Don Fournier, a specialist in sustainable planning and design for the U. of I. School of Architecture's Building Research Council, said that while using energy-efficient products and practices originally resulted in higher costs for consumers, a steadily increasing demand for both has pushed down prices in recent years.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - When tornadoes, floods and other natural disasters unleash their furies on communities, the losses can be especially devastating for small-business owners with limited budgets and flimsy safety nets. But when the skies clear, and the cleanup and rebuilding begins, savvy owners may actually find a silver - or "green" - lining beneath the rubble and ruin.
"Such events can provide a unique opportunity to invest in energy-efficient technologies," said Don Fournier (FOR-nee-uhr), program manager for the Smart Energy Design Assistance Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Business owners who replace walls, windows, roofs, insulation, lighting, heating and air-conditioning systems with so-called green materials and systems "can immediately reduce energy use and cost and improve long-term profitability. It is just as easy and often costs the same to do repairs using energy-efficient materials and products," Fournier said.
As the nation's plains states are reeling from a record number of tornado touch-downs this spring, SEDAC - established in 2005 to provide free advice to Illinois businesses as part of the state's Small Business $mart Energy program - has made available its first fact sheet on "Disaster Recovery for Small Business." (pdf)
Fournier, a research specialist in sustainable planning and design for the U. of I. School of Architecture's Building Research Council, said that while using energy-efficient products and practices originally resulted in higher costs for consumers, a steadily increasing demand for both has pushed down prices in recent years.
"Green building is becoming more and more mainstream," he said. "Codes are tightening and standards are now higher as well," he said.
"Today, you can install an 85-percent- or 95-percent-efficient furnace, but with energy costs of $1.20 per therm, you can make up the difference in (furnace) prices pretty quick. Then you can continue to save money for the next 20 years."
For business owners, he said, "energy costs take from the bottom line; savings put it back."
When replacing HVAC systems, one critical thought to keep in mind, Fournier said, is that "bigger is not necessarily better." In many cases, he said, a business's heating and cooling needs may have changed over the years as other pieces of the "building envelope" - walls, windows, roof and insulation - have been upgraded. So it's important to check the sizing of systems and analyze loads before automatically replacing furnaces or air-conditioning units with ones that are the same size or larger.
Among the many other tips for small businesses included on SEDAC's disaster-recovery fact sheet:
• When replacing appliances, office equipment, heating and cooling units, lighting systems, building envelope and other commercial products, use products with the ENERGY STAR ratings issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy.
• If the building has sustained structural damage, upgrade the amount of insulation in the building envelope, install more energy-efficient windows, use ENERGY STAR
high-reflectance roofing material, and seal the building to reduce air infiltration.
• If renovations require upgrades to lighting systems, use compact fluorescent lights and high-efficiency T8 fluorescent lights with electronic ballasts, build in more natural lighting options and use LED exit signs.
• If heating and air-conditioning systems require repair or replacement, install
high-efficiency units (sealed combustion boilers/furnaces with 90 percent or better efficiency, and air conditioners with a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) of 13 or greater); install high-efficiency rooftop units; seal existing ductwork; install a geothermal heat pump if applicable; and install programmable zone thermostats.
• If office equipment was damaged, replace computers with laptops or ones with flat-screen monitors that use less energy or offer energy-saving modes.
The disaster-recovery tip sheet also offers ideas aimed specifically at hotels, motels and restaurants. It lists additional resources as well, such as URLs for state, federal and U. of I. Extension Web sites with advice on water damage, mold and mildew mitigation. It also contains information on available tax credits and building code implications of repairs, including the new Illinois Energy Conservation Code for Commercial Buildings that became effective on April 8.
Whether a small business is faced with building repairs or replacement as a result of storm damage, routine renovations or new construction, Fournier said SEDAC can assist owners in making smart decisions when working with contractors and making product choices.
"We're all about making businesses more profitable through reducing energy waste. The benefits are manifold: increasing an asset's value, improving comfort, having more productive employees, reducing environmental impact; and using less energy.
"When you do these things, you're achieving a 'quintuple bottom line," he said. "And that's a win-win-win-win-win situation."
SEDAC is sponsored by the Illinois Department of Community and Economic Opportunity and is managed by the U. of I. in partnership with the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium. More information about SEDAC is available by calling 1-800-214-7954.