Be more green and cut overhead with these techniques
There are lots of ways warehouses lose energy — but you’re mistaken if you think they can’t be prevented or at least reduced. Insulation, lighting, and garage doors can all be optimized to improve the energy efficiency of a warehouse or distribution center. How can they do this, and why is it worth the trouble?
If you’re tired of sky-high utility bills thanks to inefficient climate control, refrigeration, or lighting design, here are some things you can do to realize energy savings in your warehouse.
Climate control is usually one of the biggest ongoing expenses incurred by warehousing operations. From inventory to personnel, everything under your roof has different temperature requirements to stay at their best. How can warehouses reduce all these related expenses while still keeping their merchandise and personnel in good condition and spirits?
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, professional energy auditors typically use thermographic imaging technology and sometimes even an air filtration test to pinpoint areas in your warehouse that are prone to energy loss. You can probably already think of a few usual suspects: inbound and outbound bay doors, frequently used exits and maybe even poorly thought-out refrigeration areas. If you don’t want to hire a professional, you can do an audit of your own even without specialized equipment.
There’s a decent chance you’re not the first owner of your warehouse space. If that’s the case, it might’ve been some time since a professional turned a critical eye to the insulation across the building’s ceilings and walls. It’s also easy to overlook the importance of keeping dock seals in good condition while freight is coming and going, as well as training employees on keeping rolling doors closed anytime they’re not in use.
It’s worth considering refrigeration, too. Warehouses need to properly insulate all interior partitions between refrigerated areas, and especially between chilled and ambient sections. To achieve further energy savings during the storage and transfer of frozen or refrigerated goods, many warehouses now choose to install conveyor doors for their chiller sections. Instead of a person-sized door opening each time, which sheds cool air and wastes money, it’s a product-sized opening that results in further savings.
In a world where 3PL is booming but companies need tailored support and reliable results, there’s also a case to be made for building warehousing locations around servicing just a few product types with confidence and efficiency. This is in contrast to an all-purpose warehouse that handles all product types but with only middling effectiveness and efficiency.
By thinking a bit differently about lighting, warehousing companies could save themselves a significant amount of money on their utility bills and do a good turn for the environment.
According to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t maintain any guidelines about ambient lighting in warehouses apart from clearly illuminating the building’s exits. Instead, the Teamsters and other groups provide guidelines of their own for minimum illumination levels in warehouse areas according to their frequency of use. Lighting levels range from 50 lux in infrequently trafficked areas to 300 lux in more active places.
In the search for greater efficiency, use guidelines like these to bring your facility illumination down to more economical, yet still safe, levels. The type of lighting you employ in your warehouse also makes a big difference. It’s now easy to find LED-based lighting fixtures with the same form factor as familiar high-bay fluorescent overhead tube fixtures, which means retrofitting costs are minimal.
The difference is that LEDs deliver considerable advantages over two of the most familiar sources of lighting in warehouses: LEDs can put in as many as 50,000 hours before they quit, compared with the maximum life of about 15,000 hours for metal halide bulbs, and they use about 60 percent less electricity than high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps. As with fluorescent tubes, it’s easy to swap out HID lamps with comparable LED products.
It may be worth your while to confer with a specialist. Based on the layout of your existing lighting, you may be able to strategically reduce the distance between illuminated lamps to further slash your utility bill without casting areas of your warehouse into darkness.
3. Garage Doors
We mentioned bay doors briefly above. Everybody knows garage doors are some of the biggest energy wasters in a warehouse. Anyone who’s spent time on a dock knows that thrill of horror to find one of those big rolling doors has been standing open for unknown seconds or minutes, letting out your precious conditioned air and letting in outside air and contaminants.
If it’s been a while since you took a good look at your facility’s garage doors, now is the time to have a professional appraise their insulation, dock seals, hinge seals, and other weather-stripping features. If you want to know more about the insulative qualities of garage doors, the U.S. Department of Energy has a good primer on R values and what different materials mean for garage door insulation — and energy savings.
Accommodating multiple trailer types is another source of consternation for warehouse and dock managers. Many garage doors provide a poor seal around the header, which is like having a hole in the wall of your warehouse the entire time the truck is loading or unloading. Instead, some managers choose gravity-based top seals that can receive short or tall trailers alike and still maintain an energy-saving seal.
Air curtains are another unsung hero when it comes to warehouse doors. A few different studies over the years have found that installing air curtains in between climate zones, and where garage and dock doors regularly open and close, is a great way to reduce the use of air conditioning to compensate for energy loss. One 2014 study from Madrid suggested air curtains lower energy costs by as much as 30 percent.
There are other aspects of facility design that go unnoticed apart from doors and R-values, too. Skylights are a common sight in warehouses, allowing natural light inside the facility and providing the welcoming view of blue skies and rolling clouds. If they aren’t ENERGY STAR rated, though, they may be letting in more solar energy in the summer than you want and letting out heat in the wintertime.
Clearly, there are lots of action items waiting for attention if you want to button up your warehouse or distribution center in the name of energy efficiency. With any luck, we’ve managed to tip you off about something you might’ve missed.
Written by: Megan Ray Nichols, BOSS Contributor
Megan is a STEM writer and blogger at https://schooledbyscience.com/