Keeping Utilities in Check (Part 1)

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(Photo: © iStockphoto/idealistock)

Bruce Beggs |

Energy efficiency strategies to manage water, natural gas, electricity costs

CHICAGO — The specter of ever-rising utility costs should be enough to send any vended laundry owner in search of strategies to help them better manage their water, natural gas and electricity usage.

But before you can decide what strategies to undertake at your store(s), first you must get a sense of what your energy expenses are and what’s contributing to them.

Your local equipment distributor may be able to help you with this. Plus, there are companies that specialize in performing assessments of the energy needs and efficiencies of a building, otherwise known as an energy audit.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has compiled a sizable list of local, state and regional programs that help small businesses like yours become more energy-efficient. There are programs that offer financial assistance in the form of grants and loans for making energy efficiency upgrades.

These same programs also offer free or low-cost technical assistance to help small-business owners conduct energy audits and implement energy-efficiency technology.

To learn more, visit the SBA website.

Now, with a summary of your utility bills in hand and perhaps the results of an energy audit, you’re ready to take action and start corralling those costs.

ON THE CUTTING EDGE

If it’s been a while since you’ve upgraded your laundry equipment, say, several years, it may be time that you seriously take a look at it. Utilizing the right mix of new, cutting-edge laundry equipment reduces utility expenses plus offers new profit-generating opportunities. This would certainly involve making a sizable investment, but it may make sense for your operation once you take the costs tied to older, less-efficient equipment into account.

Today’s advanced vended models offer many energy- and resource-saving features. Without focusing on any one brand’s offerings, here are some of the features available in washers and/or dryers on the market:

  • Automatic weighing within a washer determines the actual weight of a soiled load and adds precisely the right amount of water, thus lowering water consumption and energy costs.
  • High-speed extraction shortens dryer time, lowering gas consumption.
  • Sump-less washer design reduces the amount of water used with each fill.
  • Customized wash programs adjust water level, wash time and rinses per load based on customer needs.
  • Stronger machine frames and leak detection reduce preventive maintenance and repairs as well as lower utility expenses.
  • A dryer sensor determines when laundry is dry and lowers the operating temperature or stops the drum altogether.

Aside from lowering your costs thanks to energy-saving features like these, you may be able to take advantage of incentives offered by local utilities or other organizations.

For example, Puget Sound Energy in Washington state offers monetary incentives when Laundromats switch to energy-efficient, ENERGY STAR®-qualified equipment. Store owners can get up to $200 per machine—depending on their site’s utility usage—upon installing such equipment. Incentives for installing qualified condensing water heaters and condensing boilers are also available.

LET THERE BE LIGHT

It might not seem like much but you could lower your utilities cost by switching your store’s lighting from incandescent to LED. While LED lighting systems are more expensive up front, the bulbs last, on average, much, much longer than incandescents.

For example, Willow Creek Laundromat in Carrboro, N.C., retrofitted the store’s lighting system with LED lights with the help of North Carolina-based Carolina LED. The Laundromat installed 30 2-tube T8 LED systems to light its 2,500-square-foot space, taking advantage of a rebate program offered by a local energy provider.

Efficiency Vermont, that state’s energy efficiency utility, offers these LED lighting tips to save energy in your small business:

  • Switch frequently used lights first, as the biggest return on LEDs come from lighting that’s always (or frequently) on—for example, your exterior lights.
  • Consider the benefits of better lighting beyond saving energy. Replacing dim, yellow or flickering lights with high-quality LEDs can boost employee productivity, customer comfort and store appeal.
  • Choose your color and ambiance for directional and dimming applications.
  • Match the light to the task: overhead fixtures, task lighting, exterior lots.
  • Add lighting controls and sensors, because they can save you money by automatically turning off lights when they’re not needed (this is something you’ll need to balance with your security needs).
  • Upgrade tube fluoroscents to high-performance T8 fluoroscents or convert existing fixtures to accept linear LEDs.
  • Make use of natural light. If it makes sense for your budget and space, add skylights and daylighting controls that adjust interior light levels based on available daylight.

Check back Tuesday for the conclusion.

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.

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