Editor’s Column – Go Green to Save Green

Elsie Denton

Colgate’s 13 days honoring environmental awareness are up, and we are free of the painful, green eyesore-of-a-banner that was defacing our portal; it is a good time to take a closer look at the university’s green agenda. Despite years of Green Summits and talk, many of Colgate’s new environmental initiatives are cheap, flashy and of questionable effectiveness. Take the new printer system in the COOP computer lab and central stations for napkins and condiments in the dining halls. Every little bit helps, but it is time for the school to show that it is serious about conservation. It is time for Colgate housing to go green.

Colgate’s housing is downright ancient, and was certainly built before energy conservation was in vogue. The apartments are an embarrassment. Poorly designed to start with, the years have not been kind to them; cracked windows, improperly fitted doorjambs and uneven thresholds allow the vicious cold to sneak directly in, and those are just the cracks you can see through. Single-pane windows, uninsulated outlets and poorly sealed attics do their share of damage to the school’s energy bill.

Shoring up the energy efficiency in the apartments would save the school money. Minor retrofits can reduce energy costs by ten percent — that goes a long way, considering that Colgate is footing the bill for 100+ apartments. More major renovations can slash the energy bill by as much as 30 percent.

A 2003 study by California concluded that going green increased initial construction expenditure by two percent, but after operational savings, costs would be reduced by 20 percent overall. Governor Schwarzenegger has now implemented the Green Building Initiative. All state agencies are to cut energy cost by 20 percent by 2015, largely through green retrofits. With the most populous state in the Union making such monumental strides, it seems silly for Colgate to be left behind.

So what can Colgate do to go green? An inexpensive first step is to reduce air leakage. Weather stripping, a little caulk and properly fitted thresholds would keep air from seeping around the edges of doors and windows. Outlets on external walls should be backed with insulation and the exhaust ducts for bathroom and stove fans should be sealed with spray foam. All attic surfaces should be sprayed with a sealant and a radiant barrier should be installed to cut heat loss from the living area (that is an immediate 17 percent saving on heating bills). New insulation wouldn’t hurt, if Colgate wants to spring for it. This is more expensive, but necessary — all of Colgate’s windows should be replaced with double or even triple-pane equivalents; it makes no sense to have single-pane windows when outside temperatures can hang in the teens for weeks.

Colgate’s baseboard heating system is woefully inefficient. As a long term investment the university should install some form of central heating — radiant floor heat is one of the best. In the meantime, installing programmable thermostats would reduce costs. Thermostats could be set to lower means at night or during the day when students are out. A centralized control unit would also, hopefully, prevent heaters from accidentally being left on high for breaks.

Lighting is another area of gapping energy inefficiency. The current conservation system seems to be: install as few lights as possible and hope that students can read in the dark. A better solution would be to install adequate lighting and outfit it with Compact Florescent Lamps (CFLs). CFLs last six to ten times as long as regular incandescent bulbs and have an energy savings of 75 percent. A further innovation would be to install bi-layer lighting and vacancy/occupancy sensors, especially in hallways and bathrooms. Automatically dimming lights when not in use would save electricity even if students forget to turn out the lights.

A final note on water conservation: old toilets use about five gallons of water per flush while modern equivalents use only 1.5-2 gallons. Colgate should refit its apartments with low flow efficient show heads, toilets and faucets. Or failing that, at least fix all of the leaks in the current equipment. Leaky plumbing can cost $50-200 a year in extra water bills.

Don’t wait, Colgate, renovate the apartments now and show a real commitment to energy conservation. You can’t be the first, since Columbia University has already begun retrofitting all of their housing, but you can still be a leader in the green movement.