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The heat is on: Wireless thermostats to help conserve energy



Samantha Muratori '14 in front of the first student residence to get a wireless thermostat (Photo by Matt Milless)
Samantha Muratori '14 in front of the first student residence to get a wireless thermostat (Photo by Matt Milless)

During the academic year, College-owned apartments brim with energy, as students study and socialize.

Yet when the units empty out for winter break, a different kind of energy is felt. Students rarely remember to adjust the thermostat, a wasteful oversight.

Thanks to an idea by Samantha Muratori '14, students living in the College Park neighborhood soon will be able to control the thermostats from their smart phones and other Internet connections.

Muratori's idea to install wireless thermostats in the 60-plus apartments along Seward and Roger Hull Place is the first student project to be funded by the new Green Fee.

Beginning this academic year, $5 from every Student Activities fee collected is set aside in a "green fund" for projects that reduce the College's carbon footprint. Students are invited to submit proposals, and a committee of students, a faculty member and a representative from Facilities reviews the projects for one that can be supported by the $25,000 in the green fund.

Ten students submitted proposals, according to Meghan Haley-Quigley ’11, Union's sustainability coordinator. Other projects included a campus bike share program, a vegan bar for Upper Class Dining and the installation of a heat exchanger in Minerva house showers. But the committee deemed Muratori's proposal the best.

The political science major originally got the idea for reducing Union's energy consumption during a first-year group environmental science final. Her initial project relied on a keycard system used in many European hotels that allows guests to control temperatures in their rooms. But a number of issues made that unworkable here.

Muratori dusted off her project two years later when the green fund took effect, though with a major switch: wireless thermostats. Steve Hassett, supervisor of technical controls and HVAC, was familiar with a Toronto company, Ecobee, which specializes in the technology, and suggested it to Muratori.

Using an app, students will have simple control over the heating in their living spaces. Users will also be able to check energy savings data on the thermostats' full-color touch screens.

"It will be so easy," Muratori said. "Students can go on the app to turn the heat up, and they can go on the app to turn the heat down"

The thermostats will be interconnected, giving Facilities the ability to regulate temperatures when the students are gone during the six-week winter break. The thermostats will also have a smaller range of temperatures, saving even more energy. Instead of going from 50 to 90 degrees, temperatures may be limited to between 62 and 72.

"Facilities would go into some of these places over the break and the thermostat was turned way up, wasting heat," Muratori said. "These new thermostats will prevent that."

Muratori and others estimate the thermostats will cut energy consumption by a third in the first year, resulting in significant savings.

The first thermostat will be installed in 207 Seward Place over spring break. After a few weeks of monitoring and collecting student feedback, if all goes well, other units in the neighborhood will have thermostats by the beginning of summer.

"I'm hoping this will be an eye opener for students," said Muratori. "I've already had some come up to me with different ideas for sustainability. It's good for students to be aware they really can make a difference on campus."