TCBN’s Biggest Energy Loser Contest Begins! And the Competitors Are…

Betsie Bay Inn in Frankfort, Cherry Republic Stomp House Winery in Glen Arbor, and the law firm of Olsen, Bzdok and Howard in Traverse City have been selected to vie for the title of the region's Biggest Energy Loser.

Over the next three issues, we'll follow each business' efforts to shave excess energy use from its overall monthly usage, chronicling its employees' efforts big and small. The business that manages to shave off the most energy in relation to its starting usage level, wins.

The competition's time frame is short. And variables even the most eco-conscious business can't avoid – say, a sizzling hot June that demands uber air conditioning – might happen. But, says TJ Ewing, president of Energy Empowerment Analysts and our fearless contest leader, whether the competitors cut their excess energy in half by July or end up packing on a few unplanned watts, each business is going to come out ahead. They'll have an awareness of where they're at when it comes to energy use, where they want to be, and – most helpful – a litany of tips, tricks and ideas on how to get there.

The Competitors:

The Law Firm of Olson, Bzdok & Howard

Traverse City

Building Location: 420 E. Front Street

Building Use: Law office

Building Size: 4,687 gross sq. ft.

EUI = 44.87 kBTUs/ sq. ft.

Energy Providers: TCLP, DTE

Heating: Two natural gas furnaces – 80AFUE

T.J.'s Take

Initial Assessment: "They're really energy efficient already. The energy-use intensity for their size building would pretty much get them a designation from Energy Star, but they're just below 5,000 square feet requirement [which would preclude them from earning an Energy Star rating]. The other cool thing about the firm is they want to go for more. That, to me, embodies the whole process."

The Firm's No. 1 Focus: "Electrical base loads. They make up 62 percent of the firm's energy costs and 44 percent of its energy usage."

Potential Problem Areas: "I noticed quite a few 300-watt sconce lights on the hallway walls. If they had one of those 300-watt sconces on for eight hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year, it would cost them about $63 a light. When you're talking 10 or 12 per floor, that's a lot of wattage – and expense that may able to be reduced while still providing adequate lighting."

Potential Strengths and Solutions: "The employees seem to have pretty good habits. Most offices that weren't occupied, the lights and computers were off," says Ewing. "For a few quick, easy energy-saving fixes, I'll suggest trading out those 300-watt sconce bulbs for some lower watt CFL bulbs, using task lighting wherever possible and some smart strips at work stations."

Cherry Republic Stomp House Winery

Glen Arbor

Building Location: 6026 S. Lake Street

Building Use: Retail & wine tasting

Building Size: 1,105 gross sq. ft.

EUI = 64.30 kBTUs/sq. ft.

Energy Providers: Consumers Energy

Heating: Water source heat pump

T.J.'s Take

Initial Assessment: "The winery's got the toughest draw of anyone simply because it's a small building, and the processes going on inside aren't as complex. When you've got less to work with, there are fewer ways to cut back. Complicating matters more is that the building's got better-than-average energy efficiency to start with."

The Tasting Room's No. 1 Focus: "It's pretty evenly split. The tasting room is equally affected by electrical baseloads and the seasonal electric the heat pump provides; about $1,200 goes to heating each year, and about $1,200 is equipment."

Potential Problem Areas: "The biggest energy suck would be the refrigeration cooler that holds the shop's draught hard cider and soda. The building may have envelope leakage; it uses more energy per square foot than the law office, so I'd suggest sealing the envelope, doing a blower door test and seeing what the leakage is. But keep in mind, because the winery's building and operation is simple and already somewhat energy efficient, it raises the question: How much investment would be worthwhile and makes sense economically to further lower energy usage and costs?

Potential Strengths and Solutions: "All of the winery's lights are CFL's, so cutting wattage down more may be a matter of removing bulbs. One place I'd recommend he start is in the two sets of track lighting he's got inside the building. Each strip holds 17 14-watt CFL floodlights. I'm curious if it'd be feasible for him to remove half of the bulbs. I'm also curious, when the heat pump is reversed in summer to cool the space, is the back room sell window open? If that's the case, they might thermally partition off the room a bit, which would help with energy savings."

Betsie Bay Inn


Building Location: 231 Main Street

Building Use: Inn, food service, banquet facilities

Building Size: 22,000 gross sq. ft.

EUI = 65.53 kBTUs/ft2

Energy Providers: Consumers Energy, DTE

Heating: Natural gas furnace for lobby & restaurant; individual heat pumps in each inn room and banquet hall

T.J.'s Take

Initial Assessment: Betsie Bay Inn is very complex because it has a number of different energy flows going through the building: a full kitchen, inn rooms – some with spas and saunas – plus banquet rooms and laundry. Of course, the more energy processes you have going, the more opportunity there might be for savings."

The Inn's No. 1 Focus: Looking to their baseload energy usage for both electricity and natural gas fuels, primarily looking at lighting and hot water reduction measures. I also believe it might help to take a look at or develop operation policies so that energy use can reflect the high to low swings in guests during peak and off-seasons.

Potential Problem Areas: "I'm curious about their energy usage during low occupancy. With the kitchen, for example, if there's only three or four people in to eat, how much of the kitchen equipment is at load without being used for long periods of time? With the rooms that have in-room spas, is the water heated at full temperature continuously or could it be dropped to a minimum when a room isn't occupied? I'd like to see the inn create operation policies like, if we're not using this equipment in X number of minutes, hours or days, we turn it down or off."

Potential Strengths and Solutions: "The Betsie Bay Inn is already certified under the state's green lodging certification program. Their daily laundry load is less than a standard hotel of their size. They do about 12 loads a day in summer, peak season. Their bedrooms and banquet rooms also use individual heat pumps to heat and cool the rooms, so they can turn off heating or cooling in any room that isn't in use, which is great. One drawback with individual heat pumps that penetrate the shell of the building, however, is that they're tough to seal. The Inn's seemed OK, but I would look to eventually ensuring those shell penetrations are sealed with caulk gun or spray