How one small resort is shrinking its footprint

In the two years since Neil Boyce took over the reins of Largo Lodge, a small Key Largo resort with several cottages nestled in a colorful tropical hammock on Tarpon Basin, he and his staff have managed to shave 10,000 kilowatt hours off annual electric consumption.

Boyce said a series of small changes have amounted to a large saving, and a much " greener " operation.

The changes did not stop at the electric meter.

The lodge’s official car is now a gas-saving hybrid Toyota Prius.

Recycled lumber is being used to construct paths and garden beds.

All of the trimmings from the lush landscape are shredded and used as mulch, which both reduces the waste that must be carted away and helps cut down on the need to water the garden, Boyce said.

Nearly all of the changes are ones that can easily be adapted to private home use, or expanded to accommodate a larger resort property.

Largo Lodge was owned and operated by Harriet " Hat " Stokes, a well known Keys character and chamber of commerce activist. She and her husband bought the resort in 1967. Boyce was a consultant to Stokes starting in the 1980s and bought into the operation in 2004. Boyce and Stokes operated Largo Lodge together until her death in 2009.

Because water in South Florida is expensive and its use is restricted in times of drought, Boyce made changes to reduce water use, including replacing toilets with new models that use only a fraction of the water per flush, putting flow-restricting devices in showers and pumping seawater from the bay for washing down the pier and dock area.

In the garden, plants that require watering, especially those in large containers, have a drip irrigation system that sends water directly to the plant’s root systems, reducing evaporation and runoff that results from overhead watering. The staff has also begun to plant more native species, which generally require little watering.

As at many resorts, Largo Lodge is asking guests to come onboard with water-saving measures. Placards in the guest rooms refer to the lodge’s commitment to conserve natural resources, and encourage guests to use towels and sheets for another day rather than have them laundered daily. To get guests thinking about their water usage, there are reminders about water usage for typical activities: water running while brushing your teeth uses 2 to 5 gallons, while just wetting then rinsing requires only one-half gallon; shaving uses 1 gallon if you fill the sink, but 20 gallons if water is left running, and so on.

Aside from taking actions to curb water and energy use, the Largo Lodge now has two trash cans in each of its eight units, one marked " Trash Only " and the other " Please place recyclables here, " with pictures showing which items are recyclable. Staff says the lodge now recycles 40 percent more guest trash.

As appliances in the cottages get old, they are replaced by more efficient, energy-saving models, according to Boyce. New flat-screen TVs use less energy and give off less heat, which saves on cooling bills as well, Boyce said. All light bulbs used indoors are now compact fluorescents, which use less electricity and run cooler than incandescent bulbs.

Replaced furniture and any items left in the lodge’s lost and found are donated to the Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity so they may be recycled for use by someone else, and earn some money for the charities. Refrigerators were donated to the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center.

Boyce has replaced the old air conditioners with newer, low-energy-consumption models. Ceiling fans above the beds in all rooms " keeps the guests cool at night in bed without them having to crank up the AC higher to cool off the entire cottage, " Boyce noted. Ceiling fans also circulate the air on the cottages’ screened porches. Exterior doors with double-pane glass help keep cool air in and hot air out, without blocking the view.

Around the grounds, the landscaping serves not only to make the lodge a secluded tropical paradise, but trees and shrubs growing close to the buildings provide cooling shade in the hottest hours of the day, reducing the AC needed, according to Boyce.

Lodge staff worked with Florida Keys Electric Cooperative engineers to use energy-efficient outdoor lighting. Sodium vapor lights on tall poles light the driveway. A dual system of lights around the landscape perimeter cuts down on energy use in the wee hours. A timer switches off flood lights at 11 p.m., when most guests have gone in for the night, and a second energy-saving system that provides a lower level of light is switched on.

Along the outer edge of the concrete pier, Boyce has installed LED rope lights. Several lamps on short poles, fitted with self-ballasting, low-voltage compact fluorescent bulbs, also light the way.

" We have reduced the number of outdoor lights we need on the pier by using the LED ropes, " Boyce said.

In the laundry room, Boyce installed a large-capacity, front-loading, energy-efficient washing machine to cut down on both power and water usage, he said. The hot-water heater is on a timer so it is on only during hours they use the laundry. A large, two-cycle exhaust fan carries hot air out of the laundry room.

Largo Lodge has not been certified " green " by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, but Boyce said he will soon apply for the certification.

As it says in all the rooms, " Largo Lodge is committed to conserving our country’s natural resources. "