While business owners continue to spend more and more money on elaborate marketing and PR campaigns, RJ Energy Solutions President Russell Schell would encourage them to look within their own walls if they’re looking to boost their bottom line.
Schell is a 33-year veteran of the industrial and commercial HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) industry, and he wants to plug the hole in your wallet by plugging the holes in your monthly energy strategy (if you even have one).
After performing a recent consultation for Spicy Pie’s West Fargo location, Schell shared with us some of the advice he and his team had for the regional pizza chain, as well as some more general energy-saving tips he has for business owners.
When RJ Energy did their inspection and report at Spicy Pie—which is typically a full-day process—one of the first things they did was identify the intensity of the natural light coming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows that flank the dining room of the restaurant. They then set up the interior lights to dim accordingly.
One fairly obvious source of energy inefficiency that Schell discovered in the restaurant was with a smaller oven that houses to-go orders for customers.
Basically, the power level of the oven was constant, even though its usage varies depending on the time of day. Additionally, with how often the oven gets opened and closed throughout the day, it becomes even more important that it’s being operated in as efficient a manner as possible.
Specifically in the restaurant business, faulty or leaky seals often cause refrigerators and freezers to have to work overtime. Schell says this is one of the first boxes they’ll check off during a walkthrough.
This can also be an issue with full-size doors found at the front and back entrances of a building.
Schell: “This hood right here is probably the single greatest cost to a restaurant because you have cold air that comes in and you have air that ows out. And it’s just continuous. Spicy Pie has a hood that allows it to slow down based on temperature, which really helps, but if a place doesn’t have one of those, it’s typically our recommendation they get one.”
A less obvious cost to a restaurant like Spicy Pie is the placement of cooling units like these under-counter fridges. They face the three industrial-strength ovens that bake all the pizzas, which can be less than ideal for keeping the fridges running efficiently.
While Spicy Pie’s three pizza ovens are the store’s biggest consumer of energy, they’re also its single-greatest revenue-maker. After talking things over with Miller, Schell recommended the store shut one of the ovens down after at a predetermined time each day to cut costs. They also decided to turn the fryers off at 7 p.m., which saved the store a lot of money.
“We want to make sure condensers stay as cool and clean as we can. One thing we do with the walk-in beer cooler, for example, is—during the wintertime—we’ll take the heat up on top where the condenser is and blow it over to the front door. That way, it lowers the energy capacity that it has to use and also keeps the air circulating and moving inside.”
You also have to pay attention to the location of a condenser, Schell says, as a condenser lower to the ground will typically get dirtier more quickly and require more frequent maintenance.
Russell Schell’s most common commercial energy issues
- Using traditional thermostats instead of programmable ones
- Using fluorescent or incandescent lightbulbs instead of LED lights
- Not using motion sensors in low-traffic areas
- Old or inefficient heating and cooling systems
- Dirty or outdated condensers
- Not tinting windows, especially ones that are south-facing
- Running a thermostat on auto instead of manual
- Holes in insulation, ceilings or roofs
Schell says that a quick and easy way to save a couple bucks is to swap out fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, which use 65 watts, with LED bulbs, which use eight. This equates to about a 60 percent monthly savings.
“We almost always go up on the roof, too, and see how well their heating and cooling systems are working, as well as their hood fans.”
While turning off TVs and lights when they’re not in use might be the most obvious of all energy-saving techniques, it’s often one of the most overlooked, Schell says.
“They have 20 TVs in here,” Schell says. “They were seeing that if they turned those on three hours later, over a year’s period of time, that’s a substantial amount of savings. Also, before, on a morning like this, they had all these lights on (in the bar) and were using energy like crazy.”
Spicy Pie Energy Report
After a walkthrough and consultation have been completed, Schell and his team prepare for each client a detailed breakdown showing their daily, weekly, and monthly energy usage, as well as what it’s costing them.
Schell says that while seeing the sheer volume of usage on paper often surprises business owners, they’re even more surprised at the considerable effect small cutbacks can have on their monthly bill (see figure 3).