Almost two months after its introduction, the federal government remains under pressure with regard to the carbon tax, not just because of the cancellation of mining investments and its overall impact upon the economy but also because of the tax’s impact on 2.7 million small businesses that operate throughout Australia, many of which are expected to see energy bill increases of around ten per cent on average as the full impact of the tax kicks in.
In response to this, Minister For Small Business Brendan O’Connor has written to small business operators in an effort to ‘correct’ what O’Connor describes as ‘misinformation’ about the impact of the tax.
O’Connor also distributed a seven-page document outlining a range of ways in which small businesses (or indeed, businesses of any size) operate more efficiently from an energy perspective, thus reducing the impact of the carbon tax on their operations.
While some of the document’s recommendations do not relate specifically to building and construction, a number of other factors mentioned in the document serve as a critical reminder as to how well-designed buildings and structures can help to reduce energy consumption, and how builders, architects, interior designers and others can drive down operating costs for their clients through a few simple energy efficiency measures during either the construction of new buildings or the renovation/retrofit of existing premises.
First, there is the issue of heating and cooling – typically one of the biggest forms of energy costs for small business users. Obviously, buildings need to be well-insulated to reduce heat loss in winter and assist in keeping temperatures cool in summer. Window shades and awnings can be used to help stop heat entering the building, while curtains and blinds can assist in heat reduction and/or retention. Draught-proof windows and doors should be used while window seals should be free of cracks. Automatic doors can be used to prevent air escaping from external doors being left ajar.
Lighting, too, is another key area. Motion sensor lights for infrequently used rooms can help ensure that lights are turned off when they are not in use. Likewise, motion or infrared sensors are a better option than leaving lights on at night. Use of LEDs or fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescent or halogen bulbs, meanwhile, can reduce electricity use by up to 80 per cent. For places such as retail outlets and fast food restaurants, timer switches can be installed to allow illuminated signs to be switched off during the day or during quiet times at night when few people are likely to view the sign.
Then, there is the use of natural light, which can be achieved through the use of a skylight or the use of light colours when painting interior walls, depending on the desired aesthetic result.
Finally, hot water can also make a difference. Obviously, the type of system which is appropriate will vary according to location, client budgets and usage requirements. Heat loss can be mimised and piping kept as short as possible by locating systems as close as possible to bathrooms or wet areas such as laundries, while insulation of pipes and tanks will reduce heat loss and devices such as low-flow nozzles and electronic sensors on taps help to reduce water consumption and wastage while maintaining pressure.
The majority of small business operators can generate significant bottom line returns from a few simple basics.
By incorporating basic energy-saving technologies in any new building or retrofits they undertake, commercial builders can help small to medium sized clients drive down energy costs and beat that great big new tax.