If your dorm room feels a little warmer this winter term, that’s because it is. Over winter break, all of the thermostats on campus were reset from 68 degrees to 70 to ensure more comfort on campus, the college announced in a campus-wide email in December.
According to Director of Facilities Scott Maust, one impetus for the change was something he calls “tinkeritis” Students were tinkering with the ducts and stealing heat from adjoining rooms to get more heat for themselves.
“We’ve got several buildings that when you get the northwest wind they get kind of drafty, so our thought was for the two degree increase for what we were paying to fix thermostats or make repairs was almost a whoosh,” Maust said.
Students were also bringing in space heaters, which are now deemed “illegal” on campus unless they’re authorized and provided by the college.
“I think we’ve done pretty good as far as eliminating them,” he said.
According to Director of Sustainability Froggi van Riper, the increase in temperature may slightly hike up Knox’s natural gas consumption, but banning the space heater — which pulls high currents — trips breakers and is a fire hazard, is worth it.
“If this increase in temperature stops only four people from using a space heater four hours a day for only 30 days, the footprint of this change will be completely offset,” she wrote in an email to TKS.
The potential increase in natural gas cost may be around $5,000 a year, but the savings on maintenance for thermostat vandalism and electricity costs may also offset the cost.
Van Riper acknowledged several environmental challenges associated with cold weather, including ice control, which leaves an environmental footprint, and car fuel.
“There is a strong temptation for people to idle car engines to pre-heat their car, or drive short distances,” she said. She cited a “Sustainable America” article that estimates that 3.4 million gallons of gas are wasted by idling vehicles in the US. Two minutes of idling a car consumes as much gas as driving a full mile.
Though every room on campus with a thermostat is now set at 70 degrees, the northwest corners of buildings can sometimes err on the colder side, Maust said.
“I don’t want to say every room is 70 degrees because you might have a room on the northwest corner that might be a little colder, but all of our thermostats, air handlers, everything is designed and set at 70 degrees,” Maust said.
Still, a lot of students haven’t noticed a difference in temperatures at all. Sophomore Donald Harris says that though he was informed of the two-degree change, he doesn’t feel a difference. He said he might feel a difference if the temperature were raised higher.
“They don’t want to spend money on heat so I understand that, but you have to look out for students. In my opinion, the school gets enough money to raise the temperature. But, if it’s cold outside, get a sweater. It goes both ways.”
For many students, the complaint is how cold it is outside, not the temperature inside.
“If they cranked it up to 75, that’d be excessive. Anything between 68 and 70 is room temperature, and that’s pleasant,” sophomore Trevor Marshall said.
For students and faculty on campus who still feel cold in the buildings, though, electric blankets and heaters under 250 watts are still allowed.
Van Riper suggested students who live in houses with ducts that blow heat learn the difference between a heat register and a cold-air return.
“Forced-air heating systems require free air circulation to work effectively. Often, a room will have a heat register but no cold-air return, or vice versa. In such a case, closing the door to that room causes the furnace to be unable to suck or blow air into or out of that room for effective temperature control,” she said.
Both Van Riper and Maust also emphasized that students who may feel cold in dorm rooms may want to rearrange their furniture to allow heaters to properly work. If the heat still doesn’t work, they recommend placing a work order, which is available by calling 309-341-7251, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.