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Staying warm sustainably

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The first UFV-led program to encourage a reduction in space heater use by providing fleece blankets distributed its two remaining blankets last week. The 125 UFV-branded blankets were supplied to faculty and staff offering an alternative way to keep warm in their work spaces.

“There was no shortage of demand for them,” said energy manager Blair McFarlane, who launched the initiative. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive which is great.”

The blankets themselves costed about $2,100 but the bill was footed entirely by B.C. Hydro.

“We reaped some incentives to do this; [B.C. Hydro] fully supported us going through this process,” said McFarlane.

UFV Facilities were able to attain the funding through the workplace conservation awareness program. The program’s aim is to promote energy conservation behaviours within businesses and organizations throughout B.C.

The UFV blanket program itself was launched to accomplish several goals within UFV; the main focus was largely to create a sense of awareness about energy consumption and personal ownership over how energy is used.

“We were looking for ideas on how to engage students, staff, and faculty to get them interested in sustainability on campus,” said McFarlane.

Because of the large amount of space heaters on campus, McFarlane and the Centre for Sustainability wanted to provide alternative means of personal passive heating — using a blanket, for staying warm.

Travis Gingerich, sustainability coordinator assistant, said that the program also had goals to influence beyond UFV.

“A big component is creating those conversations so that people recognize this is something that we do not only on campus here but it’s something we can do at home too,” said Gingerich.

In terms of energy usage, the focus of the program was to reduce institutional energy consumption as well as the strain that space heaters can put on the building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

When the temperature near a thermostat is raised beyond its set temperature, the system is tricked into thinking a room is warmer than it is. The thermostat tells the system to send cool air which drops the ambient temperature in that area while still heating others.

“But it’s not the case of just saying, ‘You’re cold, here’s a blanket, deal with it,’” said McFarlane. “It’s saying, we understand that there are deficiencies, we’d like to make it more comfortable for you in a sustainable way.”

Beyond being overworked, UFV’s HVAC system has limitations of its own. Because there have been so many space changes and renovations over the years at UFV, the original design for the system may not accommodate the demands of the new spaces.

“Where there once was a classroom, now there’s a dozen offices and our HVAC was designed to serve a classroom, not 12 smaller spaces,” said McFarlane. “Staff are pretty understanding of some of the constraints and challenges that go along with those space changes.”

The HVAC system does frequently get upgraded to fix any deficiencies when possible. McFarlane said that renovations to new spaces also do incorporate plans to improve system performance and its design is taken into account.

The blankets were distributed freely but are considered UFV property. It’s expected that the blankets will remain on campus and with whomever they were given to.

“People’s comfort and personal temperature is something you don’t really want to alter,” said McFarlane. “You want to keep people comfortable and productive and happy at work, but at the same time, space heaters have been a massive challenge for the facilities department.”

While the facilities department encourages staff to eliminate space heater usage, the blankets are optional and UFV does not require that staff give up their space heaters.

Because of the strong reception this year, McFarlane said they would like to continue with something similar in following years.

“I think we’re going to go to Fortis next year for some incentives and funding,” said McFarlane. “We’re going to try and roll it out again next year and expand it beyond the 125 blankets that we dished out this year.”

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