Technology brings huge energy savings to local schools

“It’s pretty cool”

Tom Taggart, the school district’s maintenance director, stooped over his laptop at the Crested Butte Community School and followed a thin red line on its path across the screen with his finger.




“That’s a week in time,” he said, scanning the tangle of brightly colored lines charting changes in the school’s indoor environment. “Here’s my air temperature, my mixed air temp. I can see my fan turning on.” Then he got excited. His red line spiked, if briefly, before settling back to where it was.
“My heating valve is red. It came on once for about two hours in the last week,” Taggart says. “By using air we heated from the rooms, we did that. In one week, this whole area was heated for that long. That’s what I like.”
Taggart travels around the boiler rooms that were updated during the renovation at the Crested Butte Community School two years ago, and there’s a lot he likes in the systems that keep the heat on and the water warm at the district’s schools. Having a network of cutting-edge technology to support his mission is making his life a lot easier, and the schools much more energy efficient.
Across the school district, where the same high efficiency boilers and monitoring systems are in place at some level in four school buildings, the recent renovations increased the district’s square footage by a third and reduced utility costs by 12 percent.
And that’s not because natural gas has gotten cheaper.
Instead, Taggart started learning the systems as they were installed. Then he spent last year following technicians around as they did warranty work, finding ways to tweak the system for a maximum return.
“I’m really happy with the whole thing, because we are really gaining a lot,” Taggart says.
At CBCS, the huge cast iron boilers that had provided heat to the school for 15 years were replaced with compact computerized models that heat when they need to and turn themselves off when they don’t. The same is true of the hot water heaters. In the past, simple tasks like turning the heat down when no one was around weren’t as easy than as they are today.
“Another switch we made that made a big difference was in the kitchen,” Taggart says. The school’s old hot water boilers needed to bring water for the entire building up to a temperature that could effectively wash dishes, then cool it down for hand washing, essentially wasting energy to heat water that would only be cooled down later.
“Now we have a dishwasher that can raise the temperature of the water higher, up to 70 degrees higher,” he says. That small change lets Taggart turn down the hot water boilers to hand washing temperature, and let the dishwasher do the heavy lifting, which saves the system energy.
Taggart has found that just the opposite approach is most effective in heating the air that circulates around the buildings. While the old system increased the air temperature a little when it entered the building, and then a lot when it went into a room (much as water is treated for kitchen use today), the new boilers bring the air temperature up to a point where people inside the building can make minor adjustments for comfort.
According to a report by district business manager Stephanie Juneau, the new boilers and more efficient use of heat at Gunnison Community School have “cut natural gas costs in half from one year to the next.”
Taggart makes adjustments to the district’s heating and ventilation systems through constant monitoring and observation of the environment, made possible with the new equipment. After weeks of watching, he learned that the boilers work really hard to heat air that’s colder than 63 degrees. So as the systems turn to their “unoccupied” setting, the thermostats drop to 63 degrees, making it easier to warm up when people start arriving at the school.
“The boilers have a brain in them and I have access to it,” he says.
Taggart can also tell you about the affect one outside wall, or two, will have on the temperature of a classroom or that 25 students will raise the temperature of a standard-size classroom two to three degrees. “Then we’ll adjust [the set classroom temperatures] because a room on the north side of the building with two outside walls won’t come up at all with students in it because we’re losing all that heat,” he says.
The heat the district loses through the new walls is far less than it lost through the old walls. Taggart attributes a lot of the efficiency gains to the improved insulation that was installed during the renovation, keeping heat inside, even when hundreds of students, administrators and staff are moving through the doors every day.
At the renovated Gunnison High School, the oldest building in the district, business manager Juneau says the insulation was improved from R18 in the roof and R4 in the walls, which is only a fraction of the insulation required in residential buildings in Crested Butte, to R44 in the roof and R25 in the walls. “The combination of better insulation and better boilers allowed for a 40 percent square footage expansion at GHS while decreasing natural gas costs by 60 percent,” she says.
Taggart says that while efficiency on all fronts is important, improving the use of natural gas is “the money.” Had the district maintained the efficiency standards already in place in the renovated buildings throughout the expansion, Juneau says, “the district would have experienced increased utility costs of approximately $107,000 [annually]. Instead, utility costs have decreased by $40,411, from $371,400 in [fiscal year] 08-09 to $330,989 in FY10-11. Based on the fine tuning happening this year, we expect another $15,000 decrease in costs for FY11-12.”
In an economic climate that has forced the school district to make some major cuts to its budget, the savings are making a big impact— in more than just the gas-based utilities. The district, during the renovation, also installed motion sensors that turn lights on when people enter a room, and off after the activity has stopped.
Beyond the boilers, cutting-edge technology is changing all facets of the way energy is being used by the district. New energy compliant servers store the district’s information, and 90 percent of the computers accessing it meet Energy Star standards for efficiency, emissions and the use of lead. The district has also asked teachers to activate the power management controls on their computers and monitors, which will turn off when inactive and could save the district as much as $55,000 a year.
From his laptop, Taggart can interact with the entire system. He has a button for each school that connects him to that school’s systems and an alarm screen that tells him if something is wrong. “I plug right into the Internet and select the school. It’s pretty cool. It’s great for me. I can monitor every room in the district in just about three minutes from my office and know if there’s a problem or not.”
This system can track the money being saved, or where it might be, and with a few adjustments check room temperatures, turn fans and boilers on or off, monitor pump pressures and a myriad other tasks. If there’s an emergency and a piece of equipment needs to be turned off, anyone with the right access can do it remotely. “If you’ve got a problem, the diagnosis is so quick now,” Taggart says. “It’s incredible.”
In the process of integrating the new technology to benefit the school, Taggart has reinvented himself, from a maintenance man who got his start with equipment from a bygone era to a technician proficient in the latest technology.
“That’s my job, I think. I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to make the building safe, secure, comfortable and also make it as efficient as we can,” Taggart says. “I really take pride in that.”

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