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Audit Your Energy Use

Lloyd Manning |

According to the business-statistics firm BizStats, the cost of utilities in a drycleaning plant is 5.8% of its total income; for coin-ops, which many plants also operate, it’s 18.6%. A limited, unscientific survey I conducted suggests that these figures are not far off. These are high percentages that threaten to erode profits seriously.
Plant owners know that the cost of natural gas, electricity, water and other utilities are going through the roof, with increased demand worldwide and dwindling supplies. And with the expense of transporting energy to the consumer increasing, indications are that these costs will continue to rise.
The bottom line is that energy will consume a large and increasing share of income and profits, making it mandatory for you to perform an assessment (a.k.a. audit) of your energy consumption and needs.
An energy audit is a “look-see” into your operation to find out where savings might be realized by eliminating excess energy usage. Some ways to cut usage are as simple as turning off lights when they are not needed; reclaiming water; and buying higher-efficiency drycleaning machines, washers and other equipment. Saving nickels and dimes can add up to dollars.
An energy assessment is a comprehensive evaluation of the actual performance of the plant’s energy-consuming equipment, systems and procedures that can help locate and eradicate energy “hogs.” The data can then be compared to the industry’s optimum performance levels — what should or could be. It also provides an input benchmark by which your energy and cost savings can be measured.
It’s harder to reduce the plant’s energy consumption without an audit, since you have nothing to judge your performance against. The procedure can produced significant benefits for the bottom line.Years in Review. Start your audit by gathering data on your energy consumption. Review at least 12 months’ utility bills; better still, look at the past two or three years. Record rates, consumption and other fees. Next, check maintenance schedules and records for your systems—equipment, boilers, heating/ventilating/air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment, motors, pipes and so on—to ensure it was done appropriately.
You can do the investigation, assign a qualified staff member or ask a company that specializes in such work. If employing an outside contractor, though, be selective: Check for experience with drycleaning plants and check their references.
Whether or not you’re the do-it-yourself type, you can often get a good checklist from your suppliers. Some will offer extensive self-audit forms at no charge, or as a free download from the Internet.
Due to initial cost, getting owners to consider replacing drycleaning machines and boilers with new equipment can be a hard sell. With the higher operating and maintenance costs of older equipment, modernization can often slash energy use. When you buy new, always look for equipment that minimizes the energy required to operate it.
For example, a new, high-efficiency boiler is half the size and twice as efficient than an older one. They may be expensive to buy, but they’re usually worth the price. Or you can make current boilers effective again: One owner reports that when he replaced uninsulated and undersized steam pipes with new pipes that met production needs, it reduced the demand on his two boilers so much that he eliminated one of them—saving almost 50% on fuel.
Although you may accept that buying new equipment will pay for itself over its lifespan, you may still be unwilling to make that initial cash outlay or financing commitment. An effective maintenance program on older equipment can also save substantial amounts of money by reducing energy use and extending the equipment’s useful life.
Maintenance should be scheduled regularly and anticipate plant needs. Instead of, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” think, “If it ain’t broke, I’ll fix it before it is.” Having a drycleaning machine or boiler stop working properly should never come as a surprise.
In time, all equipment wears out, loses efficiency and breaks down. Proper maintenance reduces operating costs by saving energy, cutting eventual repair bills and extending operating life. Left unattended or done on the cheap, poor maintenance often requires more costly retroactive work.
Have an HVAC expert check out your heating and air-conditioning system. Drycleaning plants are warm even on cold days, and have a high moisture content — perhaps a newer evaporative system could save money over older furnaces and fans by operating only when the staff is present. 
Laura Keating, manager of A Plus Dry Cleaners, in Burnaby, B.C., says her plant recirculates air using a large, strategically located ceiling fan, and needs no additional heat or air conditioning in winter or summer. Burnaby, however, has a temperate climate, so this strategy may not work in Minnesota winters or Phoenix summers.Lights Out. While the typical household spends 5% to 10% of its energy budget on lighting, commercial facilities spend up to 30% on theirs. Drycleaning plants use less electricity on lighting than many industries, but it is still a high cost, and the same use-reduction criteria apply.
To save, turn off the lights in rooms and in areas not in use. Turn off fans, machinery, computers, etc. when they are not in use. Put outdoor advertising signs on timers to turn off at midnight, and replace old-style incandescent fixtures with new energy-efficient fluorescent lights.
Keating’s plant uses ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights exclusively, which provide ample light while being less costly to operate than reflective fixtures. Install lighting maintenance equipment such as timers, dimmers and sensors, etc. Eliminate excessive lighting in areas where it isn’t required. And make use of natural light and keep windows clean to allow it in.
Understand how water travels though the plant, too — perhaps by installing flow meters at several locations. Fluctuations may suggest leaks, unnecessary water use and inefficient equipment, and will help identify areas where water is being wasted.
Examine pipes, connections and taps; make a checklist of all potential leaks. Conduct weekly inspections of any equipment that uses or conveys water. Find and repair leaks and anything that isn’t turned off when it’s supposed to be. Upgrading or replacing equipment can prevent water waste, which will save money.
Providing it meets water-quality requirements, re-using water for an alternative purpose can be a real money-saver. You can also use heat-reclaiming equipment to save on water-heating costs. Some municipalities offering closed-loop recirculating systems to perform cooling and condensing operations. The water is clean, and can be reclaimed to supply a boiler, wetclean or flush toilets.
Hundreds of companies in every sector are developing new technologies that help conserve energy. Call it energy efficiency, conservation or good management, you should take advantage of these innovations.
Many equipment manufacturers, utilities and state environmental agencies offer significant incentives to demonstrate how much modern equipment can save on energy costs. They will work with you at little or no cost to point out situations and suggest conservation devices and procedures.
Undertaking a comprehensive energy assessment and following through on it may seem like an enormous task, but taking control of your plant’s energy consumption may be easier than you think. Whether you do it yourself or hire an energy-auditing firm, you can rein in those high utility bills.
You will need to revisit your procedures frequently and monitor the results, updating them as required. All management programs, this one included, require diligence. Energy conservation is not a one-shot deal; to be effective, it must be a continuing process — otherwise, you’ll waste even more money.

About the author

Lloyd Manning

Freelance Writer

Lloyd Manning is a freelance writer based in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan.

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