Dressing Up The Dorms

August 5, 2005
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It's a pretty common sight around college campuses in cold-weather states: Snow is falling. Icicles are forming. Students are shivering as they shuffle to class in layers of clothing. And the dormitory windows are wide open.

That's right. Despite the chilly temperatures and biting winds, many students open their dorm windows to let in cool air. Why? Because, in many dormitories, it's the only option once a room overheats. For a university, it's also a pretty expensive option.

"That's wasting a lot of energy and money," said Joe Caron, the associate director of property management for Student Auxiliary Services (SAS) at the University of Maine.

Like many campus administrators who manage older dormitories, Caron struggled to find cost-efficient ways to maintain a comfortable living environment for students while conserving energy. It's a challenge that has perplexed many a facility manager.

At the University of Maine, located in Orono, overheating occurs because campus dormitories are divided into zones. Each zone consists of as many as 25 rooms - and a single sensor in a designated room dictates the temperature for the entire zone. But not every room is the same temperature, and many rooms end up stifling. This is especially true on the upper floors, which gain heat from below and never adjust. The result: open windows, wasted energy, and high utility bills for the university.

An uncomfortable living environment also is a contributing factor to the trend of students bypassing dorms for other options. Off-campus housing has fewer restrictions and offers more personal control.

"We live in an individualistic society and that's reflected in students' housing choices," said Gordon Nelson, the university's director of property management.

And administrators at the University of Maine took careful note of that as they studied ways to make their dorms more appealing.

"We wanted to have it more like a hotel, where people are in control of their environment instead of having it dictated," said Nelson. "The main goal was to allow students to maintain their own comfort."

Stodder Hall is a nearly 40-year-old building with about 140 rooms located on the southwest side of the University of Maine campus. In 2004, the university contracted with Honeywell to upgrade the existing heating system in Stodder Hall. The primary objective was to give each student individual control over room temperature.

Monitoring And Saving

In 2004, the university contracted with Honeywell to upgrade the existing heating system in Stodder Hall, a nearly 40-year-old building with about 140 rooms located on the southwest side of campus. The primary objective was to give each student individual control over their room temperature. And the results have been very favorable. In fact, school officials are planning to upgrade the rest of the dormitories.

As part of the contract, the university changed out all of the steam traps in Stodder Hall and replaced the radiator valves in each room. Honeywell technicians then installed individual heating controls in all of the rooms, allowing the students to control their own temperatures instead of relying on the zone system.

The most impressive part of the project was that Honeywell tied the controls together through its Enterprise Buildings Integrator (EBI) building management system. With EBI, Caron, Nelson, and other facility managers can monitor the temperatures and controls of each room from their computer screens. EBI also allows staff to control the temperatures themselves, which is essential during holiday breaks when students are gone for weeks at a time.

In addition, Caron has used EBI to track temperature trends over long periods of time for rooms that have a history of service calls. "It's very user friendly," he said. "We have a floor plan of the building with each room numbered. You can click on a room to get more detail and see the temperatures in the room."

By tracking trends, administrators can better identify problems, which make for more effective troubleshooting.

Besides the HVAC system, Honeywell also tied the building's electric, steam, and water meters into EBI. This allows university personnel to monitor spikes in energy consumption. Consequently, problems can be detected and pinpointed quickly, cutting down on wasted energy even more.

In the past, when students would call to complain about their room temperatures, SAS would contact - and pay - an outside technician to go to the room and investigate. With EBI, Caron can diagnose most problems from his office. The solution sometimes is as simple as telling a student over the phone how to operate the controls. As a result, the university spends less on maintenance and students are pleased with the quick response.

At the University of Maine, one of the key challenges to maintaining comfort in the dorms has been the overheating of rooms during the winter months, causing students to open their windows and waste valuable energy. The university partnered with Honeywell to upgrade the heating system in one residence hall.

Temperature Control

During the spring of 2005 - shortly after the upgrade - Stodder Hall residents made only two service calls. In comparison, other dorms make about 10 to 20 calls per semester, Nelson said.

The results of the project have led university officials to work on getting Stodder Hall recognized as a green building to show its commitment to energy conservation.

Along with the HVAC improvements, Stodder Hall has adopted an aggressive recycling program and added an organic food court. The university also is looking to address water conservation issues at the dormitory.

But the biggest impact has been having temperature controls in each room. Because students no longer leave windows ajar to cool their rooms, less energy is wasted and utility bills have gone down. In fact, the school is forecast to save at least 1,600 gallons of oil per year. And it will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 87 pounds annually and sulfur oxide emissions by almost 420 pounds.

"The students are conscious about the green effort. Recycling numbers are way up. We try to preach environmental impact to our people in the classroom, the campus, and the community," said Nelson. Of course, the fact that students are more comfortable makes it easier for them to think about the environment.

"People's first concerns are their individual work stations or residence," said Nelson. "That was our ultimate goal here, to make sure on-campus students have a comfortable living environment. Once we're able to improve their immediate surroundings, it's easier to get them to pay attention to conservation issues."

Nelson hopes similar HVAC upgrades to the other dorms will yield the same results. The University of Maine is moving ahead with plans to upgrade six dormitories in the next two years. And the long-term goal is to have all 19 campus dorms retrofitted with individual thermostats.

Publication date: 08/08/2005

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