By Walt Swietlik
Beverage warehouses are busier, and frequently larger, than ever before. With more shipments coming and going, loading dock and cooler doors are opened more often resulting in more opportunities to lose expensive heating or cooling energy. Fortunately, there are a number of ways warehouse managers can improve their facility’s energy-efficiency, ways that can pay immediate and noticeable dividends. Here are five suggestions for making your warehouse more energy efficient.
Seal the Hinge Gaps: Start your energy upgrade process at the loading dock. Next time a trailer is being serviced, stand on the inside of the dock and look for spots where daylight is coming through – chances are you’ll see some. These are areas where expensive conditioned air is leaking out and dust, bugs and outside weather may be sneaking in.
Swing-open (“barn door”) style trailer doors, when open at the dock, have hinge gaps that, if left unsealed, are equivalent to a 2.5-square-foot hole in the wall. Not only are these enormous energy-loss gaps, they provide a major opportunity for dust and pests to fly right in. Tight-sealing foam compression dock seals can solve this problem, as can trailer perimeter-sealing dock shelters equipped with hinge-gap sealing hooks on the shelter curtains. Never leave hinge gaps exposed!
“Button It Up” all the Way: Some gaps may remain even after a seal or shelter is installed, and additional steps should be taken to completely “button up” your docks. Small gap-sealing products such as leveler lip corner seals, bumper seals, filler pads and weather seals can address this issue. These are small, individual components that are fitted to effectively seal these tough areas.
The head pad or head curtain of a dock seal or shelter may be another problem area, as many provide an incomplete seal on certain types of trailers. This is a significant consideration if your dock stations handle a wide variety of trailer types. You can fix this problem by installing a weighted, gravity-based trailer top seal that compresses against short and tall trailers alike, and travels with the trailer throughout its movement. Don’t settle for a unit that only seals some of the trailers some of the time.
Don’t Forget About the Fourth Side: Most dock doors are fitted with three-sided dock seals or shelters, and that’s a great start. However, energy also escapes through a fourth side of the dock, the open pits beneath the dock levelers. This “under-leveler” area is another leading cause of energy loss, since energy wants to travel through the steel deck leveler plate, equalizing the temperature on the inside and outside of the building. A simple two-part under-leveler sealing curtain that fits across the front of the pit will solve this commonly overlooked area and significantly reduce energy loss from your facility.
Save Money with High-Speed Cooler Doors: Energy-saving opportunities aren’t just limited to the dock area; they can be found throughout the warehouse. High-speed cooler doors are another infrastructure upgrade that can pay quick returns. Believe it or not, the open-and-close time (cycle time) and seal tightness of an industrial door are both more important factors in its energy efficiency than its R-value. Doors with low cycle times allow for increased air infiltration and thus higher energy loss. High-speed doors allow people and equipment to move more quickly through door openings, reducing the time for warm air to enter the cooler. The most technically advanced high-speed, roll-up doors can operate at up to 100 inches per second. Some high-speed doors are also built to withstand forklift impact, which reduces the energy loss and downtime associated with fixing a broken or dislodged traditional cooler door.
Mix it Up with HVLS Fans: Installing high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans is another way warehouse managers can lower energy costs. Everyone knows that warm air rises… which may mean your facility’s HVAC system is only reaching its temperature set-point in the few feet just below the ceiling – not where your employees are working. HVLS fans can move warm ceiling air back down toward the floor and into other areas where it’s needed. HVLS fans mix air more efficiently and require less energy than conventional fans, generating an air cycle that allows for a more consistent temperature from floor to ceiling. In addition to worker comfort, this will equate to significant energy savings. A single HVLS fan can reduce annual heating and cooling costs by as much as 20-30 percent, depending on the climate.
Walt Swietlik, director of customer relations and sales support at Rite-Hite, has more than 30 years of experience in the material handling industry. He is an expert in loading docks and door safety, as well as improved productivity.