Conserve Your Energy

Bright ideas that are easy on the environment—and your budget

By Elisa Kronish

If your facility has a recycling program for paper, plastics and metals, pat yourself on the back. Good for you—and good for the ecosystem.

Now, what about other environmentally friendly practices? How are you doing in the areas of water, lighting and electricity? If you're devoting energy to saving energy in these areas too, then you know that besides another pat on the back, you get a pat on the bottom—the bottom line, that is. Although it sometimes requires a little extra cash upfront, saving the environment almost always ends up saving you money. Following are some moves most recreational facilities can make to save money, energy and the environment, all in one fell swoop.

Water You doing
Add a textile supply and service company to your
laundry list of water savings.

To save water, the first thing you can do is swap out old, water-hogging toilet flushers for high-efficiency, low-flow flushers. The low-flow flushers typically use 1.6 gallons or less per flush, which is about half as much as less efficient models. You can follow suit with low-flow shower heads and sink faucets. They all work just as well as the old ones and are a quick and easy way to save money.

"You can adapt them in an afternoon and recoup cost in a month," says John Barrie, president of John Barrie Associates Architects in Ann Arbor, Mich. "The payback is so quick that it's criminal not to do it."

Another way to save water is to do less laundry. No, that doesn't mean you have to go around wearing coffee-stained uniforms and handing dirty towels out to your guests. It means hiring a textile supply and service company to wash them for you. Such companies rent and deliver clean products such as uniforms, sheets, table linens, towels, floor mats, mops, shop towels and other items and pick up dirty textiles to clean and reuse. Or, if you have your own inventory and don't need to rent supplies, you can just send your own items out for cleaning.

The water savings comes from the economies of scale. According to the Uniform and Textile Service Association, studies show that the textile industry uses 64 percent less water, 73 percent less energy and 90 percent less detergent than do small home and business washers and dryers to do the same quantity of laundry.


"Let's say it takes 10 gallons of water to do a regular load of laundry. If we consolidated that, we could probably cut that water usage in half because of the efficiency of a larger machine," explains Mary Anne Dolbeare, director of public affairs at the UTSA. "If you send your white gym towels to the laundry, they probably get washed with 400 or 500 other washes of white towels, and that provides us some efficiency. Rather than you having to do loads of 20 towels to keep your inventory running, we can do loads of hundreds to save water and energy."

The environment also reaps additional benefits from your use of reusable products like shop towels. Say you have a golf-cart repair facility, and your crew uses paper towels to clean gears and engines. That's a lot of paper towels piling up on trash heaps.

"We offer reusable cotton shop towels, which can be used up to 15 times depending on the weight of the towel," Dolbeare says. "That saves the environment an enormous amount of trash being thrown away."

In fact, the UTSA points out data from the U.S. EPA that shows that over their life cycle, disposable paper towels use more than 2,850 percent more water, 12,590 percent more energy and produce 210 percent more solid waste than their reusable counterparts. Dolbeare also suggests further boosting environmental benefits by replacing disposable paper towels in bathrooms with continuous roll towels.

Do It Again

Flaunt your facility as extra-environmentally friendly by combining energy-saving techniques with environment-saving products.

"Try to use things that don't deplete natural resources," says Susan Maxman owner of Susan Maxman and Partners in Philadelphia. Her firm uses as many recycled materials in its projects as possible. And it's getting easier and cheaper to do so. Now everything from the paint on the ceiling to the tile on the floor can be found in a recycled version.


For the Cusano Environmental Education Center in Philadelphia, Maxman used recycled timber for the framing. The logs had been found sunk into a river.

"They were remilled and made into these wonderful-looking timbers," Maxman says. Another project used recycled timbers found in old loft buildings to make beautiful wood floors.

"Many more people are doing it than you'd think," she says.

This award-winning visitor center and educational facility also receives kudos for its rubber floor mats made from old tires, floor tile made from auto glass, deck from recycled plastic and roof covered with recycled steel shingles. And if that's not enough, the water is also recycled. Using a wastewater treatment system, water from the visitor center restrooms is treated and recycled for uses other than drinking, like watering plants in the greenhouse.


Even dry wall can be found made from recycled newspaper. It costs exactly the same, performs exactly the same and can be bought at the same store as dry wall made with all virgin materials, says John Barrie, president of John Barrie Associates Architects in Ann Arbor, Mich. His company also uses a ceramic tile product that is made with 90-percent-recycled automobile windshields and light bulbs.

He suggests asking for the price difference between recycled and virgin materials whenever you're building new, adding to a structure or rehabbing an existing one. When you choose recycled over raw, you're making a difference.

"You're stimulating the infrastructure for recycling and you're keeping things out of landfills," Barrie says. "I think you're showing your values by making this decision."

Lighten up
The Mauna Lani located in Hawaii is the largest
solar-powered resort in the world. Its solar electric
systems reduce operational costs as well as
contribute to Hawaii's sustainability and environmental
preservation by offsetting diesel combustion for
power generation.

Saving energy through lighting requires either reducing electricity or reducing the amount of time the lights are on. To reduce electricity, you can replace existing fluorescent lights with more energy-efficient models, which provide a lower wattage but approximately the same light output. Replace incandescent lights (regular old bulbs) that are on more than a few hours a day with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). For your efforts, you'll see payback in about two years, Barrie says.

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) combine the efficiency of fluorescent with the convenience of incandescent. The technology has been around for nearly 20 years, but it has become more popular in the past decade because of advancements in fixtures that fit them. They have also improved in terms of the amount of light they produce, says Joe Rey-Barreau, former director of education at the American Lighting Association. Compact fluorescents are about four times more efficient than a standard incandescent light, meaning a 25-Watt CFL equals about a 100-Watt incandescent bulb.

CFLs also have a longer life than incandescent bulbs. A 100-Watt incandescent brightens a room for about 750 to 1,000 hours, while a CFL keeps going to an average of 10,000 hours.

"From the point of view of just efficiency and long-term maintenance, you really can't beat these little guys," Rey-Barreau says.

Until recent years, one of the technical problems with CFLs was their aversion to cold weather. When the temperature got below freezing, they often wouldn't work. Improvements now allow use of them down to about zero degrees Fahrenheit.

If you're really going for the top of the line, then you'd want to look into high intensity discharge lamps (HID), which are commonly used for outdoor and street lighting. In terms of efficacy in lighting—translated to lumens per Watt—these produce the most amount of light for the amount of energy consumed. Incandescents produce from 17 to 20 lumens per Watt, fluorescents 80 to 100, HIDs 80 to 140.

Covering 10,000 square feet of the hotel
roof area, the solar electric system atop
the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel lowers air
conditioning requirements and extends
roof life by protecting it from damaging
effects of the weather—all while
generating clean electricity.

For outdoor applications, such as lighting pathways or a field, Rey-Barreau says that HIDs are very useful. But make sure you choose the right type of HID. There are three: mercury, metal halide and high pressure sodium. The mercury HIDs have an efficacy rating of about 60 to 80 lumens per Watt, and they give off a greenish-blue tint.

"In an outdoor environment, they make plants look really cool," Rey-Barreau says.

Metal halide is really just an improved mercury bulb. It provides higher efficacy (about 80 to 100, sometimes higher) and a life span of up to 20,000 hours. Rey-Barreau says these are being used almost exclusively now in outdoor sports facilities and shopping malls.

The third type, high pressure sodium, is the most efficient commercially available light bulb, producing 120 to 140 lumens per Watt rating with a life span of at least 24,000 hours. But the yellowish-orange tint makes people look jaundiced, so these lights are mostly confined to highways.

It depends on the fixture as to whether you'll need to get a new one to fit your new light, but compact fluorescents come in a variety of shapes and sizes. About 70 percent of incandescent fixtures will handle a direct switch with a compact fluorescent.

For added savings, invest in motion detectors. If you're running an overnight camp, for instance, kids who stumble bleary-eyed into the bathroom at 2 a.m. might stumble out again without turning off the light. A motion-detector system could keep them in check by clicking off after a certain amount of time.

"But you want to put a long timer on the lights, so people aren't left in the dark," Barrie says. An average motion detector runs about $20 and can simply replace a regular switch.

High beams

Speaking of light, just think, enough sunlight falls on the planet each minute to meet the energy needs of the entire world for an entire year. Instead, we use fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas that are being depleted at a rate 100,000 times faster than they are being formed.

When the whole country was wracked by the oil embargo in the late '70s, solar energy took the spotlight, joined by other alternative energy sources like wind and water. But the oil crisis faded, and energy use returned to status quo. That doesn't mean so long for solar, though. There are more than 10,000 homes in the United States powered entirely by solar energy, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national organization for U.S. commercial enterprises involved in solar energy. And you, too, can save energy, plus the environment, by bringing solar technology to your facility.

Consider creative uses for solar, like the 60 solar-powered golf carts recently added to the Francis H. I'i Brown Golf Course at the Mauna Lani Resort in Hawaii. A solar electric system charges the vehicles using sunlight, reducing recharging costs as well as doubling the battery life of the electric carts. This system can be bought with new vehicles or retrofitted on existing electric golf and utility cars.


A solar-powered golf cart quietly and continuously recharges its battery with sunlight while the golfers play.

"We save thousands of dollars during the life of each golf cart, without compromising on performance," says Neil Bustamante, vice president of operations at Mauna Lani Resort.

Besides the golf carts, the resort installed a solar electronic roof system at the hotel and bungalows and one for the golf facility. The rooftop panels reduce utility costs, while extending the lifetime of the roof and providing thermal insulation benefits to the buildings.

The common type of solar energy is called photo voltaic (PV) technology, which converts sunlight directly into electricity. Batteries store electricity for use later. Solar energy is frequently used in hot-water heating installations—there are more than one million of them in the United States. This use of solar energy typically offers the biggest potential savings to users. A complete solar water heating systems costs around $3,000, but savings over electric or fuel bills can be as high as 80 percent.

More than 300,000 solar pool heating systems have also been installed nationwide. According to the SEIA, a buyer recoups the cost of a pool system in as little as two years. Solar collectors are often installed on a roof but can go anywhere the sun shines for a significant part of the day. Another plus is that maintenance for a solar pool system is generally nothing beyond the normal filter cleaning and winter shut-down.

Passive solar applications also harness the sunlight to save money. They comprise a holistic way of looking at how a structure can work with the sun to stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer—a lot of it is just common sense and taking into account where the sun will hit your facility.

For example, if you're building a new structure, you'd position it to take advantage of solar gain, explains Doug Schroeder of the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council. Although that's more difficult with a lot of trees around, you can still determine what pattern the sun takes across the sky and place windows in a location that allows for maximum entrance of sun rays in the winter and minimum in the summer. Overhangs like awnings enhance this effect by letting light in when the sun is lower in the sky during the winter and shading the building during summer months when the sun is higher.

So, keep filling those recycling bins, but look around and see what else you can do to earn a few other environmentally friendly pats on the back. And if you're unsure about what you can do at your facility, get an expert's opinion. An energy audit takes about a day and is usually offered for free by the utility company in your area.

Insulate Yourself

If your building is badly insulated, almost any cost for an overhaul is going to save you money. Although some walls are practically impossible to insulate after a building is complete, look up. Air readily escapes through an insufficiently insulated ceiling, and that's something that can be insulated after the fact. Barrie says a ceiling can generally be insulated in an afternoon by an untrained person. Also, add insulation around water heaters, hot-water pipes and heating ducts.

Ditto for single-paned windows. Because windows play a role in heating, cooling and ventilation, they are a complex part of energy savings. If possible, put in new windows with multiple layers of insulation. Or at least weather-strip or caulk existing windows. Gaps around windows and doors alone can add up to several feet of air space that just blows money, well, out the window. Curtains or drapes with a white instead of dark backing can add to savings by keeping the sun from acting as a heater during the summer. The cost for new windows will be recouped in about four or five years.

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