College improves sustainability with faucets, solar panels

The academic year may be almost over, but the College’s sustainability efforts continue with new low-flow showerheads and faucets and a recent grant to install solar panels.

“It’s been an interesting year trying to figure out issues related to sustainability, whether water or energy,” said Stephanie Boyd, acting director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. “It seems that there is a desire on campus to make it more sustainable, but the specifics are hard to grapple with.”

Showerheads and faucets

Since April 21, residents of Williams Hall have been the beneficiaries of new, low-flow showerheads and faucets. Forty-seven 2.2 gallons per minute (gpm) aerators were changed by Facilities to 0.5 gpm aerators. An additional 32 2.5 gpm showerheads were switched to 1.6 gpm showerheads.

These efforts are part of Eve Streicker ’09’s final project for Geosciences 206: Renewable Energy and the Sustainable Campus. Taught by David Dethier, professor of geosciences, the class examines wind, geothermal, solar and biological sources of energy, as well as energy efficiency and the environmental impacts of renewable energy. Each student is required to complete an independent final project that examines campus energy use.

Streicker’s project compares water usage from Williams Hall with Sage Hall. According to figures from Ken Jensen, mechanical maintenance supervisor at Facilities, the changes have resulted in savings of 4.8 gallons of water per student each day, a difference of more than 20 percent. This adds up to a $21.79 daily reduction in water costs for the College in Williams Hall – an approximate 80-day return on the initial installation cost of $1,744.04. “They’re definitely more environmentally friendly, and they’re economically justified,” Streicker said.

Streicker’s project comes along with the continuation of making environmentally minded modifications from Facilities. Over the past few months, Lasell Gym and Gladden House have seen similar new aerators, which are standard for many newer houses and buildings in the U.S. Additional changes will accompany building renovations and upgrades. Streicker explained that Facilities was planning on changing aerators for Williams Hall eventually, but that “having a student interested moved it up on the list of priorities.” The new aerators, according to Boyd, are likely to be permanent.

Even though the new showerheads and faucets yield substantial environmental and economic benefits, some students have been unhappy about these new changes. “I received multiple complaints from students in Willy Hall saying that they felt it was unfair that they were used as a test for these low-flow shower heads,” said Emanuel Yekutiel ’11, Class of 2011 representative, adding that the showerheads made it more difficult for “girls to wash their hair” and for everyone to “get the water in your hands to wash your face.” Other criticisms center mostly on faucets rather than showerheads. Residents of Williams A, for example, complained about difficulties in shaving and filling up Nalgene water bottles.

Sarah Weber ’11 of Williams B initiated a petition that asked the College to “remove the fixtures and give us back the old ones.” Posted on entry doors from last Monday to Thursday, Weber’s petition resulted in 54 signatures, and one petition was removed before Weber had the opportunity to count the signatures. Weber hopes to prevent Facilities from putting the faucets in all dorms over the summer.

Streicker admitted to the difficulties posed by the new aerators. “[T]his required project is negatively affecting the lives and showers of an entire dorm of frosh,” she said. “No one likes to be preached to about the ‘proper’ way to live, and no one likes weak pressure.”

Nevertheless, administrators maintain that these costs are reasonable trade-offs. In an e-mail, Jensen estimated that it would take approximately 30 seconds to fill up a water bottle at one gpm. “Obviously if students are not getting enough water, we have to do something about that, but these are perfectly fine,” Boyd said.

Solar power

The College has received a $92,670 Commonwealth Solar grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for the installation of a 26.88 kilowatt photovoltaic system in the new library shelving facility. The photovoltaic system is projected to produce 29,559 kilowatt-hours of solar power annually, equivalent to planting 76 trees each year.

“The grant helps a lot in terms of making the solar panels financially viable,” Boyd said. “The payback on photovoltaic systems takes a fairly long time at current electricity rates.” Total costs for the photovoltaic systems will be around $300,000.
The library shelving facility will be located a mile and a half north of campus on Simonds Road and will contain special and otherwise uncirculated materials. Access to the facility will be restricted to library staff.

Dispensed by Massachusetts’s Renewable Portfolio Standard program, the College’s award is one of 16 others amounting to a total of $271,940.