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Night Surveys: The Lights Are On, But Nobody is Home

How Yale University's energy manager uses after-hours walk-throughs to save energy

Posted on Dec 21 2017 by Peter Yost

Julie Paquette has been Director of Energy Management at Yale University for about 6 years. That means the buck stops at Julie’s desk for the energy consumption of over 400 buildings on campus. Yale has a pretty sophisticated approach to energy, including the Yale Facilities Energy Explorer, an energy dashboard system that shows energy consumption and details for every one of those 400 Yale buildings.

But as a practicing engineer, Julie recognizes the benefits of less sophisticated approaches to understanding building energy consumption, including “night surveys.” Armed with just a digital infrared thermometerA digital thermometer capable of measuring the temperature of a surface from a distance ranging from a few inches to a few feet. Most hand-held infrared thermometers include a laser to help aim the device; the laser plays no role in temperature measurement. Used as an inexpensive substitute for a thermal imaging camera, an infrared thermometer can detect hot or cold spots on walls, ceilings, and duct systems. (DIT) and maybe a dozen pages of recent reports (energy consumption, building’s controls schedule, and even the custodial schedule), Julie walks her buildings with the members of the facility staff working in that particular building. They do this after the building is technically “closed” for the day. In the last four years, Julie has “night-surveyed” more than 35 Yale buildings, from labs to museums to classroom buildings.

This past October, as usual, my Yale Forestry and Environmental Studies graduate students joined Julie’s team to survey Hendrie Hall. Hendrie Hall, shared by the School of Music and just about all of the Yale performing ensembles, recently went through a two-year extensive renovation and addition, completed around the start of 2017. So this night survey was checking up on how the building is measuring up over the last nine months or so compared to energy performance predictions.

“Tonight we’ll be focused on how we use this building,” Paquette says. “There are always ways to learn more about energy use and how we might adapt that use.” Julie places the night survey in context with a simple graphic (see Image 1 at the top of the page).

Infrared thermometer checks

As we walk Hendrie Hall, starting about 10 p.m., my students are snapping photos of spaces. One student is reinforcing Julie’s DIT shots with infrared camera shots.

It becomes pretty clear that quite a bit of energy is being wasted. From the official Yale Energy Management Hendrie Hall report:

  • General hallway and lobby lighting is higher than needed, especially in the evening hours. Operationally, lower level lights would be helpful to signify that the building is closing.
  • Lutron system can be reprogrammed to set back public lighting.
  • Replace row of PAR 38 Halogens in student lounge with LEDLight-emitting diode. Illumination technology that produces light by running electrical current through a semiconductor diode. LED lamps are much longer lasting and much more energy efficient than incandescent lamps; unlike fluorescent lamps, LED lamps do not contain mercury and can be readily dimmed. type (see Images #2 and #3,below).
  • Individual offices had sporadic computer screens left on and printers left on.
  • AV systems left on in all larger spaces. Need to work with Yale AV staff to put into sleep / hibernate mode (see Images #4 and #5).
  • Air handling units were operating during walk-through past scheduled operating hours. Investigate programming and space condition trending. Initial assumption is that air handling units are operating because of humidity setpoints.
  • Band and glee rooms are used sporadically during the day and primarily in the evenings for rehearsal. Investigate appropriate schedule changes.

Reprogramming the controls

Not more than a couple of weeks after our Hendrie Hall Night Survey, Julie sent me a graph (see Image #6), saying, “After the survey, we met again with Tara Deming and our electrical supervisor Ed Grund [Hendrie Hall Facilities staff] to review lighting schedules in the public corridors and front foyer. We reprogrammed the Lutron system to better reflect building use – and have saved approximately 100 kWh/day (the equivalent of three Connecticut homes.) We are following up on a number of additional items.”

When I asked Julie just what sort of return on investment there has been for her Night Survey, she said that Night surveys are a key component to building energy project portfolios that offer simple payback periods less than 5 years and significant cumulative long term savings. Opportunities found at night are among the lowest cost, highest value carbon abatement strategies.

Julie concluded: “The Night Surveys work.”

Sometimes it’s the simple stuff that works best, especially if someone is taking responsibility for building performance over time. Someone like Julie, just walking her Yale buildings at night.

In addition to acting as GBA’s technical director, Peter Yost is the Vice President for Technical Services at BuildingGreen in Brattleboro, Vermont. He has been building, researching, teaching, writing, and consulting on high-performance homes for more than twenty years. An experienced trainer and consultant, he’s been recognized as NAHBNational Association of Home Builders, which awards a Model Green Home Certification. Educator of the Year. Do you have a building science puzzle? Contact Pete here. You can also sign up for BuildingGreen’s email newsletter to get a free report on insulation, as well as regular posts from Peter.

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Image Credits:

  1. Images #1, #2, #4, and #6: Julie Paquette, Yale University
  2. Image #3 and #5: Oscar Crespo Pinillos, Yale University

Jan 10, 2018 12:58 PM ET

Edited Jan 10, 2018 1:00 PM ET.

Additional resources for night surveys
by Paul Gessler

Thanks for sharing. This is a key method to find the "low hanging fruit" opportunities in building portfolios.

A number of years ago, Betterbricks published a series on night walks of sites that I thought was a great resource on this topic. The format of their site has since changed, so unfortunately all the content is no longer accessible in one place, but the article is available by searching for "betterbricks night walk" while the video series is available by searching YouTube for "betterbricks night walk" filtering by playlists.

(Links removed to thwart spam filter false positives.)

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