As electric rates increase locally and across the nation, local businesses continue to preach the benefits of energy efficiency. Those offering products and services to increase efficiency have all too often met the same challenge -- customers unwilling to make an upfront investment in return for regular savings.
"We know that utility rates are going to go up. I don't care who it is. It never remains the same. Their costs go up, people want raises ... it's just a cycle that we go through," said Herschel Thach, president and CEO of Electrical Cost Cutters. "When [customers] get a utility increase, they may go to screaming, but what they should do is say, 'OK, let's go back and re-evaluate what we have here. Is there something we can do to make us operate more efficient and that way we don't have to worry about those rate increases?'"
Electrical Cost Cutters, an authorized affiliate of Energy Automation Systems Incorporated, performs facility-wide efficiency projects for commercial and industrial operations saving customers up to 30 percent on electric costs.
Industrial customers of the city of Cartersville have raised recent concerns over the proposed rate structure. Plant operations running entire facilities or specific systems around the clock are impacted heavily by electric consumption. Another local business focusing on commercial clients is Frank Cipolla, owner of Common Sense Solutions.
A veteran of information technology services, network administration and computer programming, Cipolla recently entered the field of energy efficient induction lighting.
"[Induction lighting] just really appealed to me. I do what I do because I feel like I'm helping people with technology. You buy tools to make money and this just fits into my personal philosophy of helping my customers," Cipolla said. "It's technology that has been around for a long time. ... The technology has been known about but getting it done affordably has been the issue. Everything is getting smaller and smaller and so the control unit is now small enough to where you can mass produce this at an affordable cost."
For residential improvements, a myriad of options exist for everyday solutions to achieving lower energy use, including using a programmable thermostat, lower the hot water thermostat and wash only full loads of clothing. For more home energy efficiency tips, visit www.energysavers.com/tips.
Don Liotta, owner of Outside The Box Construction, currently is working on a Habitat For Humanity home in which simple, low-investment steps have helped save homeowners a significant amount of energy and money. This project, however, is funded through a grant and Liotta has found that similar renovations are rarely carried out at the owner's urging and expense.
"Like this house, we just did the energy efficiency work here. We spent maybe $500 here and now they save $50 a month and they're going to save that $50 a month for as long as they own the house," Liotta said.
Among other improvements, Liotta replaced attic insulation, which had been compressed and rendered ineffective after items were placed on top of it for storage. With the aid of an energy audit and an efficiency renovation, homeowners can lessen the amount they pay in energy bills each month.
"ENERGY STAR says [homeowners can save] safely about 25 percent to 30 percent a month, and really what I've learned, is it depends on when the house was built because there was a period of time when we were building really sloppy houses and that happens to be around the mid-'90s to probably seven years ago," Liotta said. "Those houses can gain a lot from looking at their duct work and insulation."
Liotta was reminded recently of an extreme example when he received a call from the homeowner of a 7,000-square-foot historic home in Roswell that required extensive work, including tunnels beneath the house, to achieve the desired level of energy efficiency. Where most project costs can be recovered in savings over the course of between one and three years, this $30,000 project was fully repaid from energy savings in five years.
"The homeowner communicated with me and let me know that five years later, he paid for all the action that he had taken and now he's putting between $650 and $700 in his pocket and he called me five years later to thank me for convincing him to take the action," Liotta said, adding details from the initial energy audit. "When we put the fan in the door, it caused a big vacuum and he could see the dirt coming in through his floor. It was like these dust clouds coming through his house and he was wondering why he couldn't keep his house dust free. It's because when they built houses of that age, they used slats then they put a hardwood floor over the slats.
"So there were air gaps everywhere ... when we were done with the tests, he had the equivalent of a 12-foot-by-12-foot hole in his house. That's like leaving a garage door open 24/7 and trying to heat and cool it."
Liotta has found that saving money through energy efficiency has become a political issue and has encountered increased hesitancy among homeowners to invest in such improvements. Thach has found it often difficult to persuade customers because they feel operational performance, aesthetic qualities or some other area will have to suffer in order to gain efficiency.
"Convincing they need to save energy is like anything else that you try to get people to save on. You can save on your groceries by using coupons, you can do a lot of things, we just don't want to give up anything. The neat thing about what I do is you don't have to give up anything," Thach said. "I go into businesses and help them reduce their electrical expense by reducing their kilowatt hours. ... When you save on your electric bill, this is money you add directly to your bottom line."
Both Electrical Cost Cutters and Common Sense Solutions offer lease programs that will typically pay for themselves in savings in the first months of operation. Whether a business is looking for facility-wide savings and efficiency in lighting or a homeowner is looking to reduce energy costs, local businesses look to provide solutions.