The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Year-round AC usage in residence halls leads to higher energy costs

3 min read
By ALLY SCHUMACHER Staff Writer As the winter months approach, many students are running into an unexpected problem: with the heaters running full blast, their rooms are too hot.

Kelly Barron


Staff Writer

As the winter months approach, many students are running into an unexpected problem: with the heaters running full blast, their rooms are too hot. Consequently, students are keeping their window air conditioning units on year-round. The extra air conditioning, on top of the normal heating costs, adds up to a larger energy bill.

Official energy-saving efforts first began in 2007 by the University of Mary Washington Ecology Club. NORESCO, the energy consulting firm that was acquired by the United Technologies conglomerate in 2009 that provides the university’s air conditioning and heating, teamed up with UMW students who pledged to turn off the air conditioning when leaving the room. A representative from United Technologies could not be reached for comment.

“Facilities does not want the window air conditioning units [on] when the outside temperature is below 60 degrees,” said Nolan Akau, the director of Maintenance Services. “Doing so can cause the unit to freeze up. Any room that is experiencing hot temperatures should be submitting a work order and let Facilities find out why the room is getting too hot.”

UMW does not use a single heating system. Some dorms are heated by heat pumps, while others are heated by steam heat. Still others, commonly known as furnaces, are heated by gas heat.

Heat pumps are one of the most efficient ways to heat a building.  The heat pump moves the small amount of warm air from the outside, transporting it to the indoors, helped along by warm-air delivery systems. The heat pump then conveys more energy than it consumes, because the electricity in the heat pump is used to move heat as opposed to generating it.

While steam heating systems are energy inefficient, they are common in older buildings– like Ball Hall and Westmoreland– and it would be expensive to replace them. The steam heater uses a water boiler, burner, pipes, radiators, and convectors. Water is turned into steam by using the heat from the boiler. The steam then travels through pipes until the steam arrives at radiators, or convectors. Steam heaters at UMW will remain on until the spring.

Gas heating systems are also commonly known as furnaces.  Furnaces start functioning when the room temperature drops below a certain, preset level.  Furnaces use gas to generate their own set of heat, which circulates through the building.

University of Mary Washington initially appointed NORESCO to help the university conserve energy and save money. NORESCO was contracted to work with the UMW for a 8.5 million dollar project under a 14-year deal in 2005. It’s saving, as of 2014, $429,009 annually. The University of Mary Washington has saved $5,577,117 as of now, and is on track to save a total of $8,151,171 by the time the contract ends in 2019.

Some students keep their air conditioning on during the winter because heaters overheat some dorm rooms. Jacob Chambers, a freshman business administration major living in Randolph Hall said, “It’s too hot at the top of our room and twenty degrees colder on the floor, which is a problem because both of our beds are lofted.”

Some students say that air conditioning instructions during the winter were not communicated effectively.

“My roommate and I have our air conditioning on constantly, partly because we were never told it was okay to turn it off,” said Ariana Dodge, a freshman psychology major living in Russell Hall. “But we also prefer the room cold. We also aren’t sure if the heat is on or not.”

Not all Mary Washington students use their air conditioning units at all hours, however. Amy Freeze, a freshman accounting major living in Marshall Hall, said, “The heater has pretty much been the perfect temperature. The only time it gets too hot is when I sit at my desk, but my desk is right in front of the heater, so it makes sense. When the heat first turned on, the weather was very back-and-forth between hot and cold, so I turned it on once or twice, but it’s been off for a while now.”

Akau reiterated the importance of communicating with Facilities rather than leaving their air conditioning units on. “If students’ rooms are still too warm, they should file a work order for maintenance,” he said.