Think “energy efficiency” and high-priced upgrades like replacing the office lights or installing a fancy energy-efficient heating system often spring to mind. In reality, though, many of the most effective energy-saving strategies for small businesses require little or no upfront cost, meaning you can reap real savings almost immediately.
Here are five low-cost energy-saving opportunities to consider:
Unplug equipment (or use power strips). Office equipment, battery chargers and electronics continue to draw energy from the electrical outlets even when they’re turned off. This “phantom energy” or “vampire power,” as it’s called, can account for up to 30% of your electricity bills. To prevent that, unplug equipment when it’s not in use. Or if there are too many gadgets to unplug individually, plug everything into a power strip and flip the switch off.
Set the sleep mode on computers, printers and copiers. Most office electronics these days offer a “power-saving” or “sleep” mode. What it does: When the equipment isn’t used for an extended period, it will automatically go into a low-energy-consuming mode. You can simply shake the mouse or hit a button and the equipment springs back to full life. For each computer in your business, setting the power-saving mode on the monitor and system drive can save up to $50 a year on electricity bills. Enabling power-saving modes on copiers or printers  can save even more.
Install occupancy sensors. Businesses often have rooms that get used rarely or sporadically, such as storage closets, break rooms or restrooms. But the lights may stay on constantly. Installing occupancy sensors in these types of rooms, which typically cost less than $100 each, will help ensure lights in those rooms only come on when somebody is actually in them. Using an occupancy sensor can create light electricity savings  in that room of more than 50%.
Use a programmable thermostat. Just like in a home, setting back the temperatures at night or when you’re away will generate nice savings on your heating bills. Programmable thermostats generally cost less than $100 and allow you to pre-set room temperatures over the course of a day. Every one degree you set back temperatures for an eight-hour period will produce up to a 1% savings on your heating bills, according to the Department of Energy . So in the summer, you might program room temperature at 72 degrees during the day and turn it up to 78 degrees at night.
Install low-flow faucet aerators. If you have a restroom or a kitchen , you can reduce your water heating costs by installing a so-called low-flow aerator on the faucets. Most standard aerators on faucets generate 2.2 gallons of water per minute. A low-flow aerator will replace some of that water with air pressure and flow 1.5 gallons per minute or less. Using low-flow aerators is estimated to save 25% to 60% on water-heating costs for the faucets they are installed on.