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Environmental Sustainability: Reduce Utility Costs for Big Savings with Little Investment

When it comes to reducing operating costs for existing facilities, there is low hanging fruit to consider. Reductions can be achieved through implementing physical and behavioral changes.

Physical changes can include improvements such as relamping existing light fixtures to provide the same amount of light with less energy consumption, replacing weather seals at doors or completely replacing doors and windows to provide better light transmittance and offer better thermal resistance. Other strategies might include increasing the thermal resistance of a wall assembly (higher R-value) by adding insulation or installing insulation at locations where none exists.

This sounds great, but how does one identify what improvements can be made?

The first step is to complete an energy audit for your facility. Energy audits can generally be arranged or conducted free of charge by utility providers or the local energy trust, who may also offer rebates or other incentives to help offset the costs of the identified improvements.

The amount of the incentives will vary based on location and will change periodically (as manufacturers change products and programs). Last year, a fire district in the Portland identified $90,000 of improvements—half was covered by Energy Trust of Oregon incentives.

These energy audits are voluntary and permit you to evaluate the recommended improvements and to choose which, if any, to implement. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency is a helpful resource.

What if the operations budget is tight? Are other options available?

Instituting behavioral changes are a cost-effective way to help reduce energy consumption. The Environmental and Energy Study Institute forecasted that simple behavioral changes made by building occupants could result in a 25-30% energy savings in the United States.

In fact, studies indicate that although people are often aware of the benefits of using energy more efficiently, a variety of social, cultural and economic factors often prevent them from doing so. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), even when high-efficiency technologies have been installed, 30% or more of the energy savings that could be realized is lost. Awareness and behavioral change are critical to reaping the benefits of efficiency technologies aimed to reduce energy consumption.

Reducing energy usage results in direct savings on utility bills; who wouldn't want to reduce their utility bills by up to 30%? Achieving this through behavioral change is like free money—big savings and little investment.

The ACEEE has identified four common approaches to implement behavior change. These aren't specific to the fire service but can be applied to achieve results:

  • Set the tone with support from upper management and its public pledge.
  • Build a team with a project committee and peer champions on board.
  • Utilize communication tools such as email, websites, meetings and posters to reach target audiences.
  • Engage occupants with feedback, benign peer pressure and competition, as well as through performance-linked rewards.

The IAFC Sustainability Committee is embracing the Chief's Energy Challenge and encouraging your agency to do so as well.

Approximately half a dozen stations in our area will participate in the Chief's Energy Challenge, with a focus on reducing energy usage through behavioral change. We'll try to highlight ideas or strategies implemented and their results for other departments and districts to consider. Here are a few ideas already developed:

  • Invest in a programmable thermostat; schedule temp settings and don't override them.
  • Change thermostat settings, widening the thermal range; have staff wear short sleeves and shorts in warmer times of the year and pants and sweatshirts in cooler times.
  • Install timers on showers or low-flow showerheads to promote water conservation.
  • Decrease water-heater temperatures.
  • Run full loads of clothing in washing machines and dryers and dishes in the dishwasher.
  • Keep refrigerators full (to increase cooling efficiency).
  • Eliminate the number of refrigerators by sharing refrigerators between shifts.
  • Reduce plug load, especially phantom loads.
  • Install timers on apparatus bay lights to promote efficient use of lights.
  • Install window and door seals to prevent heat and cool-air leakage.

We'll share progress, implemented strategies and results as case studies. We encourage you to share your strategies, challenges and successes. Let's identify strategies that work and help reduce not only energy usage, but associated operating costs as well. By sharing this information with one another, we'll make it easier for everyone!

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