Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

How warm was Dixon to save 66% on nat. gas? What's with their water use?

Elmbrook, Energy, TAXES

In an effort to reduce our utility bill, I have been belt tightening at our house thermostat wise but enjoying it less.  (I'm miserable!) I set our thermostat is set at 68 during the day and 50 - 55 at night. Heat vents to the living and dining rooms are closed unless we are using those rooms. For someone (me) who is always cold, even in the summertime, this is a sacrifice. So when I read that Elmbrook was saving money because of their new energy sleuth, the article caught my eye.  

I am all for energy savings--that is why I am trying to conserve at home. However, my efforts are not paying off in the way I expected. Although I am using about 9% less natural gas and electricity, my utility bill is nearly identical to last year's for the same number of days and same average daily temperature of 29 degrees*.

But to save 66% in natural gas usage at Dixon, a new school--presumably with newer, more efficient boilers--I have to wonder what their thermostats were set at during the day, and did they ever turn them down when the building wasn't occupied? The article only mentioned,

So far, the biggest energy savings have come from tightening up heating and cooling schedules in district buildings. Henderson, Ross and the maintenance staff at each of the district’s 13 facilities worked together to re-write automated schedules that regulate building temperatures.

I obtained a district memo dated Oct. 29, 2007 regarding the newer heating/cooling standards. It was from Director of Facilities Management Dave Ross to the Facility [building] Managers and listed the proposed temperatures for the district.

The article stated "Elmbrook has curbed district-wide natural gas consumption by an estimated 30 percent since June 2007..." Since the majority of gas use is for heating, the memo would represent the new temperature guidelines for the heating season those energy savings were based on. There was no mention of nighttime or unoccupied setbacks. All temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheit:

  • Kindergarten 72
  • Elementary Classroom 71
  • Secondary Classrooms 70
  • Gyms/Corridors/Cafeteria 68
  • Shops 68
  • Restrooms 68
  • Administrative Offices 71
  • Pool Water Temperature 80
  • Mechanically Cooled Areas 75 [Air conditioned] 

Some school districts and public buildings are not heating to this extent, sticking instead to the 68 degrees Fahrenheit guideline reminiscent of the Jimmy Carter era. Considering students and teachers are sitting instead of being active, I don't think anything lower than 68 is an option--70 is more reasonable.

Elmbrook already reduced its natural gas consumption by 30% district-wide, the article stated. That made me wonder what the daytime temperatures were prior to 2007-08. At least they are on the right track now. 

Sometimes energy management requires a specific person to investigate; the inspection audits are time consuming. Energy Manager Jim Henderson knows there are more savings to be found. Electricity and lighting seem to be the next target. The article mentioned that energy saving suggestions have come "from staff, students and district residents."

My suggestion would be to look at Dixon Elementary School's water consumption and sewer bill. I stumbled on something puzzling in looking at the budget figures, when I dug out some of my archived Elmbrook budget reports.

I was checking to see if Dixon stood out compared to the other schools in natural gas usage. It did a little bit, considering Dixon and Brookfield El are similarly sized (I'm thinking), and the same age. Brookfield El had budgeted $1,315 less than Dixon for natural gas. Actually, Brookfield El had more students. It was a 22 section school vs. Dixon, a 19.5 section school during the 2007-08 school year. (That means there were more occupied classrooms at Brookfield El than Dixon, which I would interpret as more heated space.)

Then I noticed the proposed water and sewer expenditure amounts: $3,370 for Brookfield El and $8,807 for Dixon. For comparison, Swanson, which has 28 sections (8.5 more than Dixon), had only $4,265 budgeted for the same services. There are many possible scenarios for this usage.

Was Dixon discharging too much heated boiler water in 2007-08, which would account for higher natural gas consumption too? (If so, boiler treatment chemical usage would also be up.) Maybe Dixon had some leaking hot water faucets? That would increase gas and water use. Maybe it was a combination of those problems? It is possible that the changes they made to save 66% in natural gas use also reduced their water consumption.

I am not privy to the actual dollar amounts used, the figures were the proposed budgeted amounts. Anyway, water use is probably another place the district could save some money on at all the schools, especially Dixon.

I wish Energy Manager Jim Henderson and Director Dave Ross well in their energy savings quest. After all, wasted energy dollars are wasted taxpayer dollars...

Utilities cost Elmbrook about $1.6 million annually. Henderson said some experts estimate as much as a third of energy used by school districts is wasted or inefficiently consumed.

Dave Ross, district director of facilities management, said wasted energy represents lost educational funding.

“Our resources are supposed to go toward educating kids, not toward utilities,” Ross said.

P.S. Yesterday, it was announced that Facility Director Dave Ross is leaving Elmbrook this March "for a similar position with the West Bend School District." 

*If my next utility bill does not show better savings, I am returning to my energy policy of last year: Start the day at 68 degrees and when I notice I am too cold, live it up and boost to 69 or 70! 

Please, comment content should relate to the subject of the post. Although I try to respond to many, do not interpret my lack of a response as agreement.



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