What’s Feeding the Energy Hog?

This post was drafted at the end of last semester by Sustainability Office student staffer Kayla Bubar.  For more about energy performance of the Student Activities Building and other campus buildings, see the Energy Plan page.

We all know the Student Activities Building is an energy hog, but what’s feeding it? On a number of occasions I have participated in discussions with students, faculty, and staff about the energy problems associated with this building. It is clear from my experiences that a number of individuals do not fully understand the challenges of replacing or retrofitting this building. Unity College is fortunate enough to have Sustainability Fellow, Anne Stephenson, who primarily focuses on the energy consumption of our buildings. Anne recently published a report for every building on campus demonstrating utility use, efficiency barriers, and potential retrofits. I have attempted to replicate her data regarding the Student Activities Building in the following document. Included is a brief history, related energy problems, the complexity behind this building, and possible improvements (See Anne’s full report of the Student Activities building here).

Only a few years after the founding of Unity College in 1965, the student body doubled, and the need for an academic building increased. The Student Activities Building was built in two parts, the gymnasium and Side A being completed first in January of 1969 and Side B being completed by January of 1970. Although utility consumption is unknown for the majority of this building’s lifetime, we do have records for the past five years.

KWH Gallons Oil
2009 Electricity 187240  
2009 Heating Oil   11493.50
2008 Electricity 198320  
2008 Heating Oil   9301
2007 Electricity 188020  
2007 Heating Oil   9928
2006 Electricity 189280  
2006 Heating Oil   13137
2005 Electricity 158800  
2005 Heating Oil   13124
Figure 1.

Utility consumption is relatively consistent in numbers for kilowatt hours used within the last five years.  However, gallons of oil decreases after 2006 with a new boiler (see Figure I). Retrofits in the past five years have been documented primarily by Professor Mick Womersley; some retrofits included replacing old boilers with new ones, constructing steel-reinforced concrete blocks, and filling hollow concrete blocks. Currently the Student Activities Building is the largest building on campus, serving several functions for our students and faculty. The building is comprised of a gymnasium, weight room, locker rooms, faculty offices, Student Affairs and Residential Life offices, student mailboxes, a computer room, a Student Activities Center, and classrooms. When the college is in session, all of the classrooms are engaged more than 60% of the time and hold over 225 students. Many aspects of this building are multipurpose, including the gymnasium which not only serves as an area for recreational sport, but also hosts activities such as career fairs, open houses, blood drives, classes, and more. The Student Center serves multiple uses as well, such as an alternative to the cafeteria for dining, a place to socialize, and an entertainment and performance venue.

The building is excessively operated for approximately 16 hours a day which primarily increases the electrical footprint. Many of the existing appliances run the majority of the day, if not 24-7, with no timers or anyone appointed to shut them off. Some of these are appliances in the commercial kitchen at the Student Center and the gym equipment in the weight room. Since the building is used for the bulk of the day, faculty, staff, and student consumption behaviors greatly influence the energy use of the building. Lighting alone consists of approximately 1/5 of total electricity and propane use in this building (Figure II). The Student Activities building is not only the largest building on campus, but it is also the largest energy consumer. Appliances and consumption have influence on the energy use of this building, but the structure is also responsible. Primarily the building lacks insulation, is in poor condition, and warm water travels long distances from the boiler to conditioned spaces.

There are questions, particularly among students, about what efforts are being implemented. The administration is interested in the energy performance of this building, but they are also interested in how they invest students’ tuition dollars. Many questions must be considered when determining potential retrofits for this building, including but not limited to, how much money do we have? How much money can we borrow? What will the money invested into this building do? How long will this investment last? What will happen if we don’t make an investment?

So what can we do? There appears to be a diffusion of responsibility due to the high use of this building by various groups including administration, faculty, staff, and students. For instance, perhaps not everyone shuts off the lights when they leave a classroom because they think it will be used later or someone else will shut off the lights. The same idea applies to the gym equipment and computers in this building. Structural improvements to this building need to be highly considered, but conservation measures by its occupants are just as important. Simple suggestions made by Anne, Sustainability Fellow, are to create a “turn off” policy for gym equipment, lights, and computers, implement timers for coolers in the SAC to avoid overuse, and replace remaining incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents.

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