By Jason Wentworth | Mar 26, 2012
In recent years, energy efficiency has become a hot topic for the self-service laundry industry, and coin laundry owners now have more options than ever to reduce their energy consumption. What’s more, most industry experts will agree that energy efficiency is one of the leading ways to control operating costs and increase profitability.
The question now is how to get the most savings from the array of options that are currently available.
The common approach to improving energy efficiency is to look at where you are consuming water, gas and electricity; to identify the areas where your operation is the least efficient; and to upgrade the “guilty” equipment to the latest models. This will provide you significant savings because nearly all new equipment used in a typical coin laundry is more efficient than the older models that will be replaced – but it does not take full advantage of the potential.
A “systems approach” is where cost savings can be multiplied by looking not only at the efficiency of the individual components of your operation but also at how these components are related.
A simple example of this approach is to examine the efficiency of your washers, as well as looking at the size of your water heater. For instance, if you upgrade your washers to models that consume far less water than your existing machines, how much will that lower your hot water demand? And, if you also implement a variable pricing structure – charging more for warm and hot water cycles than for cold water – how will that impact your store’s hot water consumption?
Putting both of these factors together will slash the amount you pay to heat water. In addition, as an added benefit, this most likely will allow you to reduce the size of your water heater, when it comes time to replace it – and that usually means a cost savings on the purchase price and improved operating efficiency.
Another example might be taking a close look at your dryers and your air conditioning together. Upgrading your dryers to newer models may not only reduce the amount of natural gas you consume to dry your customers’ clothes, but it also can reduce the amount of heat radiating through your store in the process. So, when in the market for new dryers, take into consideration how much heat they produce on the surface – selecting a model that is well insulated might reduce the heat in your store enough to significantly impact your air conditioning costs; it might even be possible then to install a smaller (cheaper) air conditioning unit.
To further illustrate how the systems approach can be taken to the next level, here are some of the things I did when setting up my laundromat 10 years ago.
In 2002, I bought a failing coin laundry that badly needed a major upgrade. After six months of planning, I undertook a renovation that included replacing all of the washers and dryers; the water heater; the heating system; the floor; the interior fixtures; the lighting; and the plumbing, electric and gas services. Having to replace everything was a huge financial challenge, but it gave me a great opportunity to apply the systems approach and carefully integrate all of the elements of the business to maximize energy efficiency.
I began by choosing the most water-efficient, soft-mount, frontloading washers with a variable pricing feature on the market at that time. This created a peak hot water demand that could easily be met with a 120-gallon condensing water heater. By adding a solar hot water system and pricing hot-water washes 50 cents higher than cold water, I was able to push down the peak demand to a point where an 80-gallon water heater would suffice.
When analyzing the heating system needs for the building, I took into consideration insulating the space well, the heat the dryers create during the day and adding windows with a southern exposure for the winter months. My conclusion was that the 80-gallon water heater would be sufficient to heat the space as well, because the heat load would come almost exclusively at night when the washers were not being used; this allowed me to avoid installing a separate boiler to heat the building – thus, saving $10,000 to $15,000. To maximize efficiency, I chose a radiant floor heating system with tubing that was integrated into the cement slab when I renovated the floor.
With the money I saved by not requiring a separate boiler to heat the building and by putting in a smaller water heater, I was easily able to pay for the solar hot water system and radiant floor heating. This not only significantly lowered my annual cost for heating and hot water, but it also created a more comfortable store and reduced my maintenance costs.
I took this same approach with integrating day lighting and the natural ventilation provided by the windows I added, and the store’s lighting and ventilation systems; my security and lighting systems were planned together so that I can turn out all of the lights at night and still feel comfortable that the building is well protected.
By connecting all of these different strategies, I ended up with a self-service laundry that uses less than half the utilities of a typical laundry – under 12 percent of my gross sales annually. This has translated into more than $200,000 in energy savings over the past decade from just one store – money that went right to the bottom line.
Most coin laundry owners are not energy-efficiency experts, so to take maximum advantage of any and every possible savings opportunity, you may need to consult with other professionals. Your laundry distributor likely will be your primary source of advice on designing your store, but don’t limit the project to only their area of expertise. By bringing all of the vendors who will be involved in the project to the table and getting them to work together toward the same goal of maximizing energy efficiency, you can achieve far greater savings than by allowing these professionals to work independently of each other.
Also, in many areas of the country, there are energy-efficiency engineers who are trained in the systems approach and are well worth the cost of having them lead your project design team.
Whether you are building a new store, renovating an existing one or just looking at some upgrades, the systems approach can help you take energy efficiency to the next level – and produce utility savings that add up year after year.