When it comes to going green in your building, what immediately comes to mind are big projects like boiler replacements and solar panels. But there’s another source of untapped energy savings in many co-op and condo buildings — your elevators. Depending on the upgrade, greening elevators can reduce their electricity usage by up to 70% — and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here are the options:
LED lighting. In addition to replacing old elevator lights with LEDs, which can save as much as 90% in lighting costs, boards can go a step further by installing motion detectors that turn off the lights when the elevator isn’t in use; similar sensors can also be installed on the cab fan.
Machine room temperature control. Whether located in the basement or on the roof, the room housing the elevator drives and controllers needs to be kept between 55 and 110ºF. “The biggest challenge is keeping the room cool, so a good HVAC system is a must,” says Donald Gelestino, the president of Champion Elevator. “A fan blowing out the hot air won’t do the job, but sometimes people oversize the air conditioners, which only wastes electricity. You want to make sure the HVAC system is correctly sized to the space.”
Elevator soft starter. This electronic device controls the voltage needed to run your elevator by preventing power surges — typically 10 times what an elevator motor runs at — every time the elevator starts up. By reducing stress on the motor, soft starters translate into fewer repairs and help extend an elevator’s lifespan. While replacing an existing mechanical starter with a soft starter is relatively simple, the technology can be used only with hydraulic elevators. Estimated cost: $3,500 per cab.
Regenerative drives. These drives work with the elevator’s controller to capture energy produced by the running of the elevator. The drive then synchronizes that energy with the building’s power and sends it back into the building’s power grid. By recapturing energy instead of wasting it, regenerative drives can reduce an elevator’s energy consumption by as much as 75% — and cut the building’s carbon emissions significantly. “Regeneration is your home run,” says Anthony Marchese, the director of technical operations at Sierra Consulting Group, an elevator consultancy. Regenerative drives are an added option only if you are doing a wholesale elevator modernization, not an upgrade, and they carry a price tag of $6,500 to $9,000 per cab. “You’ll want to do a cost calculation on when you will recoup your investment,” Marchese adds. “If you have a single elevator, the payback will be longer.”