Sustainable Design Will Also Reduce Your Utility Bills

Ultimately, the largest cost over the lifetime of a building is not the capital cost of constructing it: Operating and maintaining that facility will cost much more. Of all the energy-consuming devices, air conditioning, appliances, lighting and water consume the most. While choosing high-efficiency equipment to ameliorate those costs makes the building greener and more sustainable, the impressive aspect is that those choices can reduce your utility bills by a whopping 50 percent–saving your money along with saving energy and water.

For example, in the lighting industry, we are currently in an exciting phase. LED technology is rapidly being integrated into residential and commercial lighting. As a result, LED light fixture choices have grown and that, in turn, has allowed prices to continue to decline. For a simple office or residential application, the capital investment for a more expensive LED fixture will have paid for itself in reduced energy costs the first time the compact fluorescent light fixture requires replacement, which typically is about four years for an office. For a light fixture with a dimming capability, you can already find LED lights that are less expensive than a Compact Fluorescent Fixture. LED lights will also draw about 50 percent of the electrical power in comparison to its Compact Fluorescent counterpart.

In Southern California, water availability has become a major concern, which presages a sharp rise in cost. With this situation, water saving measures becomes a necessity. Various cities in southern California are raising water charges to their customers by 17 percent to 100 percent between now and the next four years. Utilizing a water-saving dishwasher, low flush toilets, low-flow shower heads and sensor-operated faucets are easily adopted water saving measures, and more devices are being invented. Another easy water saving measure is to water the trees and shrubs using trickle or drip irrigation method to minimize water lost due to runoff and evaporation.

Not all ways to save are high-tech. Some amount to just paying attention. Peter Gleick and Heather Cooley from the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif., have estimated the energy required to produce bottled water. To obtain an accurate estimate, they had to include the energy required to manufacture plastic, fabricate the plastic into bottles, process the water, fill and seal the bottles, transport the bottles, and chill the bottles for use. If we compared this to the energy that is consumed by an Energy Star dishwasher, the dishwasher can clean three loads of dishes on the same amount of energy required to produce a single bottle of water. So it is much more Earth friendly and inexpensive to re-use your water bottles.

Sometimes the best practices involve what you do with what you don’t use. In the residential arena, most homeowners are probably unaware that fixtures in the home can be recycled. While remodeling a home, the homeowner can call on organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to retrieve used cabinets, doors and other fixtures so that they can be reused. That simple practice not only decreases the energy and materials used to manufacture new fixtures, but it cuts the charity’s costs.

Using high-efficiency hot water heaters, such as the tankless type, and high-efficiency air conditioning is another easy way to keep energy bills at minimum without sacrificing day-to-day comfort. If the utility company can deliver to you less natural gas or less electricity, they will not have to produce as much, and therefore, less pollutant is added to our environment.

These simple adjustments show how saving your money can become part of the conservation we all need to practice.

Caecilia Gotama P.E., LEED A.P, is founder and name principal of Gotama Building Engineers, Inc., which designs mechanical, electrical, plumbing and low voltage engineering systems for commercial and institutional buildings. She can be reached at [email protected].