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Night audits save energy and money for Chilliwack schools

Image of Dale Churchill, Chilliwack School District
Dale Churchill believes in finding new ways to fight energy costs, and isn't afraid to challenge traditional thinking, such as leaving lights on all night long.

Hidden energy savings are found at night

Three times a year, Dale Churchill waits until 2 a.m., then gets in his truck and goes to school. The director of facilities and transportation (energy manager) for the Chilliwack School District, Churchill is on the hunt for savings.

"I do a slow drive by to make sure all our systems are out," he says. Once a year, his visit takes him inside the buildings as well. "When I'm inspecting inside, I listen for the 'hum of money.' If I go in there I can feel if the heat is on, or hear if there are fans on, or our mechanical system is running, or find computers or lights that are left on."

"Night audits" like those conducted by Churchill can be an easy way for energy managers to reduce energy costs: turning things off when they're not needed. For facilities as extensive as a school district, they can make a big difference.

Of course, night audits won't be a fit for every business. Always consider safety concerns around entering facilities after hours, and check with your safety and security teams to ensure that a similar audit would work for your business.

"Dark campus" saves on vandalism as well as energy

Churchill first heard of the "dark campus" concept from energy management colleagues in Washington in 2001. He was then director of facilities and transportation (energy manager) for the Abbotsford School District at the time (and has done the same job in Mission too).

"When I was in Abbotsford, we were getting a fair amount of vandalism at some sites," he says. "Everyone's philosophy was, 'Light it up, then they won't vandalize your schools.' But lighting up the schools was not working so we decided to turn everything off. After a year, I did two case studies and we reduced 40 and 50 per cent in vandalism costs. Let alone the savings on the electrical side."

Churchill says vandals like plenty of light to "perform," producing graffiti while friends hang around and watch. Without light, there's no performance. He has now instituted dark campus practices at three school districts, with consistently positive results.

Night audits support workplace conservation behaviour campaigns

The Chilliwack School District has instituted a variety of energy saving measures, including new technologies and a Strategic Energy Management Plan. With 34 buildings and more than 155,000 square meters of space, the District has reduced consumption from 10 million kilowatt hours a year to below eight million, using BC Hydro programs and incentives to achieve its goals. Says Churchill, "Hydro has been a great partner and they've done a lot of funding with us."

The District has adopted no-cost and low-cost measures as well. The night audits support a workplace conservation behaviour program strongly supported by custodians, who have become accustomed to switching on lights only in the area they're working, rather than having all lights on at once. Checking facilities at 2:00 on a Sunday morning identifies where staff may have forgotten, or where technology has failed, such as direct digital controls that are supposed to shut things off automatically.

"It's huge; it's amazing what you discover," says Churchill. "It's worth its weight in gold. As soon as I come in the next morning I issue work orders to our electricians for wherever we've got problems, and I let managers know of problems, to identify where we need training, or to bring [energy conservation] to everyone's attention."

Churchill says his motivation comes from knowing that school budgets are limited and the dark campus program is so cost-effective.

"I do it because I have a real passion for it, and to me it's free money," he says. "It puts more dollars back into the classroom, more dollars back into upgrades. It's just a very inexpensive way of reducing some costs.

"It's also, I think, a part of stewardship of our planet and what we're supposed to do. I feel pretty strongly about that."