Question: I’ve been hearing about people getting energy audits for their homes. What are energy audits? Is this something I should do in my restaurant?

Answer: With the federal government renewing its popular ecoENERGY home retrofit program, energy audits are back on the public radar. And with a restaurant being one of the most energy-intensive commercial businesses, an energy audit makes good long-term sense to help you cut your energy costs.

To get an initial idea of ways you can save on energy costs, take a look at our DIY energy audit tool.

For a more comprehensive assessment, though, it’s best to talk to a pro. So for the low-down on energy audits for small businesses, BizEnergy talked to Iain Robertson, General Manager of RePower Canada, an energy assessment and auditing firm based in Barrie, Ontario.

What’s involved with an energy audit? What sorts of things do you look at?

An energy audit involves a full tour of the facility and gaining an understanding of how energy is consumed, for how long and how often. We like to sit down with the operator to understand what they are looking for—this is very important. We can focus our study better when we have some ideas of problems the operator experiences. Challenges can include things like lighting, ventilation, heating, building envelope, or equipment on-site that creates energy such as refrigeration (cold inside, hot compressor outside).

Why would a restaurant choose to have their facility audited? What are the benefits of getting an energy audit?

A restaurant would choose to have an energy audit so they can learn about how they spend their energy dollars. The audit will provide recommendations about how to avoid unnecessary costs, boost efficiency and improve comfort for customers and staff.

How much money can a restaurant save by implementing energy efficiency recommendations?

Now that sustainability has become a major focus around the world, and virtually every company that can is reducing energy loads, the results are in. It has been verified that when organizations, companies, corporations, cities etc. embrace sustainability, the bottom line improves about 40%. The long term is a big factor. For example, we have a client that made changes over the last two years. Their before and after electricity consumption reduced by 14%. Their costs only dropped 4% due to rising energy prices—but had they not made the changes, they would have spent an extra $22,000.

What sorts of changes do you tend to recommend the most?

Lighting, building envelope and controls for ventilation. We focus on the “white noise” energy, the stuff that’s in the background.

What would you say is the greatest challenge restaurants face when it comes to energy efficiency?

Changing a culture and expectations of customers. For example, most larger restaurants have TVs on all day—in some cases, dozens of TVs.  This is a huge waste. What happened to art? The same goes for lighting, ambiance and temperature.  In winter, customers will dress like it is summer, so there are heavy heating requirements. Summer cooling loads are hell to maintain with both patios and indoor bars—the doors open and close constantly, causing the AC to run the same way. [For more on that topic, see our posts on ways to maintain an energy efficient patio and air doors.]

Are there government incentives to help offset the costs of energy efficiency audits and retrofits?

Absolutely. There are many areas. Small businesses can get free lighting retrofits, $1,000 worth.  There are specialized grants for both natural gas and electricity reductions.  However, small businesses need to DO something to get the rebates. [For more information about energy efficiency grant programs, take a look at SaveOnEnergy's programs for small businesses. And, while you're at it, check out our links to lists of grants and incentives.]

How much does an energy audit cost?

Costs vary depending on size and complexity. A small restaurant could be $750. Generally, audits start at around $1,500 for facilities under 5,000 square feet.

If you could tell restaurant owners/landlords one thing about energy audits, what would it be?

Understanding your energy consumption is critical to understanding how to reduce the most energy. Take advantage of the SaveONenergy grant program that pays for 50% of the cost of an energy audit, available to every business in Ontario until 2014.

Anything you’d like to add?

It takes very small changes to make a big difference, but we all have to make them. Some measures such as improving the building envelope can be very inexpensive: new door trim/brushes, a little bit of caulking, fix a broken window—less than $100 and you’ve eliminated drafts. You can turn the thermostat down a couple of degrees. Simple stuff.

If you’re thinking about getting an energy audit for your business, take a look at RePower Canada’s website to get an idea of the kinds of services an energy auditor provides. And did you know your local utilities offer product-specific rebates and incentives? Check our our energy efficiency rebates page to get an idea of how to save.

Have you had an energy audit at your facility? Share your experience in the comments section.

Image credit: ejhogbin