It takes a lot of energy to keep a hospital as large as the University of Vermont Medical Center running. But, with substantial energy consumption comes great savings opportunities.
“We’re always asking ourselves, ‘How can we save energy?’” says Wes Pooler, Facilities Management Director at The UVM Medical Center.
For Pooler and his sustainability-minded team, reducing nighttime temperatures and air flow (HVAC setbacks) in unoccupied areas is one obvious answer to the energy savings question. “When you don’t have to worry about keeping people comfortable during certain hours because the space is unoccupied, there’s always an opportunity.”
The impact of HVAC setbacks
The HVAC nighttime setbacks goal is simple: reduce nighttime energy use in unoccupied spaces—specifically, in the Ambulatory Care Center (ACC) clinics.
“The ACC air handler runs 24/7, but the building is unoccupied most of the night,” says Pooler. “So we’re tempering air and moving air, which is a waste of energy because nobody’s there.”
To combat this waste, Facilities Management has piloted HVAC setbacks on two floors in the ACC East Pavilion. At 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the temperature is lowered from a normal occupied setting (68–72 °F) to an unoccupied setting (65 °F); at 5:00 a.m. the temperature returns to an occupied setting. On Saturday evenings, the setbacks begin at 5:00 p.m. and last until 5:00 a.m. Monday.
In addition to reduced temperatures, air flow volume decreases during the setbacks, which also reduces energy consumption.
Facilities Management plans to expand the setbacks across the remaining ACC clinics this winter. By reducing energy use in this 570,174 square foot space (the size of more than 200 average American homes), Pooler predicts that within a year, The UVM Medical Center will save 1 million kilowatt hours—the equivalent of removing 194 Burlington homes from the grid.
A user-centered approach to energy savings
The HVAC nighttime setbacks were designed to save energy, while still accommodating employees. For example, staff working during designated unoccupied hours can adjust the temperature to an occupied setting.
According to Dave Healy, a Consulting Project Manager for Facilities Management, “If you come into your office on a Sunday, you can hit an override button. So there’s virtually no impact on the end users, but a lot of positive impact for the hospital and the environment.”
Healy reports that the next phase of HVAC setback programming will more accurately target unoccupied spaces (like clinics closed on Saturdays), which could result in further energy savings.
How you can save energy at home this winter
Though your home doesn’t consume as much energy as a hospital, you can still reduce your environmental impact and save money this winter.
- Schedule an energy audit. Is your home losing energy and costing you money? Visit Efficiency Vermont to schedule an energy audit and learn about their home efficiency incentives.
- Turn down the heat. As winter descends on Vermont, you may be tempted to crank the heat and daydream about sunny summer days on Lake Champlain. Instead of turning up the thermostat, grab a warm flannel instead: Pooler suggests lowering your thermostat by 2 ° and wearing an extra layer.
- Install a programmable thermostat. You can implement at-home heating setbacks with the help of a programmable thermostat. Program lower temperatures for when you’re away from home to save energy.
Danielle Calaway is a Staff Assistant in Facilities Management and a member of the University of Vermont Medical Center Green Team.