Lower Your DC Utility Bills

Most distribution center managers consider the costs of utilities to be fixed. But thanks to the recession, facilities have several opportunities to drive these costs down-and to do it now.

For instance, in the warehouse, lighting retrofits are being supported by numerous incentive programs. The switch to high efficiency fluorescent fixtures is producing paybacks in as short as 18 months.

Check your most recent electrical bill, and calculate the number of kilowatt hours per thousand sq. ft. of your warehouse. If the rate is more than 3.6KWH/SF per month, you can benefit nearly immediately by installing more efficient lighting and reducing consumption.

In the office, call center and operations consultants are recommending lower light levels. Lighting intensity of 75-100 foot candles was the design standard as recently as three years ago, but 25-35 fc is plenty for folks that are staring at screens all day.

This means you can replace (by turning down, or off) the ceiling-based ambient light source in most offices with task lamps that put a pool of light over your subject, and consume as little as 5 watts. Best of all, you can turn them off when you don’t need them.

Skylights are another age-old approach to cutting down on electrical consumption for artificial lighting. Sheet music merchant J W Pepper recently consolidated a large number of small distribution centers into two regional DCs. President Glenn Burtch says after looking at 20 buildings in four cities, the company ultimately decided to build one and lease another.

After leasing a sky lit structure in Salt Lake City, J W Pepper directed its architect to analyze the costs and benefits of doing the same thing in its custom-built DC in Atlanta. “The numbers were persuasive, and the ROI turned out to be far less than the mortgage term,” Burtch says.

On the HVAC side of the utility equation, simple care and maintenance of your existing equipment can make an enormous impact on the cost of a comfortable working environment. A formal maintenance program can help you stay ahead of problems and away from significant costs.

Stephen B. Harris is vice president, construction and real estate, for management consulting firm The Beacon Group.

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