“More saving. More doing.” As it turns out, Home Depot’s familiar slogan emphasizing value and ingenuity applies not only to its customers, but also to the home improvement retailer itself, which has been experimenting with sustainability in its 2,274 stores for more than a decade.
Its efforts—including lighting retrofits, onsite fuel cell installations, recycling programs, and water-conservation practices, just to name a few—culminated in the attainment of Home Depot’s first-ever sustainability targets in 2015. Established in 2010, the targets called for a 20 percent reduction in energy use and supply chain carbon emissions across Home Depot’s US stores by 2015, based on 2004 and 2008 baselines, respectively. As of December 2015, the company had reduced its energy consumption by 30 percent and its supply-chain carbon emissions by 35 percent.
Although it reached its initial goals, the company is just getting started. In fact, it’s already set fresh objectives: to reduce its total energy use by an additional 20 percent below 2010 consumption levels and to procure 135 MW of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
Retail construction is perfectly poised to help the company reach its destination, according to David Oshinski, corporate director of construction, who says sustainable real estate aligns perfectly with Home Depot’s “save more, do more” ethos.
“If you reduce your energy consumption, you’re obviously helping the environment,” he says. “But you’re also reducing your costs.”
Oshinski spoke with American Builders Quarterly about two recent projects that illustrate how he and his team are advancing Home Depot toward its objectives.
Bright Idea: New California Prototype
Since 1978, Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations has catalyzed environmental sustainability in the Golden State by mandating energy efficiency in newly constructed buildings. Adopted in 2013, the most recent standards are expected to reduce energy consumption in nonresidential buildings by 30 percent compared to the previous Title 24 standards that were adopted in 2008. The savings are due in large part to 16 new lighting requirements mandating increased use of dimmers, daylight, photocontrols, demand response capabilities, and occupancy sensors, among other features.
For Home Depot, the new requirements were the genesis of a new prototype that will be the template for all future stores in California. The Monterey Park location, opening in spring 2018, will have several lighting features that are a departure from previous designs. These features include those highlighted on this page.
Designing a store to such strict requirements is neither cheap nor easy. The payback, however, will be significant and swift, according to Oshinski, whose team uses building modeling software to estimate the savings from sustainable design modifications. The lighting modifications in Home Depot’s new California prototype, the company has determined, will pay for themselves in as little as two years.
“We’ve picked the best parts from the California store and we’re now incorporating them into other US stores as well,” reports Oshinski, who says new stores currently under construction in Summerwood, Texas, and Bradenton, Florida, will feature dimmable LED lighting inspired by the Monterey Park store.
“We figured out that by using parts and pieces from our California store in, say, a Texas store, we can cut our energy bill by over 40 percent a year,” he says. “It’s a no-brainer, really.”
1. All-LED lighting
Because Title 24 requires dimmable lighting, Home Depot had to embrace LED throughout the store. “We use fluorescent lights in our existing stores, and fluorescent lights really don’t dim,” Oshinski says. “So, we basically had to make the entire store LED. The average store has about 468 overhead lights, which is a lot. It’s easy to imagine the savings from changing all those to LED.”
2. Increased skylights
Title 24 requires natural daylight to penetrate 75 percent of the floor plan in large, enclosed spaces. As such, skylights are mandatory. “We’ve more than tripled the amount of skylights that we had before for this new California design,” Oshinski says. “In our existing stores, we have some skylights in the front where the checkouts are and in the back where the stockroom is, since it’s always dark in the stockroom. Now we’ve got skylights in the aisles and all over the store.”
3. Multi-stage lighting controls
The store’s skylights and dimmable lighting will work together thanks to a multistage lighting control system. “What we’ll have is basically three stages: full on for nighttime, 50 percent for when it’s cloudy out, and off for when it’s bright,” Oshinski explains. “The system will constantly check the light levels in the store and send a message that dims the lights to the appropriate level.”
Cool Thinking: Data Center Upgrades
Temperatures in Austin, Texas, average 95.6 degrees Fahrenheit in August, but can reach as high as 112 degrees on the warmest days. That’s a problem—not only for people whose homes lack air-conditioning, but also for businesses whose facilities have it.
That’s because overworked air-conditioners are less likely to perform and more likely to break, leaving buildings and everything inside them vulnerable to overheating. In the case of Home Depot, which operates a data center in Austin, that means mission-critical hardware and software.
“If your data equipment gets too hot, it just shuts down,” Oshinski says. “When that equipment runs your website, cash registers, and point-of-sale systems—things that are critical to your operations—you can’t have that
He says Home Depot purchased the Austin building in 2004 and replaced its cooling system with a more efficient alternative in 2016.
“The system that was there was a 16-year-old system consisting of three huge air-cooled chillers,” Oshinski says. “It was really inefficient, and there was no redundancy in case something broke down. . . . The system we put in is water-cooled, which is more efficient, and has three new, smaller air units that will be there as a backup if the water ever goes out.”
So as not to starve building occupants and equipment of much-needed cooling, the project was completed gradually in phases over the course of approximately five months. The wait, however, was worth it.
“Our savings are tremendous,” Oshinski says, and adds a prediction that the building will easily reduce its energy consumption by over 25 percent in the next five years. “Getting rid of legacy equipment and replacing it with something more efficient is going to save tons of energy. Plus, it will give us redundancy, which we didn’t have before.”
As Home Depot opens new stores at accelerated rates, projects like those in Monterey Park and Austin will ensure it remains vital and viable, according to Oshinski—both economically and environmentally.
“Buildings are the biggest users of energy in the United States,” he says. “Everything we’ve learned about reducing energy on past projects, we’re going to use in our new stores to change that.”