A Laundry Room in Ely Heats Water Using the Power of the Sun


by Alison Luedtke, CERTs Research Assistant - July 2010
A Laundry Room

In 2007 Rebecca Spengler decided to start a business, and rather than starting from scratch she choose to revamp an existing laundromat in Ely, Minnesota. She opened A Laundry Room Inc. that June, and quickly remodeled to add wi-fi access and make the location the only handicap-accessible laundromat in town.

Her business model also included plans to create an energy efficient laundromat with solar energy production. In an attempt to educate herself on local assets for solar and other alternative energy resources she stumbled upon the CERTs website. Grant applications were being accepted at the time, so Rebecca applied and received funding to install five solar thermal hot water panels now manufactured in Alexandria, MN by SolarSkies. The system, which helps supplement the existing propane system, includes two 120 gallon tanks and can heat water up to 120 degrees.

The community quickly rallied behind the project. The Ely High School physics class calculated the system demands. Local businesses and Energy Efficient Ely, a local citizen’s energy group, drew attention to the renovations and watched closely to see the process, costs, and sustainability.

When solar installation began the price of propane when down drastically. Some may have seen this as a sign that a bad investment was being made, but Rebecca viewed the saved money as investment into the solar project. “The price will inevitably go up again, but in this instance it became a perfect opportunity to begin,” she professed. The business saves money in terms of conservation as well, as frontloading washing machines use a considerably smaller amount of water. That also exempts the business from raised taxes on large consumption users. Rebecca was also able to take advantage of a federal tax credit of 30% off costs of labor and equipment to install a solar thermal system. Rebecca expects a 4-5 year return on investment.

The laundry industry is certainly seeing momentum toward acceptance and use of green technologies. “Unfortunately laundry is a high consumption business and looking for ways to retrofit will determine all your viability in years to come,” says Rebecca. The initial investment is expensive, but due to the high consumption of water and electricity, the pay back time is accelerated.

This project was the gateway for CERTs involvement in projects around the community. Most had no knowledge of the resources available to anyone interested in pursuing green energy. “I continue to be amazed at the efficiency of [CERTs] and the ability within fields of study to network,” explained Rebecca. She went on to say, “CERTs has become part of the local energy conversation, funding not only my project, but others like it and also our local municipal energy project in the most recent grant round.”


  • Business: Laundromat
  • Location: Ely, MN
  • Approach: Renewable Energy
  • Technology: Solar Thermal
  • Project: Five 4’x10‘ solar hot water collectors & 240-gallon storage system
  • Annual Energy Generation: 2/3 water heating in summer, half water heating in winter
  • Total Project Cost: $20,860

For more information contact Rebecca Spengler, owner of A Laundry Room, at nomad7@frontiernet.net or 218-235-8672; or contact Randy Hagen, president of SolarSkies at randy@solarskies.com or 1-877-765-2757.

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    CERTs Partners:

Minnesota Department of Commerce University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension Great Plains Institute Southwest Regional Development Commission