One sure way to find out if you are throwing money out of the window - and harming the environment to boot - is to have your business energy audited. Nic Paton spent a day finding out what it entails
Perhaps spending a day shadowing an "energy engineer" makes you notice these things more, but what strikes me about Jolyon's hotel is not its classic Georgian exterior or its location across from Cardiff's iconic Millennium Centre, but the fact that its doorway is lit (at least at night) by a low-energy bulb.
It soon becomes clear that owner Jolyon Joseph, a former glass designer, chef and property developer, is no slouch when it comes to sustainability and energy saving. The property dates back to the 1840s and has a colourful history. It used to be a sea captain's lodge and was even, for a time, a house of ill repute. In the 1980s it was turned into a restaurant before falling into disuse, and by the time Joseph came along in 2004 it was derelict.
Joseph was able to build a number of energy-saving measures into the six-bedroom boutique hotel, including extra insulation in the walls, sensor-based lighting on the landings and a card-based system so that when guests leave a room the lights turn out automatically.
The bar has been made from recycled beams, and all the stonework is either reused or redressed stone. The hotel's two log fires - one of which powers the oven - are fuelled by derelict hardwood, Joseph says proudly.
"It is not just about being cool or more energy-efficient, it is because the food tastes better, too. I've also got rid of our gas garden heaters - I've taken them to the crusher - and bought some electric ones with a pressure button on them. After 12 minutes they cut out unless you press the button again," he says.
Nevertheless, Joseph is keen to find out what energy engineer Simon Wynne thinks he can do to help cut his fuel bill further. Wynne is an engineer with Energys, which, through energy supplier British Gas Business, is offering free energy audits to small business customers up and down the country.
"The energy bill is a massive part of my costs. My electricity and gas bills are stupid," Joseph says. "After staffing, it is far and away the biggest bill, but that is probably the same for any hotel. My bill for light bulbs is also very high. I always seem to be going out and buying them."
Starting in the reception area, Wynne, though pleased by the bulb above the entrance that caught my eye, suggests that Joseph could make things even better by having it on a sensor rather than a conventional switch that could easily be left on.
Down in the basement bar-restaurant area, called Bar Cwtch, Wynne points out that Joseph uses energy-intensive halogen spotlights in the ceiling and traditional 25W candle bulbs in the wall lights. "He could, instead, look to fit low-wattage bulbs," Wynne says. "There is the option of low-energy LED bulbs, but as they emit a slightly cooler, brighter light, low-wattage bulbs would probably be more appropriate. Particularly in this type of business there will be a trade-off between aesthetics and the amount of energy saved."
In the bedrooms, Joseph gets Brownie points for the card-based lighting system and the fact there is no air conditioning, but how the rooms and the water are heated comes in for close scrutiny. Despite being a relatively small hotel, there are three boilers, each supplying a single floor. This might mean guests never run short of hot water and feel warm in even the coldest Welsh winter but, Wynne suggests, it might be overkill in energy terms.
"The basement boiler, for instance, is on a timer control, which is good, although it is not being used," Wynne points out. "But it's just doing the floor upstairs, two bedrooms, the lounge and restaurant. The fact that the boilers are on all the time is also an issue.
"He might also want to look at what the water temperature is set to. It should probably be set to a maximum of 75°C. He could probably take it down a notch or two and make some savings there," he adds.
Rejigging the building's whole heating system would, of course, be a major job - although Joseph is planning an 18-room extension in about a year's time, which could be a suitable opportunity for a rethink.
Something much more easily remedied, Wynne says, is the fact that none of the pipes leading off the boilers are lagged. "You'd be amazed how many places do not do it," he says. "If boilers are running at 80°C, a lot of heat will be escaping into the environment. To be honest, his plumbers probably should have done it when they installed the boilers."
Overall, Jolyon's is one of the better hotels Wynne says he has seen. "He seems really switched on to these issues, but some hoteliers and restaurateurs do not pay that much attention to it. Sometimes when you speak to people, they are amazed at how much money they could save," he says.
Where a lot of hotels fall down is in leaving too many lights on, leaving equipment such as coffee machines running all the time and setting the air conditioning or heating too high, he adds. Sometimes hotels even have air conditioning and heating running at the same time.
And how beneficial does Joseph feel it has been? While a useful exercise, he is ultimately sceptical about its value to him as a businessman. "It was good to find out about these things, but I think they missed a trick in not acting on anything for me," he explains.
"If, for instance, on the lagging they had said, ‘We can get one of our people down to sort it out,' that would have been really helpful. They could even have made some money out of it, as I'd have been happy to pay them to do it," he adds.
Advice on what, if any, grants are on offer would also be helpful, Joseph suggests.
"What would be good is if someone could provide you with a road map of what you can get that won't then clash with something else. The biggest issue is being able to trust that person or body and knowing where to find out what is available," he says.
Tips on saving energy
- Label switches and encourage people to turn lights off when they're not in use.
- Use timer switches to control display lighting.
- Replace any older fluorescent tubes with T8 types, which use less energy.
- Use compact fluorescent lamps, which use 80% less energy than tungsten GLS lamps.
- Consider fitting daylight sensors to maximise the use of daylight.
- Review the use of exterior lighting.
- Check space heating controls and temperatures regularly.
- Fit thermostatic radiator valves to enable local temperature control.
- Ensure your radiator circuit is weather compensated to reduce overheating and improve people's comfort.
- Draught-proof doors and windows with self-adhesive thermal strips to reduce heat loss.
- Insulate cavity walls and roof voids.
- Switch off equipment when it's not being used.
- Configure the energy-saving features of IT equipment.
- Consider fitting time switches to turn equipment off at night.
- Avoid using supplementary electric heaters and outdoor heaters.
Source: British Gas Business
What could Joseph save?
Accurately calculating what Joseph might be able to save is tricky, because there are so many variables involved, such as how long lights or heating are left on, cautions Wynne. But it is clear that even someone as attuned to green issues as Joseph can make savings.
In the bar area, assuming the 19 spots are left on for an average of 12 hours a day, switching to reduced-wattage bulbs could result in a 50% consumption saving in that area, or about £89 a year, he calculates.
Changing wall lamps to micro-spiral 9W candle bulbs rather than conventional 26W bulbs could, again, lead to a significant reduction in energy consumption - as much as 26%.
Fitting a £20 timer to the bottle fridge could cut the amount of electricity it uses by 20%, Wynne estimates. Similarly, a timer switch could be fitted to the coffee machine.
Another good idea could be to turn up the fridge and freezer a notch. "We recommend freezers should be around -10°C. If you can raise them by, say, a couple of points you could save as much as 10% in energy terms. With chiller cabinets, every extra 5°C of cooling can add 10-20% to your energy bill," Wynne says.
In fact, "good housekeeping" - turning off lights, not leaving equipment on stand-by, educating staff about energy saving, turning the heating or air conditioning down slightly - can save as much as 5% off an energy bill just by itself.
Taking out two of the boilers could potentially cut the bill there by as much as 40-50%, while extra lagging might save a further 3%. Even just maintaining a boiler regularly can reduce energy consumption by about 1%, Wynne suggests.
As he points out: "There are lots of things you can do that may by themselves only make a small saving, but together they can really add up."