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A no brainer way to save energy

Original post made by ethan, Barron Park, on Dec 20, 2006

On even the hottest and coldest days I find most of the doors at Stanford Shopping Center stores wide open. Some merchants say it is requirement set forth by the mall management. Others say it is to attract customers. With all the environmental, economic and political costs we are experiencing from our dependence on fossil fuels this just seems dumb. Can we as a community get a policy put in place that requires doors to be closed unless the HV/AC is turned off?

I realize this will make only a small impact on energy consumption and greenhouse gas reduction but there is zero hardship caused by the act of closing the doors. People may even get to burn a few extra calories.

At a minimum perhaps each of us can mention this to any merchant we visit. If enough people raise the issue they may get the message and close the doors without the need of a new city policy.

Comments (15)

Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2006 at 5:52 pm

Not so sure it's such a clear no-brainer. First, some commercial establishments actually have the HVAC designed so that there is minimal loss with the doors- because of the way the ducting is configured. Constant opening and closing of the doors actually increases heat transfer to and from the outside because pressure differentials build up within the space with the door closed which then rushes out when the door opens. Second, even in cases where there is a net energy loss from leaving doors open, the business may find it has increased traffic and sales because the open doors appear inviting. So the business owner does better with the doors open than when closed - even after accounting for higher energy costs. (I.e., the statement that there is "zero hardship" may not be so.)

I would want to hear from various business owners before I wanted to form "policies" that further burdened our already regulation-beleaguered small retail businesses. I thought we wanted to attract businesses - especially sales-tax generating ones - to Palo Alto. You say it will make only a small impact. So why not just leave it alone? Aren't there enough largely symbolic mandates already?

Posted by Ethan
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2006 at 8:05 pm

By small impact I meant relative to the massive national problem. If all we look for are massive fixes we will find few we can tackle. One car with 10% greater fuel efficiency makes little impact. Fifty million cars that are 10% more efficient is a huge improvement. To accomplish this you still have to sell the cars one at a time.

Last summer I had a clerk at that mall say that they leave the doors open because they freeze if they close them. Doesn't sound like a system that's tuned to the doors being opened. Having said that, it would be good to have someone actually explore this rather than you and I opine with little specific knowledge.

I agree that adding more regulations would be a waste if plain common sense could be applied instead. I only raise the option should it become necessary. We shouldn't have to have rules against smoking in public but it seems we do.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2006 at 8:44 pm

You're quite right, ethan: neither you nor I really know much about this matter. And neither does the city council - or whomever else you think should be considering the rules you keep alluding to - for that matter. Don't you think it's better for the business owner, who actually does know a little about the costs and benefits of various policies he has in place, to decide how he wants to spend his money, rather than you figuring it out for him?

What do you mean " should it become necessary"? I really don't think rules against smoking in public are an apt comparison. A smoker who blows smoke at me harms me. If Joe's Haberdashery wants to keep his doors open, maybe we should stay out of it, and let Joe figure out what constitutes common sense in his business.

Posted by joyce
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2006 at 5:04 pm

We need information about if this actually wastes energy. If it wastes energy, it does harm everyone by making global warming worse.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 22, 2006 at 6:20 pm

With all respect, joyce, if we were go go into your house and do an audit, I am sure we could find things that some people in our community consider wasteful of energy. If you diet is not vegan and locally grown, there is energy wasted in the food you eat by some lights. Some people set their thermostats at 62. (In fact I know one couple who don't heat at all, preferring heavy clothing in the winter instead.) Maybe you cook with a less-than-totally-efficient stove. Maybe you bathe more often than others think is necessary. Do you own a car? Some people think all private automobiles are wasteful.

Maybe what you would call wasted energy, but the shop-owner thinks is a necessary part of his business. If you get to decide what he should do with his doors, does he get to decide what temperature your bathwater should be?

You get the idea, I think. Don't you think it's much better to let people decide on their own how to run their own lives. There is no principled way to pick out one person's activities as wasteful without having everyone constantly under suspicion.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 23, 2006 at 7:07 am

The broken record argument against environmental protection has always been ECONOMIC. Brazilians burn up the Amazon for Economic reasons. Bush wants to drill in Alaska for Economic reasons. Store owners keep their doors open and waste energy for Economic Reasons.

We abuse the Earth so we can drive our BMW's, flash our bling-bling, flaunt our wealth. We burn trees so we can live the Christmas song of sharing times near the fireplace. We plunder the Earth to have our mahogany wood floors, granite counter tops, marble floors, our brightly lit cities, and our air conditioned shopping malls.

Where does this slippery economic slope stop? Hurricane Katrina? Guess not, since we're still arguing it here. If not Katrina, then where?

Posted by Anon
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 23, 2006 at 7:23 am

And one more thing for those against government regulation of the environment and in favor of individual rule - Look AT BRAZIL - THE AMAZON IS GOING, GOING, and scientists say will be GONE in a few decades. WHY? LACK OF GOVERNMENT REGULATION.

We have government because individuals do things for their own individual comfort and not the good of society. We have government because we live in community with others where individual actions impacts our neighbors. Government protects the community where individual actions harm. Making the individual choice to keep your fireplace going 24 hours a day, to blast your furnace, and to drive a gass guzzling SUV harms others in the community. It's about time for some government regulation.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 23, 2006 at 8:46 am

Anon -

We already did the "Green Collectivists Take Over the World" thread - last week. (Web Link Here.) Check out the posts by Dave over there. You guys probably aren't going to get to far in a democratic system arguing for Enviro-cops to be controlling our lives.

Maybe you and Dave should try to broaden your taste in flicks beyond "An Inconvenient Truth". Check out the new James Bond movie: it's got much cooler fantasies about destroying the earth than Al Gore.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 23, 2006 at 8:54 am

And Anon - About the Amazon. If you check your facts, you'll find out that Brazil has one of the most regulated economies in Latin America. (Most economists think that's why its growth rate has been so poor - and why the next pizza delivery guy you see is likely to be a Brazilian with a college degree.) Most authoritarian government regimes, like the one you seem to advocate eventually turn out to be corrupt. The one in Brazil is, which is why despite lots of regulation putatively protecting the Amazon, it's being burned and strip-mined with little regard for the consequences.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 25, 2006 at 8:56 pm

I must have touched a raw nerve as you seem upset. You jump to conclusions. Where did I write authoritarian government? Ha ha, what a joke.

What kind of car do you drive?

Posted by Ethan
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 26, 2006 at 9:47 am

I wasn't trying to start a debate on world politics or the merits of government regulation. I simply suggested that it seemed a simple way to save energy if the doors were closed at the stores. Unfortunately, even a limited suggestion like this evokes people's political ire. My apologies. Can we just agree that store owners would be wise to close their doors if it uses less energy? I have a marketing background and I know that the primary reason for leaving the doors open is that a closed door dissuades the uncertain shopper from entering - it is less "inviting." But the retail business is more art than science. I doubt most store owners look at how much they spend on energy versus what additional business they derive from open doors. It's more of a lemming effect. One does it because the others do it.

Chris, I suppose you'll say that this is their choice. Still, a little prompting from local customers might get them to consider an alternative way of thinking. I'm not proposing a big (or small) government conspiracy to take control of everyone's personal liberties. Just hoping we can apply a little common sense that benefits everyone.

There's no need to respond. I think we've wasted enough "energy" on this to no avail.

Posted by Carol
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 26, 2006 at 10:46 am

When I lived in New England, the stores all had very inviting automatic doors that opened as soon as a customer approached. In summer, these doors were usually open all the time, but as the colder weather approached, the doors were put onto automatic. This seems to be a great solution. Although, I suspect the cost of the doors and possibly the cost of running them may be higher than the potential savings, it does make sense.

Posted by Linda
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 26, 2006 at 11:32 am

I'm glad you brought this topic up, Ethan, and brought it back to the original thought. The "open door" policy drives me crazy. My daughter and I were shopping at Cathy Jean's (former shoe store at Stanford) one bitterly cold February evening. Because they were on a corner, there were two sets of doors open and the wind was rushing through. The clerks were wearing heavy coats, and we were freezing, too cold to stay long. We were told then by one of the clerks that it was in their lease from the shopping center that they had to leave their doors open, because it was more "upscale." The lease part may or may not be true, but if so, it's something shopping center management may be responsible for. I absolutely agree that this is wasteful and ridiculous.

Posted by Ben Reaves
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 1, 2007 at 11:04 am

HVAC is major. Back to the topic here. When my building lost power due to a transformer fire we were on generators that could run the computers but the HVAC overwhelmed the generators. Doors must be unlocked by law during business hours but could and should be partially closed or open by electric motors, if the business owners don't fear that this would turn people away.

Posted by Todd Bethell
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 4, 2007 at 3:20 pm

I am from out of town but will make a post anyways. Because I need to blow off some steam on the topic.
I am currently fighting this battle with a certain Southern California Mega Church who built a large and wonderful Café/Restaurant but whose doors easily prop open at just 90 degrees. It is January, and the Café is simply too cold (and no surprise mostly unoccupied) so hear I am at Panera Bread. As an IFMA Certified Facility Manager I know how much energy open doors waist. In some of my facilities it is well over half the gas and electric cost can be traced to the doors left open. BOMA also has published many times on this topic. For my facilities I take a multipronged with signs on the doors “Help save energy, Please close doors”, this is the cheapest and most effective. The city can produce these stickers and give them away. I have also removed the ‘hold open devices’ in some doors in some facilities, using the excuse of security. On a few occasions I had to installed auto door openers (I justified the cost under ADA compliance) for about $3500/door but they can be much more expensive. It is unfortunate that so few building maintenance personnel and facility managers understand the complicated building automation systems they have been given. Facilities and building codes need to be designed taking human ignorance into account and assume that most people were indeed “born in a barn” and will leave the doors open.

Todd Bethell, CFM (IFMA-OC)

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