The benefits are multi-faceted, both immediate and long-lasting: a cleaner on-campus environment; controlled spaces that are healthier for the bodies and minds of students, faculty, and staff; and raising awareness about the environmental impact of wasted energy. These elements work together to cultivate a campus culture committed to a clean energy future. The economic benefits are considerable as well—and as we invest in cutting energy costs, we can use the generated savings as we see fit, whether by constructing new facilities, remodeling on-site living or learning spaces, or rehabilitating our most historic buildings; or perhaps we see an opportunity to enhance campus grounds by making them more navigable and attractive. The options are as exciting as they are wide-ranging.
Over two-thirds of the energy we currently consume in the U.S. is wasted, and our campuses are no exception. Campus buildings consume more than four-fifths of the energy used by private colleges and universities, and improved energy efficiency can cut overall energy use by 60% or higher. Adopting energy efficiency measures are the most economical way of meeting energy needs that reduce associated emissions. Building energy efficiency is essential to transforming our campuses into the hubs of sustainability and green living for which we aspire.
Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings
Many campuses are home to historic buildings that embody the character of the institution. Our graduates take photographs in their cap and gowns in front these buildings; they are local tourist destinations; prospective students and their parents marvel at the scale of the architecture, and perhaps they imagine what the world was like when the buildings were fresh and new. That the same buildings were not designed for energy efficiency, and that many still rely on outdated equipment—neither should be deterrents from modernizing interiors with innovative, energy efficient technologies. Our most valued buildings can be updated without worry of compromising the integrity of their history and beauty.
In the case of updating the energy efficiency of such buildings, the existing energy-efficient components of the building should be assessed, not least of all because buildings are more than the sum of their individual parts. The design, materials, type of construction, size, shape, site orientation, surrounding landscape, as well as climate all play a role in how buildings perform. Historic building construction methods and materials often maximized natural sources of heat, light, and ventilation in order to respond to local climatic conditions. A successful rehabilitation project demands an understanding of the existing energy-efficient aspects of the building and how they function. Whether rehabilitated for a new or continuing use, the building’s original sustainable qualities must be utilized as they were intended. To do so ensures that they function seamlessly with any treatments added for the improvement of energy efficiency. Operable windows, interior courtyards, clerestories, skylights, rooftop ventilators, cupolas, and many other features that provide natural ventilation and light can reduce energy consumption, thereby reducing the need to rely on mechanical systems and interior artificial lighting.
When implementing energy upgrades, efforts should be concentrated on improvements that will provide the most payback for costs expended as well as the least compromise to the historic character of the building. Some treatments should be avoided, such as replacing repairable windows or replacing historic siding to introduce insulation into the wall cavity of a frame building. A common misconception is that replacing windows alone will result in major energy savings. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), for instance, has documented that air loss attributable to windows in most buildings is only about 10% of total air loss. Not only are there ways to improve window performance without replacing them, but historic windows can usually be repaired and are therefore sustainable. On the other hand, most new windows cannot be repaired or even recycled. Reducing infiltration around existing windows and doors, sealing penetrations in the building envelope, and adding insulation—particularly in the attic where it has little impact on historic fabric—can result in significant improvements at relatively little cost. Updating mechanical systems or changing the way in which they operate can also be cost-effective interventions.
Recognizing User Behavior and Maximizing Green Technologies
One of the most profound effects on energy use is user behavior. Once an energy audit has uncovered a baseline for a building’s current energy use, therein lies the need to adopt operational changes that lead to minimizing the use of energy-consuming equipment. These changes may entail simple measures like the regular maintenance of mechanical equipment, or they may require installing sophisticated controls that cycle equipment on and off in determined intervals for optimal performance.
Several worthwhile options are currently on the market in terms of reducing heating and cooling costs. One such option is to install programmable thermostats, some of which are even voice controlled, contain app-enabled remote monitoring, and can track energy consumption. Many smart thermostats can also sense and regulate indoor humidity, can alert you if your HVAC is acting up or if pipes are in danger of bursting due to lower outdoor temperatures. Automated window shades and blinds are another excellent energy saving option. These can extend, retract, or tilt automatically, and can in turn save energy and boost security. Moreover, many are extremely quiet as well as compatible with smart technologies that require little more than a push of a button or a tap of a phone. Interior aesthetics also matter to our students, faculty, and staff, and automated window shades can a long way towards enhancing interior spaces. For buildings better suited to blinds rather than shades, smart blinds can adapt to the position of the sun throughout the day. The effect is remarkable. Not only can such a feature ensure that any room always has the right amount of light, but such a process automatically enhances interior aesthetics. Motorized blinds and shades are also cordless—an added safety bonus—and they are ideal for hard-to-reach windows.
Green technologies can transform our campuses, allowing for a real-time evaluation of space utilization, resource usage, air quality, and general building performance. With the aid of green technologies, private universities and colleges across the country are much more than a hub of knowledge-making; our campuses also function as a model for how to simultaneously cut long-term costs while also positively impacting the environment.