By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
Some precasters cringe at the mere mention of the word “sustainable.” Their fear is related to a lack of understanding of what sustainability means, or they may know what it means but feel they do not have the time and money to invest in implementing it.
Adopting sustainable practices in your plant may be much easier than you think. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at the sustainability practices of a small precast concrete operation in Indianapolis. The owners were looking to save money on utility bills, but their cost-saving strategies also go hand in hand with sustainability practices.
CGM Precast has been in business since the 1980s, starting out in Florida and relocating to Indianapolis in 1998. Owners Chuck, Fred and Susan Machledt are fully invested in the day-to-day operations of their plant, and they each perform any required task such as running the mixer or acid-washing panels. CGM manufactures a wide variety of products ranging from architectural to utility structures. Since the Machledts bought the existing buildings, they’ve had to expand to keep up with demand, including an entirely new 7,000-sq-ft building in 2008.
When designing the new building, the Machledts considered the best layout to enhance production. They also took the time to add a few simple features to help them manage their energy costs. The first was to add large, high windows to the walls facing south, east and west.
The natural light that floods this building is more than adequate on most days to enable all-day operations without turning on the lights. When overhead lighting is required, the owners had installed energy-efficient T5 fluorescent lamps. Putting out almost 3,000 lumens per lamp, these fixtures use highly reflective backing to distribute the output very effectively. The lamps were wired to four separate circuits so that lighting can be switched on only where it’s needed.
They also installed radiant heating, which supplies heat to the floor, objects and workers through infrared radiation. This is a very efficient means of heating the plant, but it is rarely used because of the sunlight coming in through the south and east windows, the R-14 batting on the walls and R-19 batting on the ceilings. Fred said that on a recent morning, although it was 39 degrees outside, it was 70 degrees inside with no radiant heat used. The heaters are also wired to four separate circuits, so heat can be applied only where it’s needed.
Recently, the owners added a 1,500-gallon rain harvesting tank to the northeast corner of the building. This reservoir captures rainwater from gutters on the north side of the roof via two downspouts that can be opened and closed with a valve. The tank also includes an overflow pipe. Water from the harvesting tank is used to wash out equipment and provides a sizeable savings over using city water.1
The Machledts also recycle all scrap steel including straps and rebar pieces. They recycle office refuse and aluminum cans as well.
Fred and Susan are not what we would characterize as “tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing environmentalists.” They implemented most of these common-sense practices to save on energy costs. None of this is rocket science: no solar panels on the roof, no windmills in the parking lot – just simple modifications to a new addition that contribute to significant energy efficiency.
Do these sustainable practices help CGM obtain projects? Fred would say no, although he does add that when architects and engineers tour his plant, they are impressed with the sustainable measures in place. But the future points toward a rising tide of green development when buyers will expect not only sustainable products and practices, but sustainability throughout the supply chain as well. Vendors will be chosen based on practices discussed in this article. It’s not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when, and CGM is well-prepared.
It all begins with just one step. What could you do right now in your operation to help lower your energy costs? Is there one switch in the plant that turns on all the lights? Do you need all the lights all the time? Could your water bill be reduced by harvesting rain water from the roof of your plant? Just one simple step could begin the walk toward a more sustainable operation.
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of Technical Services.
1 See the article “Process Water: Recycle the Blue, Save Some Green” on page 12 in this issue for a discussion on water recycling.