Renovations done right

As anyone who pays utility bills knows, the cost of heating and cooling is continually going up. Figuring out how to use less energy has become an important strategy for homeowners and institutions alike.

Joel Miller '79, Director of Facility Services
Joel Miller ’79, Director of Facility Services

In fact, energy savings is one of the two chief goals for Cornell College’s Facilities Services. Whatever we do, we come back to making our buildings more comfortable places to live and work, while developing and incorporating ways to reduce the amount of energy we consume.

Throughout 2014 the college developed a campus master plan that included numerous changes to how we control the climates within our buildings. Alliant performed energy audits on many buildings across campus, and we used these audits to help identify opportunities and plan the renovations to the residence halls and the Thomas Commons. This early focus helped make energy efficiency a key component of our planning.

Based on the audit and follow-up discussions, we identified 11 projects to pursue during the renovations. These projects ranged from replacing existing lights with more efficient LED bulbs to identifying and incorporating new technologies in heating and cooling equipment.

One early project was to replace the fluorescent bulbs in Cole Library with LED tubes. It cost $10,000 to do the entire building and we will save $2,200 annually.

The master plan calls for eliminating our reliance on the 19th-century power plant, which is about 65 percent efficient, over the next five years. Water is heated in huge boilers inside the plant, and the steam is distributed to campus buildings via a network of insulated underground pipes. You can see patches of snow melting along the lines in winter because of the inefficiency of the pipes. In March a major leak developed and it took an additional 3,000 gallons of water and crews working through a weekend to make the repairs.

To date we’ve removed West Science, Law Hall, Old Sem, Merner Hall, Cole Library, Thomas Commons, and Olin Hall from the underground steam system, installing self-contained units that are 95 to 98 percent efficient. The changes there, in newer construction such as Smith and Russell residence halls, and in the newly renovated halls (Dows, Tarr, and Pauley-Rorem) mean temperatures can be controlled in individual rooms rather than by floor, so students can keep their environment comfortable at all times.  

As a result of our work, last year we received Alliant’s highest award for energy efficiency improvement. We expect to use 150,000 fewer kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which will save us about $45,000 per year. That money can now be reinvested in the college.

Every dollar that we save could buy new paint or a new mattress, which helps make a residence hall a home. We want to make students feel as comfortable as possible, because if they’re comfortable, they’re studying better. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.

WEB EXTRA: See a video about Cornell’s Energy Summit Award.


PHOTO CREDIT: Robyn Schwab Aaron ’07