Beware of Energy Vampires: 10 Energy-Saving Tips from Facilities

September 17, 2013

You can’t build a successful program without setting goals, says Rachel Futrell, CUMC’s associate director for energy management and sustainability. And Ms. Futrell’s goals for CUMC are high: When she joined the medical center in 2009, she laid out a plan to cut our greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2025, a goal Facilities Management is pursuing in collaboration with Columbia's Office of Environmental Stewardship.

We are well on our way. From 2010 to 2013, we cut our energy use by 9 percent, putting us on or ahead of schedule. For context, that 9 percent is equivalent to 6,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide or the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 1,333 passenger vehicles.

But Futrell says there is still plenty more to do—and many ways for students, faculty, and staff to get involved.

Make energy conservation part of your daily routine through small changes in your workplace and home. You can also join CUMC’s Green Team, an on-campus grass-roots group to work on sustainability initiatives in your laboratory, department, or office. Contact Rachel Futrell at rf2406@cumc.columbia.edu to find out more.

Here are her top 10 tips for boosting energy efficiency at CUMC. Through your efforts, you can help us shrink our collective carbon footprint.

1. Turn off the lights that you have control over.

This is the easiest and most obvious step all of us can take, but it’s often forgotten. Although many of us work in spaces without light switches, think about the lights you do have control over. Can you turn off the lights in an empty conference room, kitchen, or bathroom? Can you turn off the lights when you step out for lunch? Don’t forget about evenings, weekends, and when you go on vacation.

Small efforts have a large impact. If all of us turned off our lights for 12 hours a day, it would save 3.7 million kilowatts of energy, bringing us 2 percent closer to our 30 percent greenhouse gas-reduction goal.

2. Turn off your computer or use power-saving options. 

If your work permits you to turn your computer off entirely, do so when you’re not using it. If the “off” switch isn’t an option, set your computer to sleep or hibernate mode when it’s not in use. CUMC IT has online instructions on how to do that, as well as other useful information about “green computing.”

If all of us powered down our computers every night or used sleep mode, we would save 2.9 million kilowatts of energy. That’s 1 percent of CUMC's energy use, bringing us closer to our 30 percent reduction goal.

Find more information about energy-efficient computer use here.

Popular myth says that it’s bad for your computer to be turned on and off. This was true at one point, but no more: Today’s computers are designed to handle 40,000 on-off cycles. This means that even if you were to turn your computer on and off 10 times a day, it would take more than 10 years before it would cause any wear and tear on the machine.

3. Be a smart shopper.

When shopping for new appliances, equipment, or computers for home or office, look for the Energy Star label, which identifies products that are independently certified as saving energy without sacrificing features or functionality.

When buying a computer, consider a laptop. Laptops use 50–80 percent less energy than desktop computers. LCD screens use 50–70 percent less energy than their bulky, old-fashioned predecessors.  Check out purchasing options through CUMC here.

4. If you work in a laboratory, your choices are especially important. 

By many estimates, a fume hood uses as much energy as one to four homes, so shut your sash.

Other things to remember: Don’t run your glass washer or autoclave with too little equipment in it. That’s like running the dishwasher to clean a plate and a few forks. It’s always more efficient to run a full load.

And, of course, turn off any non-critical equipment when it’s not in use.

5. Adjust the thermostat. 

If you have control over your thermostat and are not in a temperature-sensitive environment, set your thermostat to 78˚F in summer and 68˚F in winter. You can set it even lower in winter and higher in summer when you leave for the night.

Turn off window or supplemental air conditioners where possible when you leave for the day and for weekends and vacations. There’s a myth that it uses more energy to turn an air conditioner on and off than it does to leave it running all day. But for small spaces such as apartments and offices, that’s not true.

6. Use natural light when possible. 

If you’re lucky enough to sit by a window, work by natural light.

7. Beware of energy vampires.

As a rule of thumb, remember that anything you plug into an outlet may be using electricity whether it's on or not.

Look out for energy vampires. They’re the ones that, even when off, continue to draw residual electricity. Your television and DVD player are good examples. Even a phone charger with no phone attached can pull electricity and contribute to “vampire load.”

You can get rid of vampire load by plugging multiple devices into a surge protector and turning them off with the surge protector's on/off switch.

8. Don’t block heating or cooling vents.

Keep an eye out for furniture, shelving, or clothing that obstructs heating or cooling vents.  Such obstructions make the equipment work harder by blocking air flow, and they can contribute to temperature problems.

9. Keep any windows and doors to the outside closed.

If you’re tempted to open a window to cool or heat a space, contact Facilities at 305-HELP instead. We’re happy to fix the temperature issue. You’ll be helping us increase our energy efficiency in the process. If it’s a nice day and you want some air, take a walk outside during lunch.

10. Make mindful choices as you travel across campus.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Always use the revolving door if you do not need the disability entrance, which warms the outdoors in the winter and cools it in the summer—not a wise use of energy. Small choices like these save energy and help create a greener culture.

If you have questions or ideas, or want to get involved in a Green Team, contact Rachel Futrell at rf2406@cumc.columbia.edu.

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