Dorm Electricity Conservation

In the United States there are approximately, 7,253 Postsecondary Title IV Institutions (not to mention various other college and university institutions). Many of these colleges have beautiful campuses that can support between 500 to 51,000 students, faculty and staff. Depending on the particular field of study a student wants to pursue, amongst many other factors including, cost, quality of courses, availability of courses and even the professors themselves, choosing a college can be a challenging decision for many.

A major impact for many students is the option to stay on campus in dorms or residences. Living in these buildings can really help to build a greater sense of community and friendship. However, students living in these buildings can end up consuming a lot of energy during the school year. This can have a significant impact on many things such as, the grid, the cost of living on campus and even tuition.

For example, on average, colleges and universities in the United States use 17 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot and 18.9 kWh of electricity. Higher-education buildings that are typically around 50,000 square foot can use well over $100,000 of energy annually! Dormitories or residences are no exception.

Therefore, many colleges in the United States have started encouraging students to try to think more about the ways in which they use energy within their dorms (in addition to the rest of the buildings on campus). They ask students to turn off lights, lower the heat, purchase energy efficient mini fridges, close doors, use LED light bulbs, and more, all in attempt to reduce their impact on the environment and the college or university itself.

These energy saving tips are very common, and they don’t really change or alter from college to college, dorm to dorm, or website to website. So, to shake things up a bit, let’s take a look at a few colleges that are doing even more to encourage their students to think a little bit more creatively about their energy consumption.

Reducing Energy Consumption in College Dorms

As mentioned above, there are so many different ways to reduce your energy consumption as a student living in a college dormitory. A quick Google search will produce link after link of common solutions to help reduce energy. But what else can you do to make sure that you, as a student within the college community, can help to keep energy consumption within your dorm or residence low?

Create Competition (Small Scale) – Bowdoin vs. Colby

Bowdoin College is located in Brunswick, Maine. It’s a fairly large college that offers a variety of programs in different areas of study including, biology, chemistry, English, government and legal studies, theatre, dance and the arts. Colby College is a liberal arts college located in Waterville, Maine, which is about an hours drive from Bowdoin’s campus.

In 2015, Bowdoin and Colby decided to start a little competition. In order to reduce the amount of energy used by students within the college campus dormitories, for three weeks, the energy consumption between the two colleges was tracked and measured to determine which school could conserve the most.

Together, both schools saved a total of 22,536 kWh. Colby managed to lower their usage by 7% (below baseline data), while Bowdoin lowered their usage by 8.7% (below baseline data).

Create Competition (Large Scale) – University of Hawaii

At the University of Hawaii, students participated in something called, The Kukui Cup Project. This project encouraged students to participate in community sustainable energy activities through a variety of mediums including, games, education and social marketing. The focus of this initial project remained strictly on dorm or residence specific energy challenges, however, as the program has grown over the years, the student community plans to turn their attention to additional energy issues (or other sustainability issues) within the community such as, residential areas, secondary schools and primary schools.

For the very first Kukui Cup, students were asked to create reports regarding their energy consumption or behavior before and after the competition. The students discovered that for those who had participated, many indicated that they had developed ‘positive energy behaviors’ that lasted well after the challenge finished. It was also discovered that for students who elected not to participate, they too also indicated that they had developed some ‘positive energy behaviors’.

The results also showed that several teams that participated in the energy challenge were able to reduce their energy consumption within their dorms by 15% – 20%!

Create a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy – Yale

Yale is a prominent college in the United States. Located in New Haven, Connecticut, many well-known people have walked through its campus including, Eli Whitney (inventor of cotton gin), Thornton Wilder (novelist and playwright), Ben Stein (actor), Meryl Streep (actress) and Anderson Cooper (journalist).

With over 400 buildings and 23,000 administrators, professors, students and more, Yale understood that it needed to make some changes in the way that it consumed energy. As a result, the university operates and owns 3 power plants in order to better conserve energy and get involved in the latest and greatest renewable energy technologies.

By 2007, Yale determined that they had managed to reduce their energy consumption within the dormitory buildings by 17.3%. Much of this success was due to student effort, which administrators hoped would continue in the future. Administrators also mentioned that the implementation of the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership program helped to bring even more environmental and energy usage information to the students living in dorms on campus. Improving these facilities to bring in energy efficient equipment including motion sensors that automatically turn light off in empty rooms helped to reduce usage as well.

More recently, Yale has announced that they are on track to meet their campus wide energy conservation goals for 2020, despite the fact that they continue to grow year over year.

Multi-Tactic Energy Reduction in Dorms – University of Pennsylvania

In 2009, the University of Pennsylvania announced its commitment to help in the fight against climate change. The biggest problem the university faced was the fact that it’s greatest source of emissions comes from the many buildings on campus, which also includes, electricity, cooling and heating. In 2008, these three elements made up 87% of the university’s emissions, which is why they came up with the goal to reduce energy usage by 5% for 2010 and 17% by 2014 (from a 2007 baseline). These figures were based on an assessment that showed that the university College Houses, or dorms, consumed a significantly large portion of the total amount of energy.

Overall, the University of Pennsylvania plans to continue to address their energy challenges in several ways, including,

  • Development of Eco-Rep Student Programs – peer-to-peer programs to help students become more informed about ways to reduce energy consumption
  • Harnwell Energy Monitoring Project – a project that will help to better track and monitor energy usage in one of the campus dorms.
  • PennGreen Freshmen Pre-Orientation – inform new students about the dorm energy saving initiatives
  • Light Bulb Exchange – give students the opportunity to exchange out of date bulbs with LED or more energy efficient models.

Other College Dorm Energy Saving Programs & Tips

As mentioned above, there are over 7,253 Postsecondary Title IV Institutions in the United States. With the changing climate and growing populations, colleges all over the nation have turned towards energy saving opportunities in addition to specific programs, research, tips or strategies.

Some of these include,

  • State of Massachusetts – the state has put together a document called, Campus Sustainability Best Practices.
  • Energy Star – provides a Student Energy Guide with many tips on how to improve energy savings on college campuses.
  • Oberlin College, Ohio – performed a study where it was determined that students will reduce energy consumption in dorms or residences when presented with visual incentive and feedback in real-time.
  • The Apollo Alliance – this organization focuses on clean energy projects and is supporting the Campus Climate Challenge, which is available to every campus across America.
  • Ithaca College, NY – this collage was one of the first to achieve an Energy Star rating for not just one, but two of its college dorms.

Top Energy Efficient Student Dorms in the United States

Over the years, many colleges have made the effort to construct or renovate new dorms or student residences that meet sustainability or clean energy standards. There are several however, that rank in higher than the rest including,

College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, Maine): Some of the student residences at this college come with a wood pellet boiler. The pellets used are both renewable sources of energy and local. The buildings also include composting toilets.

Rice University (Houston, Texas): One of the dorms at this college comes with smart technology that will automatically turn off air conditioning if windows are opened. It also comes with a green roof that has helped to reduce energy consumption by 25%. Rice University is proud of its overall campus and building sustainability and green energy projects.

Vanderbilt University (Nashville): The 2009 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Award for the “Building Green” category was awarded to a dormitory on this college campus. In addition, 6 of the freshman dorms are also LEED certified.

University of New Hampshire (Durham): This college campus has 3 energy efficient buildings. So far, they have helped to reduce pollution equivalent to taking 100 cars off the road.

Humboldt State State (Arcata, California): This college has a ‘living-learning residence’ that allows students to conduct studies and tests and develop new energy technologies within their living space.

Other colleges that have dorms specifically designed to reduce or improve elements of student energy consumption include:

  • Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA)
  • Pitzer College (Claremont, CA)
  • Washington College
  • Chestertown, MD)
  • Westminster College (Fulton, MO)
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Worcester, MA)