Looking for energy savings? Try the night shift

When you’re conducting a nighttime energy survey of a campus building, the first rule is: Bring a complete set of keys.

Tom Downing has learned this the hard way. Over the past five years, he’s found himself scrambling to arrange after-hours access to any number of obscure offices, hidden hallways, and out-of-the-way lounges. Still he prevails, since that’s the only way to identify those spots where Yale can tweak its energy use.

On a recent night excursion to Hendrie Hall, Downing arranged for Tara Deming, manager of operations for the School of Music, and facilities superintendent Mike Stringer, to be on hand for the survey. They gathered with more than a dozen students and faculty for a two-hour tour — starting in the downstairs lobby of the Adams Center.

This is not an ‘I gotcha,’ situation,” says Downing, who points out that the evening’s effort is a survey, rather than an audit. “It’s an opportunity to see how a building exists. We want a normal snapshot for what’s going on here.”

Downing is senior energy engineer for Yale’s Office of Facilities. Standing next to him is Julie Paquette, director of energy management in the Office of Facilities. Together they have looked at low-occupancy energy use in more than three-dozen Yale buildings.

Tonight we’ll be focused on how we use this building,” Paquette says. “There are always ways to learn more about energy use and how we might adapt that use.”

Saving energy is a big part of Yale’s sustainability efforts and its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. Energy use in campus buildings is also at the heart of the Yale Carbon Charge, which the university put in place earlier this year.

Powering down equipment after hours

As for the late-night timing of the surveys, Paquette says low-occupancy hours are often fertile ground for powering down equipment and using less energy — once people are aware of the opportunities. That’s where she and Downing can help. They arrive with 18 pages of information about Hendrie Hall, everything from energy metering data to the custodial schedule.

This building starts to shut down at 10 at night,” Downing says. “We’ll be here right when that happens.”

They start in the lobby of the Adams Center and work their way over to a high-ceilinged lounge. Leah Seorratt, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, takes readings with a temperature gun, while Downing photographs each room and Paquette looks for light fixtures, windows, appliances, and technical equipment.

Seorratt finds a spot in the lounge that is 80 degrees, much warmer than the rest of the room. Survey members fan out to find an answer, which School of Forestry & Environmental Studies lecturer Peter Yost soon does: It’s caused by a refrigerator in an adjacent room. “The motor is warming up this wall,” Yost says.

Next come visits to a series of studios and practice rooms. Hendrie Hall is home to newly renovated music rehearsal facilities, studios, and practice rooms for students and faculty members. It also has a new orchestra hall, a digital recording studio, and common area.

Only a few humans, other than the energy surveyors, are here, their presence given away by the occasional sound of piano music in a closed studio.

All in all, this is a great building,” Downing remarks. Paquette agrees. “Temperature and humidity control is the primary energy driver in this building, because of the need to maintain the integrity of the musical instruments,” she says.

The group winds its way up, down, and around the premises. They find AV equipment in a percussion studio that is drawing power, even when not in use; they discuss lighting in a cavernous staircase; they notice a copier that is cranking out power.

Difference between design and use

We’re seeing the difference between the design of a building and how people use it,” says Kate Richard, a second-year master’s student at F&ES.

They check out the Glee Club Room, with its elegant fixtures, and the Band Room, where chairs and music stands are grouped around a piano.

Downstairs, the group crowds in to see meters for the building’s mechanical systems. Downing and Paquette answer questions from the students about hot water and heating. They also take a moment to examine stocked air filters and discuss peak and off-peak electricity usage.

Then they bring everyone back to the lobby. It’s nearly midnight.

Wonderful building,” Paquette says. “It was certainly designed and constructed with energy performance in mind.” She and Downing compare preliminary notes. They found AV equipment, computer screens, and copiers left on, some rooms with temperature settings left in “occupancy” mode, and some areas where the lighting could be controlled better.

Downing rubs his chin and nods his head. “The human element,” he says.

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Media Contact

Jim Shelton: james.shelton@yale.edu, 203-361-8332