Overheated at Yale

Even now that it is November, Jimmy Murphy ’13 always leaves the window in his Welch Hall common room open. It’s just too hot inside.

Murphy is one of many Elis who are experiencing problems with the Yale heating systems as winter approaches. Because Yale’s heating system differs from building to building, some students have control over room temperatures while others remain at the mercy of their thermostat-free radiators. And for those students with overactive heaters, there remains one option: opening the windows.

“I just feel like it’s really wasteful, the fact that the heat is running at a temperature higher than most people are comfortable with,” Murphy said. “It’s a straight-up waste because people open up windows to keep it cooler, so we’re throwing money out the window.”

At first glance, it might seem difficult to understand why temperatures in Welch and other residential buildings fluctuate so greatly; the energy for heating every building on Yale’s Central Campus originates at the same central power plant on the corner of Ashmun and Grove streets. The Central Power Plant produces all the steam for heating and the chilled water for air conditioning, said Thomas Starr, the plant’s manager.

“We are the source,” Starr said. “We are where the energy is coming from.”

That energy — in the form of steam — is then carried through underground piping and is converted in individual buildings to hot water that is used for heating, Starr explained.

The system is efficient, Anthony Kearns, Yale’s associate director of utilities distribution, said.

“Instead of having thousands or hundreds of different mechanical components heating and cooling buildings, you have one central power plant that distributes the utilities,” Kearns said.

But although the system is centralized, individual buildings have different methods for controlling heat.

For Welch residents, the troubles start with the absence of a small knob on the radiators — a fixture that allows students in other buildings to adjust their heat by five to 10 degrees from the midpoint setting, which during the day in dormitories is about 70 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit.

Welch resident Jacob Doctoroff ’11, an annexed Saybrugian, said he has filed three separate requests for the heating in his suite to be turned down because he cannot control the temperature himself. But Doctoroff said nothing has changed since he placed his first complaint a few weeks ago, and he — like Murphy — has taken to leaving the window open even in frigid weather.

Evelyn Streater-Frizzle, manager of customer service for facilities, said the customer service line receives up to 1,000 phone calls each week, though not all are related to heating issues. The automated message for the line divides complaints between heating and air-conditioning issues and all other calls.

While Welch struggles with thermostat-free radiatiors, Ezra Stiles College, for one, has a different problem. The college uses a zone-heating system, in which one thermostat sensor provides temperature feedback for a number of rooms on each floor. The student whose room has the thermostat sensor can affect the temperature of every other room in the zone. If that student has their window open, the thermostat will read that the room is cold and blast more heat everywhere, so rooms that have their windows closed will get much hotter.

But if students in the rooms containing the remote thermostat have space heaters or other devices that make the heat higher than the desired temperature of 70-73 degrees,, their floormates’ rooms will likely be underheated as the system will overcompensate for the one overheated room.

Still, not all students are at the mercy of zone-heating or uncontrollable radiators. Sophie Wolfram ’10, co-director of the Student Task force for Environmental Partnership, said STEP aims to limit wasted energy by making sure students manage their heat settings before reverting to the “open-window” tactic.

Wolfram said STEP coordinators go door-to door in their colleges every fall, teaching students how to best control their heat.

“We encourage them to keep the heat at a midpoint setting to conserve energy,” Wolfram said. “I think it is important for people to keep in mind that by keeping the heat at a reasonable temperature, we can significantly reduce energy use in dorms.”

Still, Wolfram, who lived in Welch her freshman year, acknowledged that not everyone has this option.

“We focus on students who can control their heat,” Wolfram said. “Old Campus students are kind of stuck with what they have.”

In wintertime, all classrooms, dormitories, dining halls, and offices are set to the standard 70-73 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the facilities Web site. Library book stacks are kept at 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

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