Author Topic: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning  (Read 658 times)

Aster

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 71
Our community college  turns off the climate control to all buildings every evening and every weekend. This is purely done for cost savings. It is therefore common for buildings to get musty and moldy, particularly in the morning and on Mondays (when the A/C is turned back on for the first time in days).

Since we're a community college with no research mission, our faculty don't need to be on campus on weekends or at weird hours of the night. Indeed, faculty are actually locked out of the campus during weekends and late evening hours. Yes, that is super sheisty but that is a different long story. But the end result is that we cannot argue that we need A/C in the buildings on weekends for people wanting to  work off-hours. We have to argue other reasons. Like taking care of the building. Taking care of the humidity. That sort of thing.

Every few years, there is a big blow-up when someone publicly complains about mold/moisture/heat/bugs. We have meetings. We have meetings about meetings. The faculty and academic staff try to get the college to keep the air on. And every time, someone higher up says that "there is no problem". Indeed, one of my colleagues has been directly told that it is very common practice for college institutions to turn off the A/C at nights and weekends.

I would like to call total BS on that statement as I have never heard of anything like that anywhere. My colleague is scrambling to find some sort of formal references that support not shutting off your college's A/C every night, or at least not shutting it off every night in your science laboratory buildings. That is where the latest blow-up happened recently. A fresh-hired professor complained of mold and the college is now in full-blown damage control mode to show that all is okay.

I was hoping that others on this forum would be able to chime in with any support and suggestions that I could use to help convince our campus leaders that it's definitely NOT normal for colleges to turn off their A/C. Has anyone worked at a college that did this? Has anyone heard of a college that does this? Is there an OSHA website or something where people can go to find recommended building environment operating conditions?

Any help would be appreciated. This all just seems nuts to me. Moldy Nuts.

Hibush

  • blueberries
  • Senior Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 251
  • CHE Posts: 942
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2019, 11:29:48 AM »
It could be that power comes out of the very tight operating budget, and the building comes out of the spasmodic capital budget. The two budgets are usually completely independent of one another.

If so, it may be economically rational to let the building mold away and then get a new one.

phattangent

  • New Member
  • *
  • Posts: 27
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2019, 12:29:21 PM »
My university does this sort of thing only over extended breaks.
I fully expected to find a Constable in the kitchen, waiting to take me up. -- Pip in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Aster

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 71
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2019, 12:51:47 PM »
It could be that power comes out of the very tight operating budget, and the building comes out of the spasmodic capital budget. The two budgets are usually completely independent of one another.

If so, it may be economically rational to let the building mold away and then get a new one.

Yeah, I can see that maybe for a building that's maybe 50+ years old, and a college with such a horrible deferred maintenance that the building is selectively "written off". But I'm not personally familiar with any college actually doing this. Even the oldest, cruddiest buildings keep their HVAC systems running 24/7. Utilities costs tend to be much more affordable options in the long-term than repairing/mitigating extra damage from improper care. With capitol building projects not at all something to expect anymore, most everyone is keeping the buildings that they have as long as they can.

But at our college we turn off the A/C on every building on every campus, and most all of our buildings are less than 30 years old. The HVAC systems were designed and built for continuous operation. They're no different from most post-1970 buildings in that regard, particularly post-1970 buildings constructed in the deep South.

Ruralguy

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 111
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2019, 02:45:34 PM »
Its standard to raise ac turn on temps from , say, 72 to 78 on weekends, and similar with heat...turn on at 65 and not 72, or whatever. That's what we do, but we do allow people in.
Also, buildings with animal labs and other sensitive equipment are partially exempt, or they climate control those rooms separately.

Its even more dramatic over winter break, but really only about Dec 20 to Jan 4 or so when most staff aren't around. There's too much going on during summer to do that in summer.

Turning it completely off is usually moronic, since you will just have to expend more energy cooling everything back down again or heating back up again, plus having everyone in discomfort in the meantime.

mamselle

  • Use your wit and intelligence to figure out how to be kinder
  • Senior Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 858
  • Wondering, Wandering Sr. Member
  • CHE Posts: 4,618
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2019, 03:21:18 PM »
Some places I've seen do October 15-March 15 for heating, then turn on the A/C from March 15 to Oct. 15.

I think there's also a rule for landlords in some rental units, they have to supply heat from 10.15.-03.15.

I agree that the continual need for added transitions are more expensive than the low-maintenance temps.

M.
Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.

Reprove not a scorner, lest they hate thee: rebuke the wise, and they will love thee.

Give instruction to the wise, and they will be yet wiser: teach the just, and they will increase in learning.

Juvenal

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 105
  • "There's always something."
  • CHE Posts: 1001
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2019, 03:44:20 PM »
It varies at my CC.  In the old, very old building I had an office in for--decades, can it be?--the heating in the "cold season" was hit or miss: Saharan or Svalbard-ian.  Air conditioning?  Too new-fangled to retrofit.  In the new, new building, up-to-date (?) HVAC, the coolest places are the corridors where there is no place to sit. 

They give us a thermostat on our office wall, but it's just to make us think we can make a difference.  Twiddledum and Twiddldee, twiddle away and nothing happens.  If you don't move much there, in summer, you sweat "only a little."  The energy coordinator has come into my office (when I'm not there; maybe on weekends, when no one else is) and lowers the blind to "cut down on heat load," so this person says.  Weekends?  No one (but the above) wanders the building, so if it's A/C'd or not--who knows?  Snow will soon fly, so the matter becomes moot.  I hope the CC has laid in a good supply of coal or cordwood.
Cranky septuagenarian

Hegemony

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 167
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2019, 04:12:33 PM »
Just popping in to say that designing systems so that they have to be run 24/7 is not good either for the planet or for institutional finances.

There was a fascinating recent article on this in the Guardian.  The gist of it is that we increase the need for air conditioning by no longer building in site-specific ways:

Electric utilities benefit from every new house hooked up to their grid, but throughout the early 20th century they were also looking for ways to get these new customers to use even more electricity in their homes. This process was known as “load building”, after the industry term (load) for the amount of electricity used at any one time. “The cost of electricity was low, which was fine by the utilities. They simply increased demand, and encouraged customers to use more electricity so they could keep expanding and building new power plants,” says Richard Hirsh, a historian of technology at Virginia Tech....Electric utilities ran print, radio and film adverts promoting air conditioning, as well as offering financing and discount rates to construction companies that installed it. In 1957, Commonwealth Edison reported that for the first time, peak electricity usage had occurred not in the winter, when households were turning up their heating, but during summer, when people were turning on their air-conditioning units.

At the same time, air-conditioning-hungry commercial buildings were springing up across the US. The all-glass skyscraper, a building style that, because of its poor reflective properties and lack of ventilation, often requires more than half its electricity output be reserved for air conditioning, became an American mainstay. Between 1950 and 1970 the average electricity used per square foot in commercial buildings more than doubled. New York’s World Trade Center, completed in 1974, had what was then the world’s largest AC unit, with nine enormous engines and more than 270km of piping for cooling and heating. Commentators at the time noted that it used the same amount of electricity each day as the nearby city of Schenectady, population 80,000....

The postwar building spree was underpinned by the idea that all of these new buildings would consume incredible amounts of power, and that this would not present any serious problems in the future....As the rate and scale of building intensified, traditional architectural methods for mitigating hot temperatures were jettisoned. Leena Thomas, an Indian professor of architecture at the University of Technology in Sydney, told me that in Delhi in the early 1990s older forms of building design – which had dealt with heat through window screens, or facades and brise-soleils – were slowly displaced by American or European styles. “I would say that this international style has a lot to answer for,” she said. Just like the US in the 20th century, but on an even greater scale, homes and offices were increasingly being built in such a way that made air conditioning indispensable. “Developers were building without thinking,” says Rajan Rawal, a professor of architecture and city planning at Cept University in Ahmedabad. “The speed of construction that was required created pressure. So they simply built and relied on technology to fix it later.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/29/the-air-conditioning-trap-how-cold-air-is-heating-the-world

Hibush

  • blueberries
  • Senior Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 251
  • CHE Posts: 942
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2019, 05:46:44 PM »
New York’s World Trade Center, completed in 1974, had what was then the world’s largest AC unit, with nine enormous engines and more than 270km of piping for cooling and heating. Commentators at the time noted that it used the same amount of electricity each day as the nearby city of Schenectady, population 80,000....


I remember house ads that included "AEK". That signaled a modern all-electric kitchen.

Interesting that they chose Schenectady, which isn't exactly nearby. There were many cities of that size closer. But what was in Schenectady? Oh, yeah: General Electric HQ & Power Generation division.

apl68

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 82
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2019, 08:21:26 AM »
Turning it completely off is usually moronic, since you will just have to expend more energy cooling everything back down again or heating back up again, plus having everyone in discomfort in the meantime.

Right--it makes sense to vary the temperature by a few degrees during periods when the building is unoccupied (I do that with my house during the work day and when I'm gone for a few days), but not to shut the system down and have to completely re-cool the structure on a regular basis.  Even if you care only about the cost of energy, with no consideration for the long-term well-being of the buildings, this sounds penny wise and pound foolish.

The university I used to work for had the opposite problem.  It was hard to enjoy a quiet day outside on the beautiful campus on weekends.  There was little quiet outdoors because every building had an AC unit the size of a small house blasting noisily away 24 hours a day, seven days a week, refrigerating the whole interior at a temperature that wouldn't let milk spoil, regardless of whether anybody was inside.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2019, 08:24:09 AM by apl68 »

Aster

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 71
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2019, 10:11:03 AM »
The university I used to work for had the opposite problem.  It was hard to enjoy a quiet day outside on the beautiful campus on weekends.  There was little quiet outdoors because every building had an AC unit the size of a small house blasting noisily away 24 hours a day, seven days a week, refrigerating the whole interior at a temperature that wouldn't let milk spoil, regardless of whether anybody was inside.

Not so much mold, mildew,and bug problems, then. A regulated internal environment. And the morning classes aren't being cancelled because someone forgot to restart the A/C or started it too late for the classrooms to drop below 80F. I much prefer your Ice Cube College's policies.

spork

  • Senior Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 267
  • CHE Posts: 18449
Re: Is it "standard practice" for colleges to turn off air conditioning
« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2019, 09:59:55 AM »
Air conditioning? What's that?