Heating and cooling: a complex logistical campus issue



Students have not been enjoying the Arctic blast that has swept across campus in the past weeks. Having to layer up to stay warm, and seeing snow falling in mid-October are all uncomfortable reminders that winter is on its way, and to an extent, already has its foot in the door. Despite the numerous complaints that many students tend to vocalize about the heating system, it appears that very few people actually know how the heating system operates and functions.

Most students on campus have at some point endured the heating system that does not meet their needs. Most students affected in this way usually complain vocally about it. However, not many people actually understand how the system works, who performs maintenance on it, when it switches from cooling to heating or how effective it is.

Vice President for Finance and Operations and Treasurer, Paul Mutone, is able to explain the intricacies of the system. Unbeknownst to many, the system is comprised of underground fiberglass pipelines that run through each building. According to Mutone, “It is a centralized system for the most part. Heating and cooling on campus is produced primarily by using hot and cold water, receptively.” Apparently the system is efficient despite its issues. From an energy utilization perspective, the system serves its purpose properly and well. However, from a service or comfort perspective, the system creates numerous problems, owing to how it functions. Mutone states, “Our problem is that the college has a ‘two pipe’ system and not a ‘four pipe’ system.” The issue that arises from this is that heating and cooling cannot run simultaneously.

Utilizing a ‘two pipe’ system is the underlying problem. Having only two pipes rather than four makes it very difficult to transition from cooling to heating or vise versa. In fact, it is impossible to directly change from one utility to the other. The underground pipes, which contain the water for the cooling and heating, are not constructed to withstand a quick switch from hot water to cold water. Having a rapid change of 125 degrees Fahrenheit in water temperature would cause the pipe joints to break. Mutone explains, “This is also the reason why we have a period of seven to ten days each fall and spring with no heat or cooling as the pipes need time to cool down or warm up. But underground pipe failures are a problem”. Despite best efforts to avoid these issues, “a preventative maintenance schedule is maintained by Facilities” in order to avoid and fix any issues that occur. All of these problems can be very costly which begs the question as to how the administration pays for the system and its maintenance. “This is not a project that would typically generate alumni interest to contribute towards,” said Mutone, “Borrowing money is the most likely option to fund the cost in addition to finding and taking advantage of all energy rebates or grants that are available.”

In essence it can be concluded that the system is fairly old and of poor quality. Even Mutone agreed that “This system is very old and needs an upgrade.” In order to alleviate student concerns about the system being accepted for what it is and tolerating its impotence, students would likely be curious as to whether there has been any talk about changing it. Based on all of the responses that Mutone provided, it seems evident that the system that the school uses is subpar and must be improved. Fortunately, there have been plans to help fix the issues with the system. After asking Mutone about whether there has been a discussion of updating or replacing the system, he replied affirmatively. He declared that “plans for an upgrade, either maintaining the centralized system or switching over to a decentralized system, are being developed”. Despite the very steep cost of upgrading the system, it appears that the school will eventually operate under a better system, as long as a source of funding is found.

For the moment, students all must continue to endure the frigid nights in their rooms with fuzzy socks and enormous sweaters. Unfortunately, as long as the college has the “’two pipe’ system,” if there are one or two-day periods of unseasonably warm or cold temperatures, as there was last weekend, the campus is forced to endure  it. But students should enjoy the coolness of their rooms while it lasts. Come April, many students will wish for the brisk weather once again.

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