Frequently Asked Questions

I'm all for sustainability, but people can't work and learn effectively when they are distracted by conditions that are too hot/cold. Don't you think the mission should come before energy savings?

Conservation efforts are intended to limit waste, not to interfere with necessary use. University standards, including heating and cooling setpoints and building-specific heating/cooling schedules, are designed to deliver appropriate conditions when the buildings are in use. If conditions are distractingly uncomfortable, it is overwhelmingly likely that there is a mechanical problem. Comfort issues should be reported to Facilities Management. If it turns out that energy initiatives are a factor in the discomfort, Energy Specialists Jane Stewart and Morris Trimmer will work with you to find a solution.

But it's also important to remember that the W&L mission includes preparing students for "responsible leadership, service to others, and engaged citizenship in a global and diverse society." Understanding that we sometimes have to put forth a little extra effort (wearing a sweater, removing a sweater, realizing that one person working late does not justify air conditioning 50,000 sq. feet) in order to serve a greater good is an important part of that development.

Why is it so important to schedule heating/cooling in campus buildings?

Providing Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) requires a tremendous amount of energy. Not just the energy required to heat or cool the air, but the energy required to power the pumps to deliver the hot/cold water for conditioning the air, and the motors for the fans that deliver and circulate that air. Plus, every building is designed to ventilate for "maximum capacity" when systems are running in the "occupied" mode. That means that a building designed to hold a maximum of 500 people will turn over the required amount of air for 500 people (typically 15 cubic feet of air per person, per minute) even if the building is empty.

How do you decide on the heating/cooling schedule for a building?

It depends on the building, and the season, and the day.

Schedules are adjusted often - sometimes daily - to make sure they appropriately reflect use. But the basic factors include 1) regular office hours for departments in the space, 2) events registered for the space on the on-line reservation calendar, and 3) regular occupancy audits. This last one means walking the area to be scheduled at different times during the day, night and weekend to determine when and how much it is being used, and this can change dramatically from week to week. An academic building that is empty at 11PM on a Saturday in September might be packed on a Saturday night during exams. Every effort is made to ensure that schedules meet campus needs.

Over the summer and during academic holidays most building schedules are set to heat/cool only during regular office hours for the area in question, so buildings are not fully conditioned on nights, weekends and University holidays, except to accommodate events registered in the campus online reservation system.

When the heat or AC has been off all night, it must take a lot of energy to bring it all back on in the morning. Doesn't that eat up all the savings you got overnight?

No. The building HVAC systems don't actually go completely off, but are placed into a "setback" mode. This means that the HVAC systems will engage if temperatures get significantly high or low, guaranteeing that conditions never get so extreme that the setback is counterproductive.

In fact, in a typical building in setback mode the temperature will change by only one degree an hour. It is not hard to make up a seven degree difference in the morning, but eliminating seven hours of fully conditioning 50,000 square feet (an average colonnade building) every night saves huge amounts of energy.

What about moisture? Doesn't having systems setback, especially in the summer time, cause humidity problems?

While it may seem counter intuitive, setbacks can be a great tool for reducing humidity in a building. Many people are not aware that air conditioning and ventilation can actually create humidity problems. When you over-cool a space you can bring the temperature and dew point too close together, and that will dramatically increase relatively humidity every time. Sometimes higher temperatures and keeping the outside air outside are just what's needed to dry a space out.

Setbacks are certainly not always the solution, however, and we track humidity in campus buildings very carefully to verify that energy conservation efforts are having a positive impact. Building schedules are adjusted/suspended if there is any indication to the contrary.

Aren't there spaces on campus that are too sensitive for HVAC setbacks?

Yes. Any area where potentially harmful chemicals are handled (for example labs in the Science Center and studios in Wilson Hall) is fully ventilated continuously when school is in session. Special considerations are also made in areas that house highly sensitive equipment and artwork.

Will you confiscate my space heater if you find it in my office?

No. But we do want to hear from you if your space is so cold that you need a space heater so we can work together to make your space comfortable without it. Space heaters are actually sometimes a good option (for example if the building design means your area is always cold unless the rest of the building is roasting, or if you are the only person working in the building on New Year's Eve), but if used improperly they can create significant energy waste and even be dangerous. Plus, there are parts of Lewis Hall where they are guaranteed to blow a fuse.

So if you are harboring a heater, please get in touch.

Should I really turn my light off every time I leave my office?

Yes! If you are stepping out for more than a minute you will save energy by turning the light off.

My lights are on a motion sensor. Doesn't that mean I don't have to worry about turning them off?

No! Motion sensor lights are programmed to turn off only after a specific period of inactivity. Depending on the building this can range from 15 minutes to more than an hour. Valuable time your lights would have been off if you had just pushed the button yourself.