Over the past several decades, temperature fluctuations have made it difficult for facilities managers to estimate how much heating and furnace systems will cost to operate through winter. Regardless of how much these systems are used, however, there are some basic steps managers and maintenance staff can take to ensure that these systems are functioning at optimum efficiency while minimizing costs.
Here are a few tips:
Identify and eliminate all drafts. Air escaping through cracks in doors and windows can waste between 5% and 30% of energy costs. Create a schedule group for maintenance staff that includes checks of all doors, windows, chimneys and other areas that may be letting cool air in and warm air out. Pass a lit match or lighter along areas that are likely to have cracks or openings; flowing air will cause the flame to flicker.
If drafts are discovered, have spare rags on hand to stuff openings until more permanent sealants can be applied. Kitty litter or sand can be used to bulk up these rags and provide better blockage. The condition of doors and windows should be evaluated to determine whether any replacements are necessary. Drafts can be caused by numerous small cracks and openings that are more difficult to pinpoint and fix, and replacing a door or window may be beneficial in additional ways that would further justify the costs.
Evaluate furnace filters: change and/or upgrade. Typical disposable furnace filters should be changed every 90 days or so, regardless of the season. Dust and particulates constantly build up in filters, creating airflow resistance that forces the furnace to work harder to maintain the same temperature levels. Staying diligent about changing filters is an easy way to reduce energy costs year-round.
There is a long standing debate over whether disposable or reusable filters are best. Reusable or “permanent” filters are more expensive up front—the costliest can range up to $100 per filter, compared to low-end disposable filters, which can be as cheap as $1 each. However, reusable filters generally have a useful life of between five and eight years, which could actually make them cheaper in the long term if they are well maintained. And because disposable filters need to be replaced four times a year, they can add up quickly.
Air quality is the chief determinant of price. The more expensive reusable filters generally carry a higher Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV) rating, which is a measure of their ability to minimize airborne pollutants like dust and mites that can aggravate allergy symptoms. Facility managers who operate residential, retail or commercial space where people spend a lot of their time should opt for these higher-MERV solutions. The people using these facilities will be healthier, and because there will be no need to discard up to four filters per year, the higher-MERV reusable variety are “greener” to boot.
Facilities that house only equipment or inventory may not necessarily be affected by these same pollutants (or to the same degree), so cheap disposable filters may suffice (unless, of course, equipment, inventory, etc., is highly sensitive or is expected to sit for a long time). When in doubt, consult the manufacturer of your furnace for their filter recommendations.
The common theme for these checks is routine maintenance. CMMS software makes these easy to implement into regular routines and helps ensure that they don’t get skipped. Above all these steps should help keep your heating costs manageable this winter.
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