Sunny side up: Waffle House goes green with solar panels

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

NORCROSS -- One local Waffle House is now sunny side up.

That's because the restaurant, located in Norcross at 5900 Jimmy Carter Blvd., is the first to have solar hot water collectors installed on its roof.

The collectors are a system of four solar panels that the restaurant's water runs through to get heated. By the time the water reaches the heater, it should be more than 100 degrees. It takes less energy to heat water that's already hot.

When customers park in the store's lot, they might see four black panels hoisted on the roof. But most don't even notice, according to the unit's employees.

"I didn't even know they were there, and I've been here many times," said Julie Hill of Buford, who has been coming to the store once a week for the past two years.

This inconspicuous system ends up providing half of the energy needed to heat the water used in the restaurant, located near the company's corporate headquarters in Norcross. Waffle House expects to get back the cost of the collectors in five years from energy bill savings and government incentives.

But the solar collectors were not only installed to save money, but also to help the environment.

"It's important as a steward of the community and of the world to do what you can to promote saving natural resources," said Waffle House Vice President Ben Aune.

Waffle House expects the solar project will reduce the building's carbon footprint along with saving energy. It's a trial run to explore the possibility of putting more hot water solar collectors on other restaurants.

"I think it's wonderful," Hill said. "One day we might not have any (natural resources) when we cut down all the trees and use up all the water."

In the past the corporation's environmental efforts have focused on installing higher efficiency equipment that use less energy, especially with rising utility costs. According to Aune, Waffle House has other energy-saving initiatives are in the works.

Environmentalists might not be the only ones pleased by the company's efforts.

"Keeping energy costs down helps us pass along those savings to our customers," Aune said.

Some customers perk up more at the thought of saving money rather than natural resources.

"You got to do something these days," said Suzanne Rutledge of McDonough.