From time to time, the Editors of Green Architecture Notes turn the spotlight on businesses where sustainable products or technologies have been implemented in a move toward a more environmentally-conscious practice. Mueller Nicholls, a General Contractor and Cabinet Shop in Oakland, California, is one such business which is leading by example through a pioneering effort to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.
A general contractor and cabinet shop will typically use a significant amount of energy for several functions, most notably for running portable and stationary tools, powering computers, illuminating facilities, and shuttling workers and materials to and from jobsites. At Mueller Nicholls, we’ve long focused on making our operations more sustainable, and recently, we’ve concentrated on greening up two conspicuous sources of energy demands in our business. In the spirit of inspiring other companies to do the same, we wish to share some key points from our experiences investing in alternate and green sources of energy to run the shop and office as well as some of our company vehicles.
The cabinet side of the Mueller Nicholls’ business uses roughly 10,000 KW of electricity every month. We’ve been eying the sun for quite some time as a potential power source, and in the summer of 2008, we took the plunge and installed a complete photovoltaic solar system. The system generates 90% of yearly energy needs; we’re thrilled to have cut our dependency on less renewable sources of energy by such a large margin.
Although we focused on the sustainable concerns when installing the systems, financial considerations also came into play. At that time, the federal tax credits were substantial and just about to expire. We determined that the payback period would be a brief eight years (we’re 25% there!), and the idea of the monthly payments going to a local bank as opposed to a large utility was attractive. For the PV system, the monthly cost of financing roughly equals the monthly power bill prior to installation of the system. Mueller Nicholls’ location in West Oakland made the logistical considerations very easy. We have 250 panels that fit easily on the 16,000 square foot flat roof of the cabinet shop and also plenty of space for the inverters at the electrical panels. The entire crew is aware that we’re getting our energy from the sun, which is a source of pride for green-minded employees.
With regards to our transportation, in 2006 we began replacing our standard SUVs and sedans in order to upgrade to hybrid vehicles. Having company cars at the office allows a large number of employees to bike to work – sometimes up to seven employees out of twenty-two – and then to share the cars as necessary. At this point in time, there are four hybrid company vehicles and our fleet gas consumption has decreased by roughly 1,300 gallons per year. At $3.00/gallon, this saves $3,900 per year in fuel costs.
When we purchased these cars, electric cars were less than practical from many standpoints. Hopefully by the time we need to retire this fleet, we’ll be able to switch to electric cars. We also have two diesel delivery trucks, which we plan to convert to bio-diesel as this option becomes financially feasible. We look forward to the day when we can expand our PV system in order to charge electric vehicles and have portable PV solar panels as a way to provide power to a job site.
While our journey towards using more renewable energy sources for our power consumption is far from over, we’re pleased to have taken these first steps. In a marketplace flooded with companies that tout their sustainable practices, we believe it’s crucial to put our money where our mouth is and to reduce the impact that our cabinet and construction practices have on the planet.
Jill Moran is a construction professional with 20 years of varied experience in high-end residential remodeling. Her recent entry into motherhood, timed precisely with the downturn in the local construction industry, has resulted in a slight re-engineering of her career. She currently works closely with the management team at Mueller Nicholls, with an emphasis on communicating to the world at large about residential remodeling.