Invest in energy-efficiency measures that have a rapid payback

Looking for a quick return on your investment? Here’s a laundry list of ideas to get started with saving energy that often have a rapid payback. Complete these before you invest in capital equipment to make sure you install only the equipment you need. The best part? These upgrades continue to save you money long after the initial project cost is paid off.

Find cost-effective investments for:

Operations and maintenance

  • Retro or re-commission the building to make sure it’s running the way it was intended.
  • Consider energy audits to identify areas where building systems have become inefficient over time and bring them back to peak performance.
  • Repair leaking faucets and equipment. A dripping hot water faucet can leak hundreds of gallons per year.


  • Replace old fluorescent and incandescent lighting with T-8 (or even T-5) fixtures, ENERGY STAR certified CFLs or LEDs, and other energy-efficient lighting systems that improve light quality and reduce heat gain. CFLs cost about 75 percent less to operate, and last about 10 times longer.
  • Install LED exit signs. These signs can dramatically reduce maintenance by eliminating the need to replace lamps and can save $10 per sign annually in electricity costs.
  • Swap out incandescent light bulbs with ENERGY STAR certified CFLs or LEDs in your desk, task, and floor lamps.
  • Install occupancy sensors to automatically turn off lights when no one is present and back on when people return. Storage rooms, back-of-house spaces, meeting rooms, and other low-traffic areas are often good places to start. Before you begin, check with your local utility to see if they offer any incentives. Occupancy sensors can save between 15 and 30 percent on lighting costs. And don’t forget — even good equipment can be installed incorrectly, so don’t install the sensor behind a coat rack, door, bookcase, etc. It must be able to “see” an approaching person’s motion to turn on the light as they enter an unlit room.
  • Examine the opportunity to switch from high-pressure sodium lamps to metal halide lamps in parking lots and consider upgrading to LED lighting for outdoor signage.

Office equipment

  • Purchase energy-efficient products like ENERGY STAR certified office equipment, electronics, and commercial cooking equipment.

Food service equipment

  • Purchase ENERGY STAR certified commercial food service equipment. For example, certified refrigerators and freezers can save over 45 percent of the energy used by conventional models, which equals as much as $140 annually for refrigerators and $100 for freezers; deep fryers can save between $60 and $180 per year; hot food holding cabinets can save up to $280 per year; and steam cookers can save between $450 and $820 per year depending on fuel.
  • For existing refrigerators, clean refrigerator coils twice a year and replace door gaskets if a dollar bill easily slips out when closed between the door's seals.
  • Have large and walk-in refrigeration systems serviced at least annually. This includes cleaning, refrigerant top off, lubrication of moving parts, and adjustment of belts. This will help ensure efficient operation and longer equipment life.
  • Consider retrofitting existing refrigerators and display cases with anti-sweat door heater controls, and variable speed evaporator fan motors and controls.

Heating and cooling

  • Tune up your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system with an annual maintenance contract. Even a new HVAC system, like a new car, will decline in performance without regular maintenance. A contract automatically ensures that your HVAC contractor will provide “pre-season” tune-ups before each cooling and heating season. Your chances of an emergency HVAC breakdown also decrease with regular maintenance. 
  • Plug air leaks with weather stripping and caulking.
  • Install variable frequency drives (VFDs) and energy-efficient motors.
  • Balance air and water systems.
  • Install window films and add insulation or reflective roof coating to reduce energy consumption.
  • Upgrade and maintain heating and cooling equipment. Replace chlorofluorocarbon chillers, retrofit or install energy-efficient models to meet a building’s reduced cooling loads, and upgrade boilers and other central plant systems to energy-efficient standards.

Outside help

  • Use a performance contract to guarantee energy savings from upgrades made.
  • Work with an energy service provider to help manage and improve energy performance.

"Do your homework! First, understand your energy consumption, review usage per building system, and query occupants about realistic space needs. Next, research and select vendors based on proven results ... Lastly, understand which M&V [Measurement and Verification] process to use to measure project performance"

~ Lesson shared by Lake High School Complex, #3 overall winner, 2013 ENERGY STAR National Building Competition