Energy-conscious riled by stores that leave doors open and A/C on

By Leslie Tamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Christopher Moline was spending a sweltering afternoon with his son Nicholas at the Bowie Town Center mall when he noticed that the doors of Rave clothing store were wide open.

The cold air rushing from the store was refreshing, but it also made his temperature rise as he thought of all the wasted energy.

"I don't know about most folks," said the 42-year-old Bowie man, "but my father always told me to close the door so we wouldn't be heating or cooling the outdoors."

Leaving the doors open while running the air conditioner can increase electricity use by 20 to 25 percent, according to one power company's estimate. The amount wasted depends on location, weather and humidity.

"The equipment is working extra hard to condition a space that'll never be conditioned," said Sarah O'Connell, energy outreach coordinator of the Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions. "Businesses are paying extra to condition the outdoor air."

Moline made videos of the wide-open doors throughout the mall and posted them on YouTube. With his camera phone, he taped his conversations with managers, who often said it was the store's general practice to keep their doors open. Open doors made it easier for parents with strollers to get inside, one associate said.

When Moline revisited the mall a few days later, one of the shops he had visited had a broken air conditioner.

"That is not a coincidence, man," said Moline, who said the broken system was probably a result of the store overworking it earlier in the week. In addition to being a father of three, a husband and a small-business owner, Moline has trained to be a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Accredited Professional, so he can recommend and implement green-building practices in commercial interiors.

"I'm not a sandals-and-granola guy," Moline, a former Marine, added. His interests are primarily clean air and energy independence, he said.

In New York, retailers who drain the grid by air conditioning city sidewalks can be fined. Moline and others would like to see a similar policy in the Washington area, or at least a public awareness campaign.

"We need to . . . get the word out: A closed door is a good thing," said Joan Kelsch, Arlington County's green buildings program manager.

The county's Environment and Energy Conservation Commission discussed the issue during a public meeting Monday.

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