Steamed heat in res halls saves energy, money

Editor’s Note: Throughout the week, TommieMedia addressed green issues on campus and gave insight into the question of “How sustainable is St. Thomas?” Make sure to check out the sustainability page for other green-issue reports.

Minnesota winter is just around the corner. As temperatures drop, residents on campus look forward to turning up the heat. But the process of heating and cooling residence halls is much more complex than flipping a switch.

Freshman residence halls and steamed heat

ThumbnailThe freshman residence halls receive heat from water that is pumped into a steamed converter. Steam is collected from the various boiler rooms, such as the ones under the physical plant and in Murray-Herrick. The steam then travels through a converter and heats water throughout the building.

Sensors on the outside of the buildings control the temperature. So the colder it is outside, the hotter the water is steamed.

Chief engineer Randy Mueller said steamed heat is one of the cheapest options and it also puts out a substantial amount of a lot of heat. He added that a lot of energy is saved using steam.

Mueller said the minimum temperature of the water is 100 degrees and as the outside temperature drops below zero the water can rise to 190 degrees.

“The only way that you can actually control the heat in the rooms is through the dampeners on the radiators,” Mueller said. “Heat rises, so air travels through the bottom of the radiator and goes out the top. If you stop the airflow then you can cut down the heat.”

Residents like freshman Dimitri Angelo find it difficult to control the heat.

“Ireland Hall is such an old building, and our heater doesn’t really function like we’d like it to,” he said. “The knob on the radiator is broken and we can’t turn up the heat all the way.”

Morrison and Flynn work differently

The apartment’s heating and cooling works a bit differently. Each room has a stand-up heating and cooling unit. But the buildings are heated with the hot water pump system, just like the freshman residence halls.

For the warmer seasons, a cooling tower on top of the buildings operates the air-conditioning system by cooling refrigerant with water. The result is cool air which gets pushed through the vents.

In order to save resources, the tower is set to turn off whenever the outside temperature goes below 65 degrees. In the winter, the cooling tower is drained completely because there is no need to cool the buildings.

The main difference in the apartments from freshman residence halls is the use of thermostats, which allow more control over the heating and air conditioning.

Tips to save energy

Everybody can do their part in the residence halls to become more sustainable Mueller said. Whether it is unplugging electrical appliances when not in use or limiting the amount of heat.

“If you can shut it off, that’s the best way to save energy,” Mueller said. “If you leave on the weekend and your dorm room happens to get too warm, just shut your windows and shut your doors.”

Zach Pagano can be reached at