Replacing old, inefficient equipment maximizes the energy-saving potential—and therefore the cost-saving potential—of your facility. The best time to consider replacement is when existing equipment is over 10 years old.
Energy Star–qualified commercial washing machines
Consider replacing aging or failing equipment with units that are qualified by Energy Star. Clothes washers that have earned the Energy Star are 37 percent more efficient than nonqualified models and are more efficient than models that simply meet the federal minimum standard for energy efficiency. Energy Star published a case study on Colesville Towers (PDF), a 270-residence apartment building in Silver Spring, Maryland, which replaced 14 standard-efficiency commercial washers with Energy Star units. The new washers reduced energy and water usage by 50 percent and accrued annual utility bill savings of about $2,600.
Four alternative cleaning technologies use less energy than conventional laundry equipment (Table 2). All but the carbon dioxide (CO2) system described below are commercially available.
Table 2: Alternative commercial laundry technology options
Alternative and advanced commercial laundering technology offers both energy and non-energy benefits, but the expected simple payback periods vary widely—anywhere from a few months to 10 years. It’s important to understand what the end-use application will be before investing in alternative laundry equipment.
Ozone laundry. Ozone-based equipment cleans and disinfects in cold water, eliminating the need to use gas to heat water. Ozone kills bacteria 3,000 times faster than chlorine, and it’s an effective biocide in solution with water. Ozone also turns soluble soils into insoluble ones that can be separated from the water by the mechanical action of a washing machine, resulting in reduced use of chemical cleaning agents.
Ozone laundry systems can be retrofitted onto most existing washing machines with the installation of an ozone generator and minimal additional piping, or washing machines can be purchased with an ozone generator. Because ozone generators are electric, ozone laundry equipment may consume more electricity than conventional equipment, but they can more than make up the difference in money saved due to reduced use of detergent, water-heating fuel, and water. These systems may reduce drying time because the process opens up the cloth fibers; they also require smaller amounts of softeners, which tend to hold moisture.
Polymer beads. Polymer bead laundry equipment uses small plastic beads that are polarized with a catalyst to attract and then absorb dirt and stains from garments. Special laundry equipment is needed to contain, disperse, and mix the mass of beads thoroughly among the garments. Millions of beads are used—with a total weight approximately double that of the laundered material—and they may be reused for up to 700 loads. Polymer bead technology can reduce water use by 75 to 80 percent, requires no water heating, and uses about half as much detergent as standard commercial washing machines. In addition, cycle times are slightly shorter and garment drying requirements are reduced as a direct result of reduced moisture content. Although electricity usage is higher for polymer bead systems than for standard commercial washing machines, the added electricity consumption is far outweighed by the significant water and natural gas savings for these systems.
Liquid CO2. This emerging garment-cleaning technology uses pressurized, liquefied CO2 as the cleaning solvent, requiring no water or water heating. Additionally, it doesn’t require any energy or gas expenditure for drying because after the cleaning cycle is complete, the garments are brought back to atmospheric pressure, where the CO2 vaporizes and is typically recaptured, leaving the garments dry and cool to the touch. The system uses a small natural gas–powered steam boiler to assist in CO2 evaporation and recapture, so some gas is still consumed in the process.
CO2 has excellent cleaning properties; it has also been documented as extending the life of garments and minimizing the risk of damage to fragile textiles. The process causes no color-bleeding and less fading and wear than with conventional equipment, which means garments last longer and retain their shape, feel, and luster. CO2 cleaning is ideal for delicate, difficult-to-clean garments such as leather, silk, beads, sequins, wool, lace, fur, nylon, spandex, and coated fabrics typically used in the outdoor recreation industry. It has also been demonstrated to successfully clean non-standard garments like oily kevlar vests, protective clothing, and clean room garments. CO2 laundry is an emerging technology in the very early stages of commercialization and we are only aware of one manufacturer, Tersus Solutions.
Commercial wet cleaning. Although the large majority of dry cleaners reportedly still use toxic cleaning solvents like perchloroethylene (PCE), there is a consumer trend to seek “greener” alternatives. In terms of energy efficiency, wet-cleaning systems use 20 percent less electricity and 14 percent less natural gas than PCE machines. Computer-controlled washers and dryers, horizontal cleaning drums, low-speed agitators, high-speed moisture extraction, moisture sensors, and the elimination of cooling systems are all features that enhance the efficiency of wet-cleaning systems and make it competitive with PCE-based cleaning. However, for especially sensitive materials, wet cleaning has the potential to damage garments and thus may not always be a viable alternative.
Additional energy-efficient equipment upgrades
Lighting. Lighting upgrades require the lowest investment for the returns they yield. Replace T12 fluorescent lamps and magnetic ballasts with high-performance T8 fluorescent lamps and electronic ballasts; consider installing tubular LEDs or new LED troffer fixtures. Replace incandescent lamps with CFLs or LEDs, and install occupancy sensors in frequently unoccupied areas such as restrooms, storage areas, or break rooms.
Boilers. Energy Star–rated boilers are up to 12 percent more energy efficient than standard models. Installing such options as condensing models could reduce heating costs by one-third. Made of noncorrosive stainless steel, condensing boilers have the added benefit of reduced maintenance costs.
Heat recovery. Heat recovery is increasing in popularity among dry cleaners. Heat-recovery systems capture exhaust heat and transfer the heat to incoming boiler feed water, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat water.
Hot water systems. If your water heater uses natural gas, consider switching to a high-efficiency version. Ultra-efficient and condensing natural gas models are available that are 18 to 36 percent more efficient than conventional gas water heaters.
If you have an electric water heater, consider replacing it with a heat pump water heating system. Especially in areas with a moderate-to-warm climate, a heat pump water heater can do the same job as a standard electric water heater while using half the electricity. What’s more, the heat pump transfers heat from your building’s interior into the water tank, thereby reducing the load on your air-conditioning system as well.