One of the easiest ways for businesses to save money on utility bills is to plug energy leaks. To do this, the leaks must first be found.

Energy leaks can’t be seen visually, but they can be detected with a hand-held infrared camera which images temperature, rather than light. The key to reading the camera is the change in color from one area to the next.

With an infrared detector, cool areas appear lighter and warm areas appear darker. In winter time, looking at the building from outside, dark areas on the image show heat escaping from the building. In summer, lighter colors may indicate air conditioning leaking out.

Any time conditioned air is lost to the outdoors through cracks, joints, penetrations, or window and door frames, the energy required to either heat or cool that air has been wasted. But energy losses in commercial buildings can occur in other places too.

Here are five places to look for energy loss in commercial buildings with the help of an infrared camera:

  1. Exterior leaks and loss of insulation. The building envelope consists of the entire outer surface of a building, where it interfaces with the outside world. Weather stripping around doors and windows may leak air. Argon insulated windows often leak argon gas over time. Wet insulation in an attic may lose its R value. Insulation in vertical walls may have settled out.
  2. Inefficient equipment. Excess heat is a byproduct of the inefficient operation of electrical equipment. Search around motors, engines, blowers, pumps, and electrical cabinets for color changes, which represent wasted energy, as well as indicating something may be wrong with the operation. 
  3. Loose electrical connections. These may cause overheating due to increased electrical resistance. In addition to being a safety hazard, the increased heat is one more source of wasted energy.
  4. Interior leaks. Air duct soffits may show warm or cold spots, which means heated or cooled air is leaking out of the ducts, rather than traveling to the registers. These leaks make the HVAC system work harder and use excess energy to maintain comfortable temperatures.
  5. Blown steam traps. Steam systems for industrial processing, heating water, or heating the building require removal of condensate. Traps installed in the system block the flow of steam while allowing the water to cool and condense out. But when a steam trap is blown, the hot steam escapes, wasting energy.

By locating and plugging energy leaks in commercial buildings, businesses can meet local, state, and federal regulations for energy efficiency while improving safety and saving a significant amount of money.

According to the Dept. of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), space heating and/or cooling account for about one-third of the energy usage for a commercial building. Depending on the source and size of energy loss, making repairs or boosting insulation to the building envelope may save up to 15 percent of the building’s energy costs—a real boost to the bottom line.