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Doorway to energy savings: Leaky docks sink sustainability programs

When it comes to sustainability and energy savings, many operations typically treat loading docks as an afterthought. But the typical 8- by 10-foot (2.4- by 3-m) doorways at most docks are where the biggest opportunities can be found for saving energy and cutting operating dollars. Even though the door may be closed, the building envelope may not truly be sealed.

A growing number of building owners are striving for LEED certification, given that, according to the Department of Energy, buildings account for 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption. The amount rings in at $350 billion a year.

Loading docks can have a significant link to energy loss, safety and operational efficiency, which are important elements of LEED certification. If dock equipment is not applied and maintained properly, energy can escape through gaps in the dock doors, trailer door hinges and gaps around the dock leveler pit to name a few.


Preventing Energy Loss

The significant energy loss problem is that trucks can be parked at the dock for hours throughout the course of a day. There is a gap between the trailer and the dock and if it is not sealed tightly, the HVAC system works overtime.

Even a fully closed door is not a guarantee. On busy docks, forklifts moving product often impact and damage the door or the door track. Though a damaged door requires immediate attention, a partially damaged door can allow continual energy loss. Even a slight bump can cause the door to be misaligned and even that slight gap can lead to hundreds of dollars of lost energy annually.

Impactable Dock Doors are the first line of defense on the dock. These doors are built to stand up to the occasional bump or the most severe collision.

Rather than becoming damaged from the force of a major impact, the door panels release and can be easily set back in place. Fully impactable models have the door seal attached to the door panel rather than the door frame. The door can roll up and be out of harm's way to provide the most consistent seal.


Standard pit-mounted dock levelers are excellent at providing safe trailer access for forklifts, but they can present a challenge in sealing the dock because of the concrete pit cut into the dock floor. An alternative to pitstyle dock levelers, Modular Dock Bridges and Vertical Storing Powered Levelers store upright when not in use, allowing the dock door to close tightly against the concrete floor to seal in the energy and lock out the elements.

Because they are hydraulically operated, Vertical Levelers can provide the same operational efficiency of powered pit levelers, but provide the added benefit of a full perimeter seal. Both modular dock bridges and vertical levelers also act as a steel barrier when stored to protect overhead doors from forklift assaults.

Dock seals and shelters keep out the elements and create an energy barrier by enveloping the top and sides of the truck trailer. Seals/ shelters are the dock components that bear the full brunt of the trailer backing into them, so here is where rugged construction, along with continual inspection, pay off to insure they are in shape to cut off energy loss. Some models offer replaceable Velcro sections if wear occurs.

Preventing Safety Hazards

Part of the LEED criteria involves employee safety as well as energy conservation. Vehicle restraints address both issues.

Many facilities still use rubber wheel chocks to hold a parked truck in place. Even if the driver parks firmly against the wall, the force of the forklift driving in and out of the trailer can defeat manual chocks and cause it to creep away from the dock.


That gap can pose a safety hazard for the forklift driver. But even before the trailer gets far away from the dock, the energy-saving seal between the dock wall and rear end of the trailer can also be compromised.

Vehicle restraints keep the trailer snug and secure to the wall. Some models are capable of over 32,000 pounds (14,400 kg) of pulling force to keep trailers firmly in place.

To tie the operation of this equipment together, master control panels integrate all dock equipment controls into one centralized control box, interlocked into an operational sequence. For example, the vehicle restraint will not disengage and the truck cannot pull away from the dock until the door is completely closed, ensuring no unnecessary exposure of the dock and enhancing security between truckloads. These controls also utilize LED lights to provide internal and external communication. LED's provide significant operational and energy advantages over incandescent bulbs.

When it comes to going green, all areas of the building should be part of the program And configuring the loading dock with the same green principles in mind can be the first line of defense against energy loss, ensure safety and provide an effective offense toward a more sustainable operation.

Michael Brittingham is the manager of marketing communications at 4Front Engineered Solutions Inc., Carrollton, Texas. 4Front owns industry brands Kelley, Serco, TKO Dock Doors, LoadHog and ASP Resource. For more information, go to