Dining Hall Energy Efficiency

Dining Hall Energy Efficiency at St. Lawrence University

By:  Ms. Erin Waters


There is a surge in colleges and universities across the United States looking to decrease their carbon footprint and increase sustainable practices on their campuses.  St. Lawrence University prides itself on lying in the foothills of the Adirondacks and often boasts of the beautiful landscape in admissions resources.  The song “A Tribute” describes this university as “Nestling ‘neath the purple shadows of the Adirondack hills”, and so this image of the outdoors often draws students as well (A Tribute, 2013; Holland, 2018).  This image of environmentalism sometimes translates into environmental actions such as the 2007 construction of the Johnson Hall of Science, which was the first LEED Gold building in the State of New York.  Kirk Douglas Hall was also constructed with the intent of being more environmentally friendly; powered by geothermal energy it opened in 2014 (Green Design, 2017; Kirk and Anne Douglas, 2016).  On the other hand, sometimes other, less visible but just as important areas of sustainability get overlooked such as energy efficiency within the main dining hall and its satellites.

This proposal will address some of the steps that St. Lawrence University can take to become as sustainable as possible.  These measures are important because they can help reduce the schools carbon footprint, will reduce energy costs, and will make the school even more attractive to perspective students looking for a school connected to the outdoors.

Within the 2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, the most energy intensive building type was food service, with much of this energy used for space heating, refrigeration, lighting, cooking and heating water (“U.S. Energy Information,” 2016).  This statistic not only emphasizes the importance of conserving energy from an environmental standpoint, but also becomes a guide for the most intensive uses, and offers starting points for what St. Lawrence University needs to address.  Currently, St. Lawrence University implements some sustainable practices into their dining facilities such as not using dining trays, which reduces water consumption because they need to be washed, and food waste, because people will not get as much food if they cannot carry it all.  The dining hall also uses air cooled ice machines and composts organic food waste.


St. Lawrence University will need to replace equipment that becomes worn out over time. Many appliances become less efficient with age, and are more likely to break which can be expensive for the University when they are replaced, and so it is important to invest in the newest, most reliable, and efficient technologies.  In order to maximize the lifespan as well as the efficiency of appliances, proper maintenance is vital.  ENERGY STAR appliances offer a good starting point because their goal is to maximize sustainability without compromising the quality or effectiveness of the product.  Along with changing lights over to LED bulbs within the dining hall, there are several specific appliances such as refrigerators and freezers, ice machines, stove tops, and fryers that feature efficient technological options that are worth considering.

Refrigeration and freezer units require significant amounts of energy to operate and one of the easiest ways to minimize energy waste is to make sure that it is the correct size for the quantity of food that needs to be stored and have properly sealed doors and flooring.  When it comes time to replace the walk-in refrigerators and freezers on the St. Lawrence University campus, it will be important to invest in the most recent technologies because the standards are constantly changing.  Between 2009 and 2014 the standards for commercial refrigerators and freezers increased in efficiency by 30 percent (6 Energy Saving Tips, n.d.). It is also important to look into microchannel systems which are able to exchange heat much more efficiently than traditional tube and fin condensers (Yun, 2006).

Along with refrigeration systems, ice machines also use a substantial amount of energy.  There are two main types: air cooled, which is significantly more energy and water efficient, and water cooled systems, which use more water and energy.  St. Lawrence currently has air cooled ice machines and it is important that the school continues to invest in these types in the future to meet their efficiency goals.  Water cooled systems can be tempting because they are quieter than air cooled ones; however, ENERGY STAR will only approve air cooled ones which are, on average, 20 percent more efficient than unapproved models (Commercial Ice Makers, n.d.).

Smart burners, intended to provide a more even heat and reduce cooking fires, have the unintended benefit of decreasing energy consumption because the element is able to retain heat better (SmartBurner™, n.d.).  This should be implemented in all of the stoves across campus because they both increase safety for the workers, but they will help reduce energy consumption.  When replacing stoves and ovens, it is important that their replacements are ENERGY STAR certified in order to minimize energy usage (Commercial Ovens, n.d.).

Heating Systems

Dana Dining Hall is an older building and so it is not the most energy efficient building, because it was not built using current efficiency standards.  Space heating is one of the most energy intensive processes for commercial buildings; there are a lot of places for improvement (“U.S. Energy Information,” 2016). One of the most effective strategies is to decrease the overall energy needed to heat the space.  There are a number of effective strategies, including refurbishing insulation and airflow, to implementing passive solar design principles that will improve efficiency when the dining hall is remodeled (Passive Solar Design, n.d.).

On a shorter timescale, increasing the R-value, or the capacity for a material to resist heat flow, of the windows by either using double or triple- pane with argon or krypton gas inserted in between the panels, will improve the insulation in Dana Dining Hall.  There is also the option of adding a glaze to tint the glass which can reduce heat buildup.  While these two options are available separately, combining the added insulation and tint produces the best results (Ogden Publications, n.d.). Insulating the walls of the dining hall by blowing insulation into an empty wall cavity or adding insulation sheathing underneath the siding could improve energy efficiency (Insulation, n.d.). The doors in the dining hall are opened a lot, especially during high intensity periods, such as dinner rush, throughout the day. During these times, this lets in a lot of cool air increasing heating costs.  Sealing the doors properly and maintaining the double door setup in future renovations would increase efficiency of the dining hall (ENERGY STAR Building Manual, Ch. 9 p. 10).

            The boiler systems that heat Sykes and Dana Dining Hall will soon need to be upgraded because they are both old.  The average lifespan for a boiler is around 25 years and so when they are replaced, it is important to carefully consider the most efficient option because it is a long term investment (ENERGY STAR Building Manual, Ch. 9 p. 12).  Until it is time to fully replace the boiler system, the multiple boiler approach, installing a smaller high efficiency boiler for primary use and using the older boiler only with high demand, could be a stepping-stone towards a more efficient system. Additionally, insulating hot water lines and making sure that the optimal temperature is decreased during periods of low intensity use, such as winter break, is also important (ENERGY STAR Building Manual, Ch. 9 p. 12-13).  When it is time to fully replace the system, continuing the multiple boiler approach would maintain efficiency because small gas-fired hot water boilers are the most efficient with a thermal efficiency of at least 95.0 percent (Purchasing Energy Efficient Boilers, 2016).  It would also be possible to capture excess heat from production to preheat hot water, which could help to utilize thermal energy that would otherwise go to waste (Maximizing Waste Heat Recovery, 2017).

Waste Management

Reducing hot water consumption goes hand in hand with a reduction in energy because water heaters account for about 17 percent of  energy usage in homes (#Ask Energy Saver, n.d.). The first step in reducing hot water consumption is to reduce the use of water to an absolute minimum.  This means making sure that the sinks have low flow faucets, which can reduce flow from 2.5 gallons per minute to 2.0 or 1.5 gallons per minute.  One important note with this change is that it can be frustrating when trying to fill pots, and so it is important to designate sinks where a high flow rate is important and then use low flow faucets for the rest of them (Choose a Low Flow, n.d.).  Another way to reduce hot water usage is to upgrade to ENERGY STAR certified dishwashers which can save up to 40 percent in energy and water usage (Commercial Dishwashers, n.d.).

The next step in reducing energy costs associated with water heaters is to insulate everything.  Just like many of the other appliances and the boiler systems, a lot of thermal energy is lost, which means that much of the heat escapes and the boiler must work harder to maintain the temperature.  Insulating the water tank could reduce heat loss by up to 45 percent because Dana Dining Hall has an older water heating system, (Savings Project, n.d.).  Adding additional insulation to both the water heater and the hot water pipes is a very easy and cost effective way to decrease energy usage.  Ultimately, when it is time to buy a new water heater, it will be important to get one with a high R-value so that all of this extra insulation is not necessary.

When the time comes to replace the water heating system, there are several improvements that will increase efficiency.  The first, previously mentioned in the “Heating Systems” section, is to link up the boiler system with the water heater to recapture any excess thermal energy from the boiler (ENERGY STAR Building Manual, Ch. 9 p. 12).  Another option, tankless water heaters, are a more recent addition to the market. These are much more efficient because they are not on standby, constantly maintaining the temperature in a tank even when hot water is not in use.  One of the major problems with this is the limited flow rate from the smaller capacity of the tankless water heater.  In such a large commercial space like the Northstar Café or Dana Dining Hall this could be a real problem, and so it is possible to use a tankless water heater in conjunction with a smaller traditional storage tank to offset some of the demands (Tankless or Demand- Type, n.d.).  As it becomes a more developed product, tankless water heaters might become vital in decreasing energy consumption for St. Lawrence University.

Waste to Energy

Globally, 1.3 billion tons of food each year, approximately one third of all of the food produced, gets wasted (Key Facts on Food Loss, n.d.).  This results in millions of tons of produce sitting in landfills, and so companies around the world have developed ways to turn that waste into energy.  Through the process of anaerobic digestion, bacteria releases methane, which can be burned to heat water, to turn a turbine, and create energy.  A product like the Flexibuster from SEAB Energy can utilize organic waste and turn it into heat, hot water, and electricity, which means that St. Lawrence could save money on both waste removal and on energy production (SEAB Energy, n.d.). SEAB Energy Company estimates that one cubic meter of waste creates one household unit of power, and so an investment like this could put a meaningful dent in the carbon footprint of St. Lawrence University (SEAB Energy, n.d.).


In talking about energy usage in a dining hall, it is also important to address the problem of the transportation of food and waste.  It has been shown that requiring vendors to shut off engines during deliveries decreasing both greenhouse gas and noise pollution and so St. Lawrence could implement and enforce this policy (“Eco-Friendly Initiatives,” 2018).  As easy as it is to overlook the effects of transportation of foods to campus, it is an important part of its footprint and so it is important for the school to move towards local alternatives.


Technologies are constantly changing and so it is possible that over time some of the changes proposed here might become obsolete while others may become increasingly feasible within only a couple of years. However, many of the suggestions, such as increases in insulation, are important to implement sooner rather than later because even as technologies change, insulation will always be a key factor in minimizing energy consumption.  The commitment to sustainability requires constant assessment and reassessment at what works and what does not, along with the ability for the St. Lawrence University community to adapt and change to new resources (“ENERGY STAR guidelines,” n.d.).  Ultimately, the school committed to reaching the goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 because they feel that “as an institution of higher education of some privilege we have an obligation to lead by action to mitigate climate change” (St. Lawrence University Climate Action Plan, n.d.).  Ultimately, it will take many small steps for St. Lawrence University to decrease its carbon emissions and these are just a few of the options.  St. Lawrence has the chance to become a leader in sustainability by investing in new technologies, like waste to energy systems, that will help the school preserve the beautiful landscape that this school calls home.


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