Sustainable & Impact Banking at Barclays