Project Report: Heating and Cooling on Campus

Contributors: Chris Pessell

Outline of Presentation:

  • What was the Purpose?
  • What are the problems with HVAC on campus?
  • Methods Used on OWU’s campus.
  • Methods being Implemented on other Campuses
  • Approaches for Improving HVAC on Campus
    • Administrative
    • Students



The purpose of this project was to study the current heating and cooling practices on campus to see how efficient and environmentally friendly they are. Having heated buildings on campus is an expected amenity on college campuses these days. I can remember when I was taking campus tours and there was almost always a question of whether the dorms had air conditioning and heating. For buildings with relatively new buildings, there usually is some form of efficient heating and cooling systems. However, for the majority of college campuses that have old buildings, the answer is either no or yes, but the system is archaic. OWU’s buildings are the latter. Most buildings were built-in the 1800’s and have large, inefficient systems. Seeing as OWU is currently in the process of building new buildings or working on replacing a dorm in the future, now is the perfect time to review efficient and environmentally sustainable heating and cooling systems in new buildings.

Methods of Heating and Cooling

The first question I asked was, what systems do OWU buildings have now? I sat down and interviewed two staff members, Peter Schantz and Jay Scheffel from buildings and grounds to answer this question. For most of the older buildings, Slocum being their primary example, they have extremely large and extremely old boilers that heat air that then run through vents throughout the building. There is often a lot of heat loss and because of their age, the boilers often leak. Maintenance is also a pain because, if something breaks, they may need to have it custom-made which can be really expensive. Other systems use boilers which heat up water and send it through pipes to controllable radiators. Meanwhile, the new, updated buildings, such as the Sluplexs, have residential style HVAC that runs at 94% efficiency. Merrick uses a system of heat transfer. When one room gets too hot , a system will transfer the air from the room into a system that heats up a room that may be too cool. Basically, instead of forcing the air to heat or cool, it transfers heated or cool air throughout the building where it is needed. It does this through an automated system. Meek Aquatic Center gets its HVAC through geothermal power. Most buildings have automated systems as well. Once the temperature drops to a certain level, heating will turn on. In most cases, the temperature has to be 55° or below before the heating activates. These methods used in newer or renovated buildings are all efficient and environmentally sustainable.

Now that I understood what was being done on campus, I wanted to find what other campuses were doing and if their methods were more effective or not. Many college campuses implement similar HVAC systems that OWU uses, but a few colleges do wildly different things. University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Innovation Campus uses a system where waste water is used to provide heat. Waste water from a near by waste water treatment plant is brought to a central building where it is heated up and circulated throughout the campus before being sent back to the central building and back to the treatment plant. This method is likely outside of what OWU can do as an entirely new building would have to be built-in a central location and connecting building to a central heating area would be extremely costly or down right impossible without destroying older buildings.

Other campuses use geothermal on a larger scale then OWU does. The main way that campuses are saving money and improving efficiency is by using energy meters to track energy use. Colleges, such as Oberlin, can then make low-level changes such as adding automatic systems to control when heat is activated which save thousands of dollars in heating costs. In the interview with Peter and Jay, they stated that there are a couple of master meters set up on campus to monitor steam and natural gas use. However, there has not been a meter reader position in around 15 years. As a result, obtaining accurate information on energy use around campus has been difficult.

Problems and Solutions

With a better understanding of what HVAC methods are used on OWU’s campus and other college campuses, I needed to learn about the problems and ways to mitigate them. Jay stated that one of the problems with the newer systems is keeping up with technology. As technology in HVAC increases, it becomes more expensive to keep systems up to date and harder to find replacement parts for systems that are older. Financial management would likely cure this problem, but that is out of the scope of this project.

Maintaining efficiency is a problem that can be addressed. Replacing old systems cannot be easily replaced without major renovations or replacing the building all together. Instead, changes can be made on a smaller scale: through guiding behavioral changes and education. Many students and faculty have a limited understanding of how these systems work. In dorms that have radiators, students don’t often understand how to operate them. The fiddle with the rotating wheel control, notice that it doesn’t seem to be working, and instead open a window. This can affect the heating efficiency of the room since may still be running. Better education for students whom may not be familiar with operating radiators could solve this problem.


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