Campus buildings unable to ‘Turn it Off’

September 25, 2015

After some record-breaking high temperature days so far this month, I’ve realized how important air conditioning is. Or at least how convenient it is. It is certainly refreshing to be able to walk into the library or Usdan and be able to cool off from temperatures reaching the mid-90s. Not everyone has the luxury of having air conditioning in their rooms, so these common areas that are kept at a nice 72 degrees are mostly great.

However, the issue on campus is that these buildings simply can become too cold. The air conditioning is on too often and creates a need to wear a sweatshirt if you’re stuck in the library for a few hours doing homework. While I admit I’m very susceptible to feeling cold, that doesn’t dismiss the fact that the air conditioning is on in these buildings for a majority of the day. This problem is not only about comfort, however.

Vice President of Operations Jim Gray emailed students this past week with results from the university’s “Turn it Off” campaign over the summer. Asking students, faculty and staff to turn off unnecessary lights and machines during the day, unplug devices that have finished charging and be tolerant of higher building temperatures during the afternoon, the university saved electricity and lowered its carbon footprint by 25 percent on July 29. Additional “Turn it Off” days were held on July 20, July 30, Aug. 17, Aug. 18 and Sept. 8, which all featured very high temperatures and levels of humidity.

Gray acknowledged at the end of his email that saving energy is not only important on peak demand days, yet the level to which the air conditioning is programmed to in some buildings say otherwise. It’s common sense to realize that if the thermostats were raised to a more temperate number, the university would save thousands in energy costs and further lower its carbon footprint. Yet during the first few weeks of the fall semester, and I’m sure over the summer as well, the air conditioning in these buildings are set to borderline uncomfortable temperatures.

The university should not be advising people to save energy on only certain days, but instead every day. There is absolutely no need to keep the air conditioning running all day when the high temperature is in the 80s; students can survive through a humid afternoon. The air conditioning would not be turned off for the entirety of the day, it would simply be adjusted to not run as often and not keep the building temperature so low.

Yet energy sustainability does not end with air conditioning. The days where it is hot enough to warrant the use of AC in Massachusetts are not that common, especially during the academic year, while days that are cold enough that heating units need to be on are frequent. The opposite is true of building temperatures during the winter, they are too hot. In order to keep these large buildings warm, the heating systems are constantly on. The upper levels are then inundated with hot, dry air, since warm air rises.

The majority of buildings on campus have been retrofitted to keep up with current standards of insulation and heat loss. However, the heating systems are still boiling up a large amount of steam, enough to make common areas like the library and academic buildings just as uncomfortable as they are during the summer.

By the time winter rolls around and the heating vents kick on, hopefully the “Turn It Off” days continue and the school truly commits to its sustainability initiative.

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