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Trucking off the grid

When Eric Lange moved his transportation company into a 30-year-old, 70,000-square-foot office and warehouse space, he knew he’d need to make investments in upgrades. But it’s unlikely even he realized how much would need to be done, and how much he’d save in the process.


February 23, 2009
By Robert Colman

Lange Transportation was established by Eric Lange in 1986. The company specializes in moving trade shows, tours and very valuable medical equipment. They are the sort of company that gets to Air Canada Centre at three in the morning to take away the hockey rink before a show that night because there’s not enough room in the belly of the building to store it. With sales in excess of $10 million, it’s not a huge company, but Lange aims for an efficient operation.

And he has no room in his operations for waste. He’s a man with a green thumb for business, which is why, when he bought an older building in Mississauga in 2006, he immediately considered installing geothermal technology to heat and cool the building.

Geothermal value
“It was expensive to install,” Lange admits. “But there was no question, we had to replace the existing HVAC system. We got a quote of about $200,000 to put a new, standard HVAC system in, but I decided to go with the $500,000 geothermal system, which saves on the monthly heating and cooling bill, as well as maintenance.”

Lange installed the new system in the fall of 2006. He then received a bill from the gas company in December that said he owed $5,631 for natural gas use.

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“I had a couple of other buildings at the same time, so I thought maybe they’d billed me for those other buildings in error,” explains Lange.

But it turned out the bill was an estimate. After Lange went and read the meter back to the company representative, it turned out he owed nothing but the meter maintenance charge — $23.32. It took the gas company a few months to remove the meter, but Lange no longer pays a gas bill at all.

Major upgrades
But Lange had other concerns as well.

“I bought the building in July and in August I got my hydro bill,” recalls Lange. “It was for $3,500, and we hadn’t even moved in yet. All we had done was turn on the lights for the contractors to come in and paint and clean.”

That’s when he realized nothing had been done to the building in 30 years. The windows were still single-paned glass, and the loading dock wasn’t insulated. “So as a group, we looked at all the different areas we could improve operations,” he explains. “For instance, we put in double-paned windows, insulated steel doors with Plexiglas windows so guys wouldn’t open the door unless a truck was back right in, and we put air pillows around the dock so that the truck could nestle into it, to avoid more heat loss.

“We also went through the office systematically, changing the office lights to T8s, which provided a one third savings from a standard fluorescent tube,” Lange continues. “The warehouse all got changed over to T5s, which are a 50 per cent savings over the existing lights that we had. We’ve now seen our hydro bill go from between $3,500 and $4,400 a month, down to between $1,800 and $2,100 a month.”

Innovative installations
The next change Lange made was to install a new roof. But rather than do a traditional roof retrofit, he had a polyurethane one put on.

“It’s a foam base,” says Lange. “Basically, you leave the roof that’s there on and you blow another roof on top of it. There was an R-7 value roof on the whole structure when we moved in – basically just tarpaper. So we put an additional R-17 foam above the offices, and R-10 above the warehouse, which means an R-24 value for the offices now and an R-17 value for the warehouse.”

The most recent change Lange has made was to install the Solatube daylighting technology in the office space. The Solatube is essentially a skylight with a convex top to it that captures the sun through a series of lenses, so that no matter where it is in the sky, light is dispersed through the space beneath it.

“When we first put them in, we put in just three to see how they’d work, to make sure there was no leaking,” says Lange. “I’m used to old skylights, which had lots of problems. We left these three in for six months. Once we were satisfied that they would work, we installed 14 more in private office areas.” When he has sufficient funds, Lange would like to put them throughout the office.

Payback satisfaction
While always looking for new ideas to save more money using new technologies, Lange is very happy with what he has accomplished so far. When Energy Management caught up with him in December, he was wearing short sleeves in his office.

“Whether I set the temperature at 72 or 74, it doesn’t cost me any extra,” he says. “I used to be the thermostat monster, going around telling people to turn down the heat and put on sweaters. Today, I don’t have to worry about that. And I don’t have quarterly maintenance fees either. All I have to do on a monthly basis is take the filter out, wash it under a normal garden hose, and put it back in again. And the geothermal system is completely underground, so I don’t have to worry about any damage to the system due to weather events. If a major storm comes through, it’s not going to affect me.”

The other advantage Lange points to is that his warehouse is climate controlled as well, so if it’s 110 outside, “the geothermal will take it down to about 80-85 degrees,” he notes. “It makes for a more comfortable working environment.”

But he also stresses that any technology has to fit with your business model, and the sort of savings he has realized wouldn’t necessarily be the same for everyone.

“We’re not doing any manufacturing here,” Lange notes. “And I don’t have a shop set up, so I don’t need a lot of hot water. If I did, I might need natural gas. Other companies may need it. And there are things that don’t work with geothermal. For instance, you can’t keep your doors open — it takes longer to recover your heat. You also have to make sure you have a good roof on top to see the payback. This is really common sense, but it’s important to note.”

What’s next for Lange Transportation? More Solatube installations for sure, but possibly more.

“We want to install some wind turbines to help operate some of our electrical capacity, but we’re still waiting for more concrete evidence of which system works best,” says Lange. “That’s probably the one place we’d like to see the government more involved — showing us what technology is working and which ones aren’t.”