For the past six months, a group of 12 buildings—including an elementary school in Colorado, a California-based JC Penney store, and a dorm in North Carolina—have been competing in an effort to shave off energy use as part of the Environmental Protection Agency's National Building Competition. Now the winner has been announced: the Morrison Dormitory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reduced its energy use intensity (the total energy consumed in one year divided by the total floorspace of the building) by 35.7%. How did the Carolina Watt-Busters energy-saving team do it?
It wasn't by harassing dorm residents into environmental submission. Instead, the dorm expanded its solar hot water system, improved its ventilation and air-conditioning systems, installed energy-efficient lighting, and put up a computer touch-screen monitor in the lobby to help residents keep track of their progress. The Watt-Busters did post reminders around the dorm for students to turn off the lights and computers when not in use, but overall, small tweaks made the difference for UNC. In the past year, the dorm cut electricity use by 36%, saved over $250,000 on energy bills, and slashed greenhouse gas emissions equal to the energy use of almost 90 homes.
The other top contenders in the competition (a Sears store in Maryland, a JC Penney store in California, and an office building in Virginia) used similar strategies, including lighting retrofits, air-conditioning improvements, and water conservation campaigns.
The biggest changes, then, don't have to come from pricey building upgrades; smaller improvements can make all the difference. That will have to be the take-away for competitors in the EPA's competition, at least—the organization didn't offer any prizes for winning.