Save with a well-planned holiday shutdown for your building


Plan carefully and rally everyone to support the effort

Whether your organization is small or large, whether you shut down for a few days or a few weeks, a strategic switch-off over the holidays can save you money. It's one of the coldest, darkest times of the year, so saving energy on heat and lighting can make a big difference.

Many school districts have adopted holiday shutdowns, with great results:

  • In Langley, turning heat down to 13 degrees and turning off all lights for two weeks across the district's 47 buildings saved $63,000.
  • In Richmond, schools were encouraged to aim for a 25% reduction in energy, estimated at $50,000 cost savings.

To help you plan your holiday shutdown (or a shutdown any time you have an opportunity to seize energy savings), we talked to the energy managers of those school districts: Tracy Blagdon of Richmond, and Debby Sansome of Langley.

Here are their tips for making the most of this opportunity to save.

1. Focus on people

The technical side of a holiday shutdown is relatively straightforward. "Set back the temperature and turn off the lights," says Sansome.

It's the people side that requires attention.

"We're in a deficit situation, so there's a lot of understanding that the more we save, the fewer jobs are lost. Yet there are so many times I walk around and click off lights. Education and behavioural change are huge, and need constant communication."

2. Get the right people talking to each other

Blagdon starts the holiday planning in Richmond by getting relevant stakeholders together. "It's necessary, because we want to make sure we don't step on any toes," she says.

For example, the IT department has some specific equipment they do not want turned off. And custodial services have certain existing instructions about what to switch off, or not.

"Those stakeholder meetings basically make sure that we're communicating the right message to the right groups," says Blagdon.

3. Understand everyone's needs

While school children are away during the school break, other activities are sometimes scheduled. During Richmond's shutdown, heat is programmed to go on if community groups have rented space.

Likewise, maintenance plans are programmed into the schedule so there's adequate building ventilation during cleaning times. "We get lists from both our custodial services and our rentals department, then work very closely with the HVAC department to schedule around anomalies," says Blagdon.

4. Reschedule activities where possible

In Langley, the human resources and facilities departments collaborated to encourage staff to use vacation time and shift work away from the shutdown period.

"We encourage them to use their time off, to get a rest and then come back happy, healthy, and terrific," says Sansome. "There were a few that did come in to work, but with the consideration that they would not have the same comfort levels that they normally have."

5. Heat where necessary — and reassure everyone

Rallying everyone to support the savings effort was successful in both Richmond and Langley, say the energy managers. However, flexibility was key.

"If we had anyone who was really resistant, of course we would provide heat," says Sansome. "It was not something we could mandate. It was more a case of, 'help the district save money.'"

Blagdon says continual communication and reassurance was critical. "That's a big part of our process, communicating that we're not trying to have people freezing and sitting in the dark. We're just putting a focus on conservation, turning things off when we don't need them," she says.

6. Encourage individual participation

To gain even more savings, Blagdon sends information to all stakeholders about the ways that individuals can help make a difference.

"We give them reminders to turn off lights and equipment that they use. We give them a bit of a checklist, communicated in a really friendly, upbeat way. And we put in some messaging about the school district's big goal, and how the shutdown will help."

7. Tell the story

To encourage support and provide reminders, Blagdon collects photos of what people have done (or not) to support the shutdown. In one location, staff had emptied, opened and unplugged a fridge. But in another, she snapped a photo of a photocopier left on all summer.

"Things that actually make visual what you are trying to communicate can be helpful," she says.

She also tracks how each site performs. "We had one site where we could tell there were no [temperature] setbacks. It actually used more natural gas because there was no thermal load, no people in there to help heat it up."

The photos and examples will become part of her storytelling this year to encourage district-wide participation.

"Shutting off equipment is so important; the savings are dramatic," she comments. "It's one of the easiest ways to save money without negatively impacting anyone."