Residence Hall Energy Challenge aims to shift students’ electric and water usage

Students will compete through March 1 in the Residence Hall Energy Challenge to save as much ener...
Students will compete through March 1 in the Residence Hall Energy Challenge to save as much energy as possible.

Passersby might notice fewer windows lit up in Virginia Commonwealth University residence halls during the rest of this month, as students slash energy and water usage during the Residence Hall Energy Challenge.

“The Energy Challenge is a competition to engage students in the residence halls to save as much energy as possible from February 15 through March 1,” said Joe Costa, sustainability projects and program coordinator at VCU. “Everyone is truly competing against their past behavior.”

Baseline readings of energy usage at each residence hall were taken earlier this month and will be used for comparison. That way, students’ behavior change is what counts, not the building where they live. The challenge winner will be determined by which hall improves its behavior through the greatest percentage reduction in usage. The size of the residence hall, for instance, will not be a factor.

“Truly, you are just competing against what you were doing before,” Costa said.

Knowing the steps you can take to reduce energy is the lasting effect of this competition.

The Office of Sustainability and Residential Life and Housing expect the lessons learned during the contest to remain long after the challenge ends.

“Studying in the dark, doing massive loads of laundry once a week is not sustainable behavior  although it’s possible for two weeks  but knowing the steps you can take to reduce energy is the lasting effect of this competition,” Costa said.

A leaderboard on the Office of Sustainability website will automatically update energy usage in most residence halls, though Costa will need to manually update usage statistics in some of them.

“Something such as the Residence Hall Energy Challenge will give students insight into just how much energy and resources can be saved by turning off the light before they head off to class or wash their clothes on cold,” said Mikaela Türkan Reinard, president of the Residence Hall Association.

Cutting off unneeded lights, running full loads of dishes or laundry and being mindful of the thermostat are simple starting points. Lighting is typically 30 to 40 percent of a building’s energy load, and heating water to wash dishes and clothes is another major energy hog.

“Keep it cold — it’s better for your clothes and effective in the dishwasher, as long as you don’t have science experiments growing on your dishware,” Costa said.

More tips are listed on the Office of Sustainability website.

“Every step that the students will be taking to save energy during this challenge are all things that you can do in your apartment or in your future home. These are lifelong lessons to learn,” Costa said.

The winning hall will celebrate with a pizza party and certificate from the Office of Sustainability – plus bragging rights.

“Residential students are at a great place in life to create new habits for many reasons,” Reinard said. “Once students see the results of their efforts, their awareness of the impact that their consumption of energy has on the community and the planet will stick with them for the rest of their lives.”

Costa hopes for a high level of participation.

“Every residence hall student is part of this competition, whether they know it or not,” he said. “The more students get into the idea of the challenge  and winning  the more effective this is going to be.”


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