The building where we run our business is a typical, 20,000 square-foot, flat-roofed commercial building in an industrial park on the edge of a small city. We want it to be as energy-efficient as possible, of course. That has presented us with many challenges.
Lighting provided us with one big challenge. Because the building forms a square, only a few work spaces can be illuminated by windows. We installed more efficient bulbs and lighting fixtures, but still our lights burned throughout the work day. Removing any fixtures or turning them off left people without sufficient light to work.
One of our advertisers led us to a partial solution. For a reasonable cost, we installed “Solatubes,” basically small, round skylights in the roof. Because the building has a typical ceiling of acoustic tiles in frames hung from the roof joists, conventional skylights would not have been visible. The Solatubes connect to a simple, flexible tube lined with a reflective material like aluminum foil. The foil maximizes the amount of light carried from the roof to a translucent lens in the ceiling. Voila, about a third of our lights were replaced by sunlight! Then we installed cheap motion detectors that turn off lights in sections of the building where no one is moving around, so even if we forget to flip the switch we don’t waste electric light. Many of our meetings are held in conference rooms lit by sunlight coming in through a Solatube.
Insulation presented similar challenges. There was a nominal amount sprayed between the roof joists. Adding more was problematic above the hanging ceiling where we run all the wires for our computer networks. We took advantage of a roof replacement to add new installation to the exterior of the roof between the decking and the roofing material. We programmed digital thermostats to turn off the heating and cooling when the building is not occupied.
Have we done enough? Of course not. That’s akin to the question of whether we’re profitable enough. No business is profitable “enough,” or efficient “enough” or big “enough.” Profitability, efficiency and growth are eternal goals. As we improve, we set higher goals. Along the way we ask ourselves, “How can we be more profitable? How can we be more efficient? How can we grow faster?”
Bryan Welch is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Ogden Publications, the parent company of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Connect with him on Google+.
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Photo by Bryan Welch