Dealerships save green by going green

Cost-saving opportunities

Dealerships are energy-intensive operations, however many cost-saving, energy efficient upgrades exist. As energy costs continue to rise, dealers should evaluate these opportunities for substantial savings while showcasing the dealership’s concern for the environment. Additionally, savings opportunities increase when a new construction or renovation takes place.

Making the investment

Dealers should evaluate if an improvement in energy efficiency on a long-term basis, similar to the evaluation of other business investments would benefit them. For example, if the simple payback period (when savings exceed the initial investment) on an energy efficient upgrade investment is less than 6 years, it is considered a good investment. A sound energy investment can serve as a protection against future energy cost hikes.

Dealers should explore the following areas for energy efficient upgrade opportunities:

Area 1: Building shell

A building that lacks insulation will cost more to operate and improve in the future, as well as has poor air quality. This is the best opportunity for energy efficient upgrades, especially when the dealer plans to build or renovate the facility, as it involves only a small incremental cost for upgrading the materials and design.

Seal doors and entryways.

This is an easy starting point. The steps include:

  • Adding insulation or multiple panes of glass to windows or doors,
  • Installing automatic closers,
  • Applying a good seal by using caulking or spray foam, and
  • Adding door sweeps. For new construction or renovation projects, adding vestibules is a good way to reduce air flow. These steps are particularly important in areas such as carwash facilities and bay doors as these doors may not be properly sealed or left open for long periods of time.

Increasing insulation (R-value) can reduce energy costs over time. Insulation can be added to the roof, wall, slab, and basement with various materials. Discuss with your service provider for the optimal level of insulation for each area.

Reduce air and moisture infiltration.

For existing buildings, fill all gaps between the structural component and air conditioned space with fiberglass batting, spray foam, or caulk. For new construction or renovation, consider a quality building wrap as a wall barrier. These materials are cost-efficient and can help significantly reduce air and moisture infiltration into the air-conditioned space.

Cool roofing.

A hot roof contributes significantly to air-conditioning costs. Upgrading to cool roofing materials is often one of the more beneficial energy cost reduction investments for a new construction or renovation. For an existing building, installing a radiant barrier is an effective way to reduce roof heat and save costs both in summer and winter.


When replacing windows, consider factors such as number of panes, low-E coatings, and tints. For existing windows, aftermarket coatings or tints may be a good option.

Area 2: lighting

For most dealerships, lighting accounts for more than 30 percent of electricity consumption. It is easy to upgrade and has become more cost effective in recent years as costs of these products continues to fall.

Substituting lamps.

For interior space, consider the following:

  • Replacing T8 fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts for T12 lamps with magnetic ballasts,
  • Replacing incandescent or halogen lamps with fluorescent (CFL) or LED lamps, and
  • Replacing incandescent exit signs with LED signs. For exterior space, consider installing metal halide or an HPS (high pressure sodium) HID (high intensity discharge) system, or a more efficient fluorescent system and LED signage.
Lighting controls.

Lighting control helps improve usage of electricity. Some of the popular options include: Bi-level switching, dimmers, occupancy or motion sensors, and daylight sensors.
Day lighting. Common day lighting strategies include: Blinds with individual control, sky lights, and daylight dimming systems.

Area 3: HVAC system

Heating and cooling are the largest energy expenses for most dealerships. Dealers should consider the following when evaluating the HVAC system for potential savings:

Load reduction.

Reducing an HVAC’s load allows the system to operate less frequently and may even present an opportunity to downsize the system. Increasing efficiency in both building shell and lighting will help reduce a facility’s load.

HVAC replacement.

With advanced technology, the new HVAC uses much less electricity compared to the older unit. Therefore, it may be beneficial to replace the existing HVAC unit if the savings over the life of the HVAC is greater than the cost of the unit. For example, replacing a ten year-old AC unit may save 20 to 40 percent of the cooling costs.

Proper maintenance.

Cleaning and replacing HVAC components such as air filter, evaporator, and condenser coil, along with performing a regular inspection of ducts and piping for leaks, will ensure the system operates efficiently. Leaky ductwork is one of the biggest contributors to cooling/heating loss.

HVAC controls.

Installing programmable thermostats or establishing multiple heating/cooling zones will help the HVAC operate more efficiently.

Area 4: Office equipment and appliances

Look for ENERGY STAR® qualified products. ENERGY STAR® products use up to 80 percent less energy compared to standard products. ENERGY STAR® products are also available for larger items such as water coolers and vending machines.

Financial and tax incentives

Many states and utility companies offer incentives for energy efficiency upgrades. These incentives include grants, rebates, loans, and tax credits. These help reduce the cost of upgrading—improving the potential for long-term energy saving benefits. The following is a short list of places to look when determining whether financial opportunities are available for your dealership. Be sure to check back on a regular basis as new programs become available.

For further information, consider contacting professionals in your area to review or audit your facilities for potential savings.

Did you know?

  • According to NADA, cool roofing has the potential to save a 1980-built, 100,000 square-foot facility between $2,000 to $11,000 in energy costs annually.

  • Research indicates that day lighting not only saves money but also improves employee productivity and product sales.