Technical / Extra Edition

Food Wholesaler Sees Big Savings, Quick ROI with WiFi-Enabled Thermostats

Through the installation of ecobee EMS thermostats in the massive warehouse and office campus of food wholesaler SUPERVALU® in January 2012, the company was able to slash energy usage and realize a return on investment within one week of installing the thermostats.

Project Overview

SUPERVALU, the third largest food wholesaler in the United States, moved into its 1.7 million-square-foot warehouse and office space located in Denver, Pa., in 1999. The facility acts as the redistribution hub for its banner stores and several independent retail stores in the northeastern United States. The building — often referred to as a campus by facilities staff — employs approximately 1,000 people in the warehouse, transportation garage, and business office areas. The facility is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

With an outdated HVAC control system that even SUPERVALU’s own HVAC technicians had difficulty deciphering, and after years of complaints from employees about their discomfort in the space, Eric Strunk, facility maintenance supervisor, began researching alternatives.

The Solution

According to the quotations the company received, in order to simply update the existing system it was going to cost an estimated $200,000, and it would have been significantly more to implement an entirely new system.

According to ecobee, its WiFi-enabled EMS unit is designed for applications where a simple thermostat isn't enough and a full-scale building automation system would be costly and overly complex. After conducting his own research and realizing that ecobee had the potential to meet all of the facility’s needs — at a fraction of the cost — Strunk decided to purchase and install an ecobee EMS unit to test on one of the facility’s heating/cooling units.

The Installation

After a four-month trial period with the product, Strunk was convinced that the EMS was a perfect fit to control the facility’s heating and cooling system. He began wiring, retrofitting, and installing seven more EMS thermostats throughout the facility with the help of another facilities employee. The EMS units are located in the warehouse, office spaces, cafeteria, and kitchen areas. And Strunk plans to install 10 to 20 additional EMS thermostats throughout the space.

Project Outcome

SUPERVALU saw a full return on investment within the first week of installing the ecobee EMS units. “We used to run all of our fans all night long. After installing the ecobee EMS thermostats, we realized we could maintain the same comfortable temperature by staggering the fan run times. This has equated to huge savings. We were so astounded by the immediate energy and cost savings we saw with the product, we couldn’t wait to share our savings with the folks at ecobee,” said Strunk.

Given the scope and size of the facility — and the units the thermostats are hooked up to — Strunk turned to ecobee’s customer support throughout the installation whenever he had a question. “In one word, I consider ecobee’s technical support to be outstanding. In fact, I think the quality of ecobee’s customer service is a benchmark that all other technology companies should strive to achieve. I can’t even begin to describe how happy I am with the support I have received from ecobee,” said Strunk. “Once we got the wiring from the old system figured out, the installation of the ecobee EMS thermostats was quite simple to do — pretty impressive considering the complexity of the equipment we were working with.”

Additionally, the ongoing collaboration that took place between ecobee and SUPERVALU throughout this installation brought to light an opportunity to optimize the products’ performance even further. “By establishing a partnership, working together, and listening to the customer’s needs, ecobee was able to create and release a new improved firmware that all of our EMS customers are now enjoying the benefits of,” said Mark Malchiondo, ecobee’s vice president of software development.

Remote Accessibility

Strunk is now able to control the facility’s heating and cooling from his office computer, home computer, and mobile devices. “The user interface is so simple and easy to use — I log onto my ecobee web portal at least once a day, and can troubleshoot issues from anywhere,” said Strunk. “I used to have to walk from one end of the building to another if I wanted to make a temperature adjustment, turn fans on or off, or troubleshoot an issue — and in a 1.7 million-square-foot facility that can take up a significant amount of time. Now, I can do it all remotely from anywhere there’s an Internet connection, even on my iPad.”

Employee Comfort

With the old system, Strunk received complaints on a daily basis from office and warehouse employees regarding the temperature of the building. It seemed the facility was always either too hot or too cold. Since the installation of the EMS units, SUPERVALU employees are much more comfortable in the space, and several individuals have even made note of the improvement to facilities staff. “I was so impressed by the ecobee product, I purchased an ecobee thermostat for my own home,” said Strunk.

For more information, visit www.ecobee.com.

Publication date: 7/23/2012

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