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Freshman Fights for Cooler Rooms

Minnesotan advocates lower temperatures for comfort and to save energy costs

By Evan H. Jacobs, Contributing Writer

Henry M. Cowles ’08 just wants to be able to wear his sweater collection indoors.

The Minnesotan was so frustrated by the unnecessarily steamy weather inside his Greenough suite that he has launched an effort to knock dorm temperatures down by 10 degrees, a move he says would save Harvard in energy costs.

But student opposition and Cambridge regulations has derailed his plan.

Harvard Yard Operations policy calls for student rooms to be kept at 68 degrees during the day and 64 degrees at night, but Cowles said this is too warm.

“It’s really a concern for the environment,” he said. “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should be able to parade around in boxer shorts in the middle of the winter.”

Cowles sent an e-mail in October to Harvard Yard Operations and the student-run Environmental Action Committee stating his case, and distributed the e-mail to fellow freshmen as well.

“I believe, and I think many would agree with me, that winter is a time to buck up, and if you are cold, to put on a sweater,” Cowles wrote in the proposal. “I truly believe that not only would a lowering of the standard temperatures to, say, 56 degrees daytime, 53 degrees nighttime be of good fiscal and environmental consequence, but it would also ‘jolt’ people into realizing that, yes, they might have to wear a sweater all day in the winter.”

“I was definitely hoping that it would catalyze some discussion of the issue,” he said yesterday.

But though Cowles thinks a silent majority might agree with him that dorms are too warm, most of the reaction has been decidedly negative.

“There were some people who said, ‘You’re crazy,’” he said.

He said that he recognizes that people from different climates hold very different views of what temperature is optimal. “Coming from Minnesota, 68 is excessive. To others, it seems very normal.”

Brian S. Gillis ’07, the founder and president of the Students For California Relocation of Harvard University, a group that boasts 865 members, called the proposal “ridiculous.”

“If we have heat in our dorm rooms, it at least creates the illusion that we are somewhere tropical,” he said. “All good things have heat. Sex, California—they all have heat. Harvard dorm rooms should too.”

Student opposition aside, Cowles’ quest may face an insurmountable hurdle, according to Richard L. Picott, manager of Freshman Dorms for Yard Operations. “The city of Cambridge has stipulations of minimum temperature. This goes way back to the days of rent control.”

He said these regulations require rooms to be kept at 68 degrees during the day and 64 degrees at night.

A computerized program called Insight runs the heating units in 14 freshman dorms, including Greenough. The system monitors temperature both outside the building and in some rooms, and then uses this data to set the temperature of the hot water that heats each room. Picott said that the system has been in use for 10 years, and has been fine-tuned to provide very effective results.

“Most of the complaints we get are that the buildings are too cold,” he said, but added that when they check room temperature, “usually, it’s over 68 degrees, [and] we rarely get readings that are over 70.”

Picott said Yard Ops was always available to listen to student feedback, but couldn’t meet the demands of individual students like Cowles.

For his part, Cowles “would like to pursue a larger discussion” of energy conservation on campus, “even though it’s not feasible to lower the health code.”

“I think that as a general rule, people would agree that we should use less energy and put a sweater on,” he said.

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