Save Heat, Increase Winter Comfort by Signing the Campus Window Pledge

March 4, 2015
Jeffrey Meltzer

Over JanPlan and the spring semester, the Office of Sustainability and student EcoReps led a campaign for students to sign a pledge to keep their window closed for the winter. If your room is an uncomfortable temperature, contact the Physical Plant Department (PPD) instead of opening a window or running a space heater. PPD is more than willing to check out a cold or warm room and to help troubleshoot.

Several problems can occur if people take on the problems themselves by opening a window or running a space heater. First, for most dorms across campus, there is one thermostat for several rooms. If the room with the thermostat has an open window, the entire zone will be hotter and make neighbors uncomfortable. If the room with the zone’s thermostat has a space heater, the thermostat will register the warmer temperature and will turn down the heat, making the entire zone colder.  Either response begins a never-ending cycle, which is why students should contact PPD to get the problem fixed.

Outside of the impact on zones and residence halls, opening windows to lower one room’s temperature will cause Colby to increase its steam production (our biomass plant and boilers create steam that is distributed across campus), which means more fuel is burned. Though our biomass plant uses sustainably harvested wood chips, fewer wood chips is always better.

Additionally, during peak steam production each year (as in now – February was the coldest month on record), the biomass plant only produces enough steam for 80 percent of campus needs. The other 20 percent is produced by burning natural gas. So by keeping the heating needs down, Colby will avoid carbon emissions and will minimize spending on wood chips and natural gas. Space heaters are problematic because they are dangerous and incredibly inefficient at converting energy into heat. If a space heater tips, it could cause a fire, as its heated elements become quite hot.

In total, nearly 10% of students signed the window pledge and the Sustainability Office is following up with PPD to take care of the hot and cold complaints.


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