BC Hydro Energy Fix upgrades to save Fernwood Inn $4800 per year
November 26, 2011 - When Mike Colwill heard about BC Hydro’s Energy Fix contest, he knew it was a great fit for the 100-year-old Fernwood Inn he owns in Victoria with several co-investors. A $35,000 “energy makeover” would help them take a giant step toward the green principles they support.
By Anthony Capkun
And when public voting was done and the Fernwood was declared the Energy Fix winner, Colwill was “ecstatic”. So, with four different upgrades completed and the dust settled, how’s Colwill feeling?
“Doing that many retrofits, while we were fully operational, and during our busy season—it was quite an undertaking!” says Colwill, the inn’s general manager. “But it’s been so rewarding. I’ve learned a lot about technology and what you can do to green things up, and it’s been fun too.”
Savings on maintenance, too
The Energy Fix makeover at the Fernwood Inn included upgrades to lighting, refrigeration, the kitchen hood fan, and the building envelope. The package of changes will save the business about $4800 per year in electricity costs, and bring maintenance costs down as well.
“It’s a huge difference; it’s wonderful,” says Colwill of the savings. “And that’s an ongoing savings every year down the road. Not to mention that the energy-efficient light bulbs will last eight to 10 times as long as a normal bulb, and we’ll have lower maintenance costs on the walk-in fridge and the hood vents, because they’re running less hard and there will be less wear and tear.
“It feels great; it’s nice to have the upgrades done,” he continues. “A lot of the things were very simple steps that any business owner could do that make a huge difference; it’s just a matter of getting around to actually doing it. We’ve had curiosity from other businesses, and people in to look at our walk-in refrigerator, things like that. We’re very, very proud to have such a green business.”
The Fernwood Inn makeover project
The Fernwood Inn houses a 4800-sf restaurant plus 10 residential suites. The energy makeover started with assessments by several members of the Power Smart Alliance: contractors registered with BC Hydro who have experience with energy efficiency upgrades and knowledge of BC Hydro incentives.
This led to a plan that included:
Lighting: the biggest energy saver
“The Fernwood is a character building, so keeping that particular atmosphere—especially in the restaurant area—was an important part of the lighting upgrade,” says Doug Hazen of Coast Lighting, which carried out the retrofit. “We didn’t change the look of the place; they still have many of the same fixtures as they had when we went in. The only change you’re going to notice is the electricity consumption, and it’s a big difference.”
For many small businesses, lighting is one of the most significant energy efficiency upgrades that can be made. The Fernwood replaced all of its lighting—in kitchen, hallways, washrooms, storage areas, outdoor areas and its main restaurant floor.
The most challenging area was the dining room, where several different cold cathode bulbs were sampled before settling on a fully dimmable option with a warm colour temperature to suit the setting.
Some of the best energy savings come from changing 40W incandescent exit signs (which must operate 24 hours per day) with LED versions that use a mere 1.5 watts. The lighting retrofit alone will save the Fernwood nearly $3500 per year in electricity.
Says Hazen: “I think everybody wants to try to lower their power consumption, but I think people don’t realize how much lighting plays a role in that. You take out a 60W bulb and put in a 8W bulb, and you don’t need to understand anything about lighting or electricity. It’s pretty simple math. And the savings begin the minute we disconnect the old light and put the new one in. It’s instant”.
Hood fan controls and makeup air—more comfort, less energy
“Typically, a commercial kitchen is not busy all day long; the work goes in cycles,” says George McGrath of Melink Energy Saving Solutions.
As part of the Fernwood’s energy makeover, Melink installed a control system and new energy-efficient motor in the kitchen’s exhaust fan hood. “The system uses microprocessor technology to sense when the kitchen is not busy, and slows everything down to save energy consumption,” says McGrath.
And savings are not linear: when you reduce the speed in a fan by a mere 10%, you reduce the power used by 28%. Running at 50% speed drops energy consumption to only 12.8%.
With the new controls, McGrath estimates the Fernwood will go from running its fan at 100% speed every working hour of the day to using full speed a mere 15% of the time, saving about $830 per year in electricity.
The Fernwood also installed a new makeup air system to bring air into the kitchen in balance with the air being vented. McGrath explains that the powerful kitchen hood fan (required under the fire code) will pull air from other rooms if you don’t supply it with new “makeup air” instead. “If it’s transfer air from another room, that’s money that you’ve spent to heat or cool and it’s going to be exhausted directly to the outside.”
That means an additional $325 of energy savings each year. It also means increased comfort for patrons.
“Before, the kitchen fan would suck the heat and all the conditioned air right through the restaurant, and it would also suck air through cracks and crevices and the doors out front,” says Mike Colwill. “So in the winter, when you opened the front door, there was a huge rush of cold air that would blow in. Now, when you open that door it won’t be as blustery.”
Walk-in cooler re-insulation
We’re so accustomed to refrigerators, it’s hard to remember that that cold air comes at a significant cost. So, once you’ve paid the electricity to chill your space down, you want to make sure you protect the investment by not letting it leak away.
That was the simple idea behind the refrigeration retrofit at the Fernwood. “They basically re-lined our existing walk-in cooler, and they installed a new door on it as well,” says Colwill. “We noticed a difference right away. It remains cold, and through the big summer heat wave it definitely remained colder.
“Plus the compressors are working a fraction of the time they were before to try to keep up. The efficiency is definitely increased; it’s wonderful.” The improvements to the walk-in refrigerator will save the Fernwood an estimated $270 per year in electricity.
A final step in the Fernwood’s retrofit was to seal up air leaks throughout the building. This makes a difference both to energy usage—stopping the loss of conditioned air—and to comfort, by reducing drafts. To pinpoint trouble spots, an infrared camera was used to see where heat was escaping from the building’s exterior.
“The thermal imaging was pretty cool,” says Colwill. “We knew the building envelope wasn’t going to be fantastic, of course, since it’s an old building. Still, seeing cold air coming in along the baseboards and coming out of the light fixtures in the ceiling… it was certainly a surprise to me about how much cold air was coming in.”
The leaks were addressed with caulking and various other forms of air sealing. “We worked with City Green,” says Colwill, who tried his hand at the air-sealing. “We did draftproofing along baseboards, sealing up electrical outlets and around doors, things like that. They were pretty simple things to do.”
The final results for the Fernwood are impressive. The business will now save nearly 60,000 kWh of electricity per year. And that means annual electricity savings of $4893, plus savings on maintenance costs.