Is Keeping Cool Worth the Cost?

“What? The school is definitely colder than that.” That’s how three different Hockaday students responded when I informed them that the school is always set to cool between 69 and 72.5 degrees Fahrenheit. And with home thermostats typically set at 78 degrees, this reaction is not surprising. It is hard for us to acclimate to a temperature so much lower than what we are used to.

While the school may define 72.5 degrees as a comfortable temperature, to us students, 72.5 means wearing a double layer of sweatshirts and hauling fleece blankets to school. The freezing temperature at Hockaday threatens our comfort, and there is a simple, essential solution—Hockaday must turn down its air conditioning.

This is a matter of worldly importance. Air conditioners run fully on electricity, and electricity comes from burning coal, which is the fossil fuel that emits the largest amount of climate-warming gases when burned. Since widespread household electricity use began in the 1880s, the U.S. National Surface Temperature has increased by 0.2 degrees Celsius, and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that will continue to rise another 1 to 6 degrees Celsius within the next 100 years.

A warmer earth will result in flooding in some areas of the earth and drought in others, changes likely to wipe out entire species. Don’t worry, though. Global Warming can be stopped if we significantly limit use of fossil fuels within the next decade. Hockaday seems to be adamant in executing environment-saving duties– Hockaday even installed a Building Management HVAC system (BMS) that automatically pauses heating and cooling in unused spaces and helps limit emissions– so then why are we disregarding an issue that is so easy to solve? Simply pressing the “up” button on the thermostat a few degrees will even more significantly limit emissions. And that is far simpler than emptying recycling bins during our free periods or installing electric car chargers.

But we are also throwing away our money. Hockaday spent over $245,000 on air conditioning expenses in 2011. Given that 74 percent of the annual budget comes from tuition and bookstore revenue, nearly $181,000 a year comes straight from our parents’ pockets! That is a lot of money we are wasting. While Hockaday has limited some energy costs by installing high-performing insulation and the BMS, by adjusting the thermostat to a more comfortable temperature, we could limit costs even more. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, if Hockaday changes the thermostat to a more reasonable 77 degrees during the roughly six hot months of the year, air conditioning expenses will drop nearly $17,000—almost a 14 percent decrease in cost. Hockaday could spend that on even more energy-saving technology, more comfortable chairs or higher-quality laptops. All from just a few degrees difference.

So now that we’re throwing away the environment and our money, we might as well also throw away the most important thing to us: our grades. Assessing a worker’s output, efficiency and accuracy at different temperatures, a study at Cornell University has found that people work most productively at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, with 100 percent output and only a 10 percent error rate, while each degree lower lessens our productivity significantly—down to  54 percent output and 25 percent errors at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. So we are prevented by our own school from doing our best.

Turning down Hockaday’s air conditioning would benefit everything from your personal comfort to the entire world. Save yourself! Save the world! Write letters to administration and maintenance; inform others of this detrimental issue we all unknowingly ignore. With one simple press of a button, we can change everything.