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An energy tour of IKEA

March 6, 2013
“You’re lucky it’s overcast outside right now,” begins our tour guide, Nate. “Else you’d need your sunglasses for this tour.

“You’re lucky it’s overcast outside right now,” begins our tour guide, Nate. “Else you’d need your sunglasses for this tour. The roof is solid white and extremely bright. Let’s get up there before the sun comes out behind from that cloud. Everyone OK with climbing ladders?”

We’re in the new IKEA store located in the Denver suburb of Centennial, Colo. This is one of more than 300 IKEA stores in 44 countries. There are more than 30 stores in the U.S., and IKEA plans to open many more in the next few years.

Of Swedish origin, IKEA has this business plan: "We shall offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them." Add to that an unmistakable mission to be out front about saving energy and other resources.

The participants in this tour group are members of the Colorado Energy Efficiency Business Coalition, known as the EEBC. It’s not just any store tour. It’s an “energy” tour.  For this group it’s better than Disneyland to see IKEA’s energy conservation efforts behind the scenes.

So up the ladder we go to the roof. If the ladder is any indication of the forward-thinking mind set of this place, we’re in for a treat. This drop-down ladder has hand rails!

Immediately we see that this is not an ordinary roof. As Nate promised, it is a reflective shiny white. Now we understand the talk about sunglasses. Even with the sun behind a cloud, the light is intense up here. Of course the white roof is no accident. It reflects heat away from the roof and reduces the cooling load. This is no small matter considering that the area of the roof is more than 400,000-sq.ft.

Emerging from the roof hatch, we also can’t help but notice the solar array. Nate explains that 40% of the roof is covered with solar panels. They supply electricity for the store’s lighting.

The area of the roof not covered with solar panels is peppered with air handlers — 26 of them in all. Nate points out that they all have heat recovery wheels. This allows heating and cooling energy to be collected as air is exhausted from the building. The recovered energy is then directed back into the building with incoming fresh air. Economizers are perfect for the Colorado climate where outside air is always dry, and is often an ideal temperature.

Nate points out that not obvious from the roof is the fact that geothermal is the primary energy source for heating and cooling the whole building. There is never a gas bill.

Then back down the ladder we go from the roof to ground level and the mechanical room. This is where we learn how extensive the geothermal system is. There are 130 geothermal wells under the building. Each well is 530 feet deep, with 2-in. pipes extending straight down. Hundreds of miles of pipe move a blend of 30 to 70 water to glycol throughout the system. 

The geothermal piping connects to heat pumps for heating and cooling. The system also supplies heat to hot water buffer tanks for domestic hot water, particularly for the restaurant. There are no boilers. From the heat pumps we move to the ice bank room.  This room is filled with many large storage tanks full of ice. We climb a ladder to the top of one of the tanks to peer in. Yep, that’s ice in there.

The ice banks supplement geothermal cooling with 50 tons of ice. During the night in the summer, the heat pumps run glycol through the tank coils, freezing the tank brine solution. Whenever return water in the geothermal system rises above 50°F and heat cannot be given off into the ground, it is shed into the tanks. Heat is also shed into a concrete slab on the north of the building, and if the weather is right, provides snow melt.

Besides behind the scenes, IKEA resource conservation efforts are evident to the public throughout the store. 

For example IKEA has a goal of changing all light bulbs to LEDs by 2014. It recycles everything, from CFL light bulbs to cardboard boxes. Its recycling center is open to the public. IKEA offers shopping and recycling in one stop.

And then there is outspoken resource management in the restrooms. Signs expound upon the energy-saving features. In fact the energy-saving ideas are numbered. The sign beside the hand dryers reads: “From the never ending list — Improvement #154 — Air that saves.” Standing there drying my hands, I learn that this hand dryer saves one ton of paper towels. That equals 17 trees. Also 3 cubic yards of landfill space isn’t going to be used by paper towels. Twenty thousand gallons of water will not be polluted by manufacturing the paper towels that this hand dryer replaces. The dryer is so good that my hands are dry before I finish reading. Maybe that’s part of the point. This one is fast and quiet — well quiet for a hand dryer.

Over the hand-washing sinks is a sign: “From the never ending list — Improvement #155 — Slow the flow and impact.” The sign continues, “Our low-flow faucets have regulated the flow of water. This saves an average of 20% of the water consumption per faucet per year.” Oh, and of course the toilets are low flow and the urinals are waterless.

The signs make it clear that IKEA is dedicated to never-ending improvements. For the geothermal system, ongoing refinements and maintenance are provided by Major Geothermal of Denver.

As a result of geothermal system success, owner Jack Major Jr. and engineer Terry Proffer are designing the geothermal system for a new IKEA store in Meridian, Kan.  Proffer is doing the loop design for the ground loops, and Major is heading up the selection of controls, pumps and equipment. A third party will be doing a peer review.

Major is pleased.  He says, “IKEA is striving to be a leader in energy savings.” 

Carol Fey is a technical trainer who has been in the HVAC industry for over 25 years. You can find her books and DVD at  To see her adventures while a heating mechanic in Antarctica, go to

About the Author

Carol Fey

Carol Fey is a technical trainer and writer, specializing in easy electricity, hydronics and troubleshooting books.  She also writes about HVAC work in Antarctica. 

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