Three areas where your practice can become "greener"

April 1, 2010

By Kevin Henry, Managing Editor, Dental Economics

When I lecture around the country on the subject of “going green in the dental office,” people always ask me what are some easy things they can do in their practice today to not only help save the environment, but also save some money as well.

Below I’ve listed three areas to watch in your office. Keep in mind some of these tips can also be used in your home as well, so take the thought of going green home with you as well.

1. Saving water.

Water is our world’s most precious resource, yet it’s a commodity we all go through with little thought of conservation.

We each waste water in our practices and homes every day. Did you know that while the average American uses 100 gallons of water each day, while the average Ethiopian uses just three? It’s a matter of lifestyle and, in America, one of the world’s richest nations, we can afford to use as much water as we want, right?

In my hometown of Tulsa, Okla., the average single-family home used about 83,000 gallons during a one-year period. That is 227.4 gallons of water each day. A recent Tulsa World article discovered that 23 Tulsa homes used more than 2 million gallons, six homes used more than 3 million gallons, and one home used more than 4 million gallons, an average of more than 340,000 gallons per month.

Watching how much water you use can not only make a big difference in our environment, but also your monthly water bill. Water savings can start in your bathroom. If you’re looking to remodel, consider installing a WaterSense toilet that uses at most 1.28 gallons of water per flush. Compare that to older toilets that can use up to seven gallons per flush and you can see where you can start making a difference.

If you’re not looking to renovate, you can do something simple with your toilet to cut down on water usage. Find a standard plastic water bottle, drop some sand or pebbles into it, fill it with water, then put it in the tank, keeping it away from the toilet’s working parts. This takes up space in the toilet tank, so not as much water is needed to fill up the tank.

Of course toilets aren’t the only water-using culprits in the bathroom. Your choice of faucets can also make an impact. Federal standards now state that faucets in new facilities can use no more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute (gpm), but older faucets can use 3 to 5 gpm according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Certainly you could replace your faucets, but there’s another solution as well. Install aerators in your facuets. These are simple discs that fit inside your faucet and can be purchased at any home improvement store for a very low cost. They’re easy to install and can restrict the flow from your tap to 1.5 gpm or less.

2. Saving electricity

Have you ever walked through your practice or your home at night with all of the lights off and noticed the glow coming from “ready lights” on your TV, VCR, DVD, stereo, etc.? These lights indicate that that appliance is ready to be used the moment you hit the “on” button on your remote. The problem is that while these appliances may not be “on,” they’re still using a lot of power just waiting for you to hit that button.

It’s estimated that “phantom loads” (energy used by appliances in the off position) can add up to 43 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in the U.S. each year. These “phantom loads” can amount of 10 percent of your electric bill every month. A scary, but true statistic: Some TVs can use more energy in 20 hours of being “off” than they can in four hours of actual use.

What’s the solution? Use a power strip everywhere you can. Power strips can still draw energy when they’re left on, but once they have been switched off, no energy is being used. Imagine the savings if you put your TV, DVD, and stereo to a power strip that could be flipped off with the touch of a button. It’s possible and easy to do.

3. Lighting

There’s a lot of talk about compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Essentially mini versions of the large overhead fluorescent lights found in office buildings and schools, most CFLs last roughly 10 times longer than incandescents, at a quarter of the cost per hour. They also produce 70% less heat than incandescents while illuminated, so heat waste is a nonissue.

However, there’s no question that CFLs are an investment. CFLs cost between $5 and $15 per bulb, while some incandescents can be purchased for as low as 50 cents each. But given their longer life and energy savings, the cost of CFLs is worth it. It is estimated that by replacing just five incandescent lights with CFLs, a standard office could save up to $60 per year. Over the span of 10,000 hours, a CFL can cost less than half of an incandescent.
Traditional incandescent lights are incredibly inefficient. For every watt of energy consumed, only 10% is used to produce light — that means the remaining 90% is released as heat. It's a waste of power and a fire and burn hazard due to the heat generated.

A good way to maximize the lifetime savings and effectiveness of your CFLs is to keep them on for 15 minutes or more at a time. Yes, CFLs need a little more energy when they are first turned on, but once on, they use about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

How do you know which CFL to choose?
Picking the brightness can be tricky. Incandescent energy is measured in watts while its output is measured in lumens. If you want the same brightness from a CFL bulb, look for one with a lumen output comparable to the bulbs you normally use. Another way is to pick a CFL that is about 25% of wattage of the incandescent you are replacing.

For example…
CFL watts ... Incandescent watts
9-13 ... 40
13-15 ... 60
18-25 ... 75
23-30 ... 100
30-52 ... 150

Remember to think 25% … CFL watts are about a quarter of wattage of the incandescent being replaced.

When it comes time to replace your lightbulbs, please remember that all types of bulbs contain a small amount of hazardous waste. CFLs contain mercury, and incandescent bulbs and LEDs contain lead. For this reason, don't toss burned-out bulbs into the regular trash; these toxic substances are best kept out of the landfills. Treat burned-out bulbs as hazardous waste — dispose of them at your local hazardous waste site or seek out recycling centers that accept light bulbs. The Web site can help with this.

Tips to remember about CFLs
** Not all CFL bulbs come with dimmer switches. If you want dimmable lights, be sure to check the label to see if the CFL bulb can do that. Likewise, you'll need to buy special three-way CFL bulbs if you want to use them in three-way lamps.
** Make sure the CFL will not touch the surrounding shade. If your lamp clips onto the bulb, you'll need to buy a covered CFL to use with these shades.
** Not all CFLs work with motion sensors.
** Do not use a CFL in an enclosed space. CFLs are very sensitive to temperature, so if your CFL is used in a light fixture that does not have an opening to allow for natural cooling, it’s not a good idea to use a CFL.

Kevin Henry has worked at PennWell Corporation in Tulsa, Okla., since 1999 and currently serves as the editor of Dental Assisting Digest and Proofs, as well as the managing editor of Dental Economics. Kevin lectures throughout the country on “going green in the dental office,” and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].