Going Green to Save Money: Five Simple Ways to Make Your Facility More Energy Efficient

May, 2012

Often, the idea of "going green" brings to mind solar panels, wind turbines, and biofuels, but the reality is that there are simple, cost-effective ways of decreasing your energy consumption that do not involve major renovations and will have an immediate impact on your bottom line. Ricardo Fleury of Green Point Partners, a company that provides sustainability consulting for commercial real estate owners, has identified five energy efficiency retrofits that are not capital intensive, potentially DIY in nature, and can achieve payback in 1-3 years or less. While they may not be as sexy as shiny new solar panels on your roof, energy efficiency retrofitting projects typically make for far better investments. Regardless of issues like climate change, air quality, and energy security, these recommendations are based strictly on economics and improving the bottom line.

The most time sensitive of the five retrofits involves converting from old-school incandescent T12 lamps to more energy efficient fluorescent T8 lamps, reducing lighting electricity costs by 25-40%. Federal law mandated that T12 ballasts be phased out of production last year and that same law will phase out T12 lamps starting July, 2012, making the transition to T8s inevitable. Many local utilities are incentivizing customers to make the change today by providing instant rebates; these rebates vary by utility provider, so check with your local provider for details. For example, ComEd, the largest electricity supplier in the Greater Chicago area, offered an $8 rebate for each T12 lamp and ballast combination installed by March 31, 2012. That rebate dropped to $6 on April 1 and will be phased out over the next 12 months or so.

With the combined costs of ballasts and lamps averaging around $50-80 per fixture, the rebate is meaningful. Not only will these new lamps decrease your monthly electricity bill, they will also have a much longer lifespan; T12 lamps generally have a rated life of 20,000 hours while T8 lamps typically are rated for around 36,000 hours. That means lower maintenance costs, especially for those hard to reach lamps that require additional equipment to change. Additionally, T8s emit less heat than their T12 counterparts, keeping HVAC costs down and for an added bonus, the light produced by T8 lamps tends to be of better quality. In many cases, this conversion requires a professional electrician because both the lamp and ballast much be replaced, however a skilled in-house maintenance person could change the ballast and lamps on a one-by-one basis as the old T12s burn out. Conservative estimates price the full conversion costs into the thousands, especially if union-labor is required, however there is an estimated payback period of 1-3 years thanks to offset electricity expense. The chart below highlights the estimated payback period based on varying costs (per kW) and local electricity rate ($/kWh). A retrofit that costs $200 per kW with local utility rates at $0.10, will pay for itself in just two years. Higher electricity rates will shorten the payback period.

It is important to note that the payback period varies by location, depending on local utility rebate incentives, the retail rate of electricity being offset, and whether the area requires union labor (if professional installation is required). Every storage owner will need to make these changes at some point as T12 lamps are phased out, so you mind as well do it today while rebates are available.

LED lighting offers another opportunity to "go green" in the name of the bottom line. These lights are highly efficient, even more so thanT8 lighting, but also more expensive. Therefore, converting to LED lighting works best for lights that have long "run-hours" like outdoor and billboard lights that stay on all night and security or exit sign lighting that remains on 24/7. Once again, LED lighting has a much longer lifespan than traditional incandescent lighting, decreasing maintenance costs, especially for those hard to reach areas that require lifts and additional equipment. In fact, the lifespan is significant: incandescent lamps have a typical lifespan of 1,000-2,000 hours and compact fluorescent (T8s) typically provide 6,000-10,000 hours of lighting, while LEDs provide 50,000 hours of lighting or more, equivalent to over five and a half years of continuous use. The cost of LED lamps has declined significantly of late and may continue to decrease in the coming years. Similar to T8 conversions, this oftentimes requires the help of a professional because older lighting components are not generally compatible with LEDs and will require additional alterations. Payback periods average approximately 3-5 years with similar caveats about offset electricity rates and labor costs.

Controlling unneeded lighting is another way to minimize energy costs. Motion sensors can reduce electricity costs because lighting is used as needed rather than running continuously. Wall or ceiling mounted sensors trigger lights to remain on as long as there is motion within that area and this works especially well for interior units that only require lighting while there is foot traffic. The sensors themselves range from $30-100 each and have a very long lifespan. However, installing sensors may require some re-wiring so that more specific lighting sections are created. For example, if the wiring is currently constructed so a single light switch illuminates an entire floor, rewiring will be required to segment the lighting for more specific areas so that the sensors will work more efficiently. Door switches and manual countdown timers are also ways to control lighting based on occupancy. An electrician will almost certainly be needed to wire the motion sensors and complete any sectioned rewiring, making labor costs a significant portion of this retrofit. Despite this, owners will likely see a 1-3 year payback period with similar caveats mentioned previously. Making these changes will likely be a very efficient use of excess cash flow thanks to the generous returns they provide.

There are some DIY projects that all self storage owners should complete (if you haven't already) that will lower monthly electricity expenses immediately. It is important to make sure that all heating and cooling systems are operating efficiently. Change the filters regularly and keep a log. Dirty filters reduce air flow and can reduce efficiency. Make sure ducts and pipes are properly insulated. Refrigeration piping that delivers coolant to climate controlled units can be inefficient when not insulated appropriately, absorbing ambient heat and increasing the cost of cooling those units. Air leaking from ductwork reduces the amount of conditioned air delivered to the desired area, making the temperature harder to control and increasing system runtimes.

Another DIY must is to weather-strip and seal all climate controlled areas to prevent air leakage. Small gaps between the door and the floor, however small, allow valuable cool air to escape. Any gaps around structures, piping, and HVAC or wiring penetrations that let air in or out should be fully sealed. A 1/8 inch gap around a standard size door is equivalent in area to a 3" x 5'" note card. Expanding foam sealants are inexpensive and do a great job of sealing gaps to stop air leakage (and insects). Head to your local home improvement store one morning and spend a couple hundred dollars. By the afternoon you will improve the energy efficiency of your facility and pay for the improvements several times over in the months and years to come.

With international pressures on energy supplies, federal and state mandates for renewable energy standards, and a growing population demanding more energy day by day, it's not hard to conceive how the cost of energy could rise significantly in the years to come. A few small-scale projects to make your facility more energy efficiency will have a direct impact on your bottom line, even more so as energy becomes more expensive. For storage owners, the concept of "going green" can bring to mind forests and flowers or the green of cold, hard cash.

Ricardo Fleury is an Energy Efficiency Analyst with GreenPoint Partners. GreenPoint provides energy and sustainability consulting, such as energy audits, efficiency retrofits, and sustainability advisory services. Ricardo is experienced in energy efficiency management, energy auditing, and renewable energy analysis. He can be reached at 312.265.3964 e-mail: rfleury@greenpointpartners.com; visit: www.greenpointpartners.com/selfstorage.

Mini-Storage Messenger May 2012

This article has been reprinted with permission from Mini-Storage Messenger.

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