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Dorms compete to conserve energy

Melissa Flanagan | Tuesday, November 9, 2010

If you walk out of your dorm room this month and see only half the lights on in the hallway, chances are it isn’t an accident.

Keeping lights on the “half-on” setting typically used after parietals is one way dorms are saving energy during this month’s third annual Dorm Energy Competition.

The main objective of the competition is for students to realize how much energy they are actually using, said Rachel Novick, education and outreach programs manager for the Office of Sustainability.

“The goal is for students to become more conscious about the energy they use and particularly the energy that gets wasted,” Novick said. “And also to see what kind of creative ways they can find to save energy.”

The title went to Walsh Hall in 2008 and Cavanaugh Hall in 2009.

Cavanaugh was able to reduce their energy use by 34 percent for the month. Former rector Amalia de la Torre said she believes one factor in particular was crucial to her dorm’s success — parietals lights.

“We kept half of all our hallway lights out,” de la Torre said. “In other words, we kept the lighting the same as it would have been after parietals. I think that made the winning difference.”

Overall last year, residence halls saved 58,800 kilowatt-hours. This is equivalent to 84,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and adds up to a savings of $2,940 for the University, Novick said.

Some common approaches to saving energy include hang-drying laundry and unplugging electronics when they aren’t being used, Novick said.

Novick’s goals for the competition not only include saving energy and money, but also having participation from every dorm.

“I’d definitely like to improve on the overall savings and costs to campus, but also to really try to get every dorm to be involved,” Novick said. “I think that the dorms that were most engaged last year did an amazing job.”

Cavanaugh, the returning champion, is employing some of the same tactics as last year but also stressing the simple things, co-president Caitlin Desmond said.

“This year we are doing similar things, but also emphasizing to the girls to unplug things when you leave the room, such as turn off power strips, unplug computers and chargers,” Desmond said.

Some dorms don’t have a great chance at winning the competition due to long-standing traditions. Sorin College president Colin King said his dorm has never done well.

“Sorin is infamous for always coming in last in this competition,” King said. “We have a tradition to put incredible amounts of Christmas lights up right before Thanksgiving and leave them on at all times.”

The competition runs through the end of November and the winning dorm will receive a $500 prize, Novick said.

“We have runner-up prizes too, and awards for sustainability commissioners who do really creative programs to get people involved,” Novick said.