When the time came for Mary Jo Beniger to replace the plumbing in her restaurant, Osteria Nonna Maria, she asked her plumber to install an energy-efficient water system. But finding the right system for the circa-1800 building wasn't easy. Plus, in chilly Sheboygan, Wis., the restaurant needed a system that could heat water from 38 degrees to 185 degrees Fahrenheit in seconds.
After a year of researching, Beniger decided to install tankless water heaters on both floors of the restaurant. Although it was more expensive than traditional systems with hot-water tanks, the investment resulted in water, money and energy savings. Plus, it has a 25-to-30-year life expectancy, compared to 13 years for hot-water tanks, Beniger says.
"Putting in an on-demand hot water heater is an incredible money and energy saver," says Beniger. "You get your investment back. Mine is paying for itself."
Once Beniger switched to the energy-efficient water-heating system, she started making other "green" changes at Osteria Nonna Maria.
The restaurant also has low-flush toilets bought second-hand from a local recycling center, and it uses low-flow pressure nozzles on faucets.
Thanks to those water-conservation measures, Nonna Maria's water usage -- and water bills -- are less than half of what they used to be.
"Water in the restaurant business is a necessity," Beniger says. "We don't want to waste it."
Guests rave about Nonna Maria's Sicilian-style dishes prepared from family recipes handed down from generation to generation. Beniger attributes the taste to fresh herbs and tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and cucumbers she grows in her yard -- another sign of the restaurant's eco-friendly philosophy.
The restaurant also composts food, uses a low-paper point-of-sale system and recycles. And its "new" six-burner stove actually is previously used.
And that 200-year-old building? In recent remodeling projects, workers removed unused plumping pipes, replaced thin, aging walls, added insulation, installed a new roof and replaced worn flooring with reclaimed wood from the beams of a factory where Beniger's grandfather worked. Beniger's husband Bill made moldings from dunnage wood recovered from a construction project he had worked on.
It's all part of the restaurant's commitment to conservation. As a result, its efforts to save energy and resources have dramatically reduced the restaurant's water and gas bills as well as operational costs.
"Being a good environmental citizen means conserving wherever we can," Beniger says.