Project Ideas

The following are ideas for the Green EDGE Fund. They have yet to be fully developed, but we'd like to consider funding them in the future. Feel free to add your own ideas, no details necessary!! You're also welcome to develop any of these ideas into full-fledged proposals to be submitted to the board!

Have an idea for and EDGE Fund Project?

Efficiency loans:

Dual-flush Toilets: Dual-Flush toilets can save water.  Oberlin is already equipped with high efficiency toilets, at 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf), but steady replacement of such toilets with a 1.6/.8-gpf dual flush option will save money and water. However, disposal of old toilets presents a waste management problem that compromises the sustainability of this type of investment.- Kevin Hu

Socket and Light Switch Insulation: Air leaks in buildings cause a tremendous amount of heat/cold air loss, requiring the school to spend more money to keep these buildings heated in the winter and cool in the summer. A quick and affordable way to minimize this leakage is to insulate electrical sockets and light switch plates. These are areas where a relatively minimal amount of leakage occurs, but there are enough in each room in each building to contribute a substantial amount of leakage.To insulate these areas, a foam gasket can be installed by simply removing the outlet or light switch plate and punch out the appropriate pieces of the foam cutout to make the gasket fit snugly to your plate. Then replace the plate and the job is done.

Each gasket can be purchased for $.10, and can be most easily purchased online. Most large home improvement supply chains unfortunately do not sell foam gaskets, which makes purchasing slightly more difficult. Websites such as Good Common Sense ( and Energy Federation Incorporated ( sell these products.
While it is difficult to estimate the total energy savings from this project due to the large number of outlets and light switches in campus dorms, given the project's low cost this would be a worthwhile investment for the fund to investigate. - Madeline Marvar

Hallway Lighting Motion Detection System: The four dormitories of Lord, Saunders, Harvey and Price each consume a much greater amount of electricity per capita than any other dormitories on campus. While there are many potential explanations for this extreme energy consumption, a simple walk-through of Lord and Saunders dormitories proves that the hallway lights in these two dormitories are left on at all hours, and there are no light switches to control the hallway lights. Many other dorms on campus have motion detection systems that regulate the lighting in hallways. These motion detection systems are generally very effective, and allow for the lights to be off for the majority of any given night or other time when the dormitory is unoccupied; hence, this retrofit could produce significant energy savings. - Maya Shulman-Ment   

Efficient Washers: Students often complain about the ineffectiveness of the washers in dorms. By purchasing energy efficient washers, the College could assuage these complaints while saving money and energy. Specifically, the College could potentially save around 6,360 kwh/year by installing 100 energy star washers. Unfortunately, disposal of the old washers presents a sustainability concern- it seems environmentally and economically unjust to dispose of functional washers. Thus, perhaps they could be recycled or reused. Additionally, I have ignored the possibility of installing new dryers along with the washers, which would likely produce further savings. Finally, all of the data are estimates, and have a high degree of uncertainty. -Amanda Goldstein

Solar Water Heater: A solar water heater could be installed in the SEED House. Solar Water Heaters are a cost effective way to generate hot water for a home. They can be used in any climate and are fueled by sunlight. At the most basic level, solar water heaters use solar energy to heat water. The system is comprised of solar thermal collectors and a fluid system to move the heat from the collector to its point of usage. The systems use electricity for pumping fluid, and have a reservoir tank for heat storage and subsequent use.
The installation of the Solar Water Heater has the potential to significantly reduce SEED House’s dependence on non-renewable sources while simultaneously saving money on energy utilities. Currently, water heating accounts for nearly 25% of the total energy used in a typical single-family home. Moreover, the U.S. Department of Energy reports installation of a solar water heating system should result in drops of the water heating bills by 50-80%.  Finally, these systems can even see returns on investment that range from the general rate of 5% to rates as high as 14%.  –
Christopher Rice

Steam Traps: One of the primary sources of energy consumption is the central heating plant. Steam produced at the central plant is piped throughout the Oberlin Campus to heat individual buildings. While this is an efficient system design, there are currently many issues with the implementation of the system. One such problem is many of the steam traps at specific building locations are broken. Steam traps are mechanical devices located at the point where steam pipes enter each building. They are designed to remove water condensation and air from the pipes while retaining the steam. Water needs to be removed because it can significantly reduce heat transfer and cause problems with the steam device. Air similarly reduces heat transfer, although to a lesser extent, and can cause corrosion. When steam traps fail, the valve that releases both air and water from the system begin to continuously leak steam.  This obviously wastes a large quantity of energy. This issue is especially problematic because in Oberlin, steam is produced through burning coal, which is one of the primary producers of carbon emissions in the United States. According to Nathan Engstrom, sustainability coordinator for Oberlin College, enough steam traps are broken on campus to employ someone full time for 6 months replacing them. This proposal addresses EDGE funding of some replacements, although it is possible that the traps will be replaced even without these funds. -Tim Ballard

Light-level Sensors: My idea is to install light-level sensors in the front entrance room of Phillips Gym.  The particular model I had in mind was PW-200 Watt Stopper light-level sensors that cover 900 sq. feet each, have 180 degree view, and can have load sizes between 0-1200W each.  I calculated that over the course of the year, Philips uses 513 lights that use 11.847kW in these areas unnecessarily for 3,508 hours annually, which totals at 41,559.276kWh of electricity used needlessly given the large capacity for natural lighting from all of the window space they have in those rooms.  I assumed in the calculations that daylight hours over the year averaged between 6am and 6pm.  At 11 cents per kWh, the college is wasting approximately $4,571.52 per year, or roughly $380.96 per month, to use these lights in naturally well-lit rooms during daylight hours. The light level sensors (10) and power packs needed to run them (5), would run about $1,546.40, not including shipping, labor, and wiring expenses.  Excluding those costs, the simple payback for the project would be about 4.06 months, and the warranty (project-life) of the sensors is 5 years. Over 5 years, the college would save $21,311.20 with the upfront cost of the equipment factored in (not including labor, shipping, or other unforeseen expenses).  Once installed, minimal maintenance should be necessary.  The sensors can be programmed to turn lights on or off independent of light levels (after hours the light sensors and lights can be switched off and vice versa). I have the calculations I used if we go forward with this project. There may be better models that exist for this space at lower total cost, but the load sizes were not described for them.  Even if installation was equal to the price of the units and shipping, the payback would still be well under a year's time, and save the college 10's of thousands of dollars. I suggest we contact Watt Stoppers to figure out what works best for the space before moving forward with this project.  The savings can be monitored by checking the electricity bills and usage from years prior to and after installation. -Josh Laufer

Variable Intensity Lighting: I'd like to install variable intensity lighting in all of the dorm rooms, because I rarely felt that I needed to use all of the light, or desired less light than the full light brightness.  Once adjustable lighting is installed, it could give students the option to turn the light on all the way, or simply turn it on partway if that's what they want.  This, combined with a program to encourage students to reduce their light use, they can still use the lights in their room but can attempt to work with less light.  This could potentially result in a campus wide reduction in electricity use by one of the biggest consumers, lighting.
The costs would mostly involve the installation costs, and then replacement of the light bulbs as they expire.  Most of the costs would come from installation. You'd need new light bulbs, and you'd also need to install new  light switches in every room where you installed the variable intensity lighting. To monitor total energy savings, the best way would probably be to attach energy monitors to the lights in a select few rooms, sufficient for statistical sampling of Oberlin students, to measure their reductions in energy use, and then extrapolate to college wide energy reductions.  You could also use lights with specific settings, like 10%, 30%, 50% intensity, up to 100%, and then survey students on what settings they use most often, and then extrapolate that survey to the whole college. -Theo Reuter

Sustainability grants:

Kill-a-Watt Distribution: The objective of this project would be to provide every Oberlin student with the use of a Kill-a-Watt (energy monitoring device) for a month.  While the Campus Resources Monitoring System currently provide real-time statistics about energy usage to students, this information is available only as a per person average based on an aggregate for a given dorm.  Also, not all dorms and few of the living co-ops are included in the monitoring system.  Providing students with a Kill-a-Watt would allow students to monitor their personal energy usage and take appropriate conservation measures to reduce electricity consumption. -Erica Bishop

Rooftop Gardens: An idea for the Green Edge fund's consideration is funding rooftop gardens. Rooftop gardens offer a variety of benefits: should food be grown, these gardens would support local (and hopefully organic) urban food production, they would improve air quality and reduce carbon dioxide in the air, prevent a portion of stormwater runoff, create new habitats for birds, and contribute to the community. Depending on the size and number of these gardens, students and faculty could work together to plant seeds, care for the plots, and monitor growth and production. It would be a nice compliment to the much larger, but further away, George Jones Farm and perhaps could work in conjunction with each other. It would also be an immediate depository for any compost generated on campus. Such gardens would, I’m sure, inspire other home/building owners in the Oberlin area to do the same.
The energy benefit of such a project results from increased insulation. The building that houses a rooftop garden will be able to conserve electricity, and therefore money, by reducing the need for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. A reduction in electricity use will, of course, offset the carbon dioxide otherwise emitted from coal combustion at the power plant. -Sarah

Shower Timers: Limiting shower time is a way to reduce energy consumption and to promote an ethic of conservation.  People often take long showers with warm to hot water.  Thus more water and energy are consumed than is usually needed to clean one’s self which, in turn drains the community of its water resources and the college’s financial budget.  A shower timer is a low cost method of awakening people to their water and energy usage. There are different types of shower timers.  A simple version is a five-minute glass sand timer that attaches to the shower wall. The cost for one such tool on is $4.95. Using a five-minute glass of sand is a simple clear and non-intrusive way of recording shower length.  Some shower timers cut off water automatically at a certain time.  This may produce a negative response from people who conserve water but sometimes feel the need to use the shower to relax (such as at the end of the work week).  In addition, the simplicity of the instrument makes it straightforward, not intimidating and easy to replace. Just turn the hourglass.  Also some may find the timer useful in scheduling their overall day. An important thing to note is that this proposal places an emphasis on conservation over efficiency.  While efficiency is important, the shower timer depends on conscious conservation put into practice.  This has the potential to make the individual continue to think about their role in their ecosystem while empowering them with the satisfaction that energy saved was attributed to them not a technology. - Marcelino Echeverria
Solatubes: The objective of this project is to install Solatubes in a trial classroom in King to demonstrate the viability and value of advanced passive daylighting systems for Oberlin College.  The Solatube is a natural lighting product (akin to a hi-tech skylight) that has proven to save schools money while increasing the educational performance and happiness of their students.  Both Hiram College and the Kendal Retirement Community have installed Solatubes and have been so pleased with their performance that they installed more.  Once the initial installation proves successful, it is my hope that Solatubes will be atop the roofs of buildings throughout the campus, academic and residential alike. - Daniel Abramson 

Mobile Device Solar Chargers: We are interested in purchasing six Brunton Solaris 26 foldable solar panels to be made available for check-out from Mudd Library  and the Wilder Main Desk (each would have three available). The panels when folded are about 8.5" x 11" and 1" thick - basically the size of a large notebook - and weigh 28 ounces, making them very portable. When unfolded to 21" x 37.5" in the sunlight they can either run a laptop or significantly extend its battery life, depending on the computer's power requirements, or be used to charge cell phones, mp3 players, and other small devices. They are said to be fairly forgiving in less-than-ideal sunlight conditions and multiple panels can be connected to provide extra power. -Samantha Link and Ian Martin

Expanded Composting Program: Right now, there's one compost tumbler on North campus that is generally underused. This is partly because of a lack of education and publicizing among students and staff and because of the location strictly on north campus. I'm proposing a two-part plan to increase the use of composting. First, I propose installing a second tumbler on South campus, to meet more of the entire campus' needs. Having a conveniently located machine in multiple parts of campus will help increase composting use. Since the machines are self-standing, the addition of this machine will not increase energy use. Second, I propose increasing awareness and education for the composting program here by distributing flyers and other educational materials throughout campus and hiring someone to act as the point person/liason to work with the college organizations (in implementation, education, and maintenance) to increase utilization by the college (in Stevenson, Dascomb, etc.). The increase in composting will mean that there is more compost to use for the green spaces around campus as well. A big part of the college's current waste is compostable food waste, so the results could be monitored by looking at the energy bills from food waste in the major eating establishments on campus. -Louisa Berger

Recycling Containers: Recycling containers are not a flashy new technology, but the current state of recycling containers could be improved!  Often, one walks around and only finds trashcans outside.  I propose installation of recycling containers next to all trash containers that are larger than 30 quarts (about the size of a personal trash can or the ones in King classrooms). The locations I have noticed that lack recycling containers: outside the Mudd ramp, outside Wilder (porch and sidewalk), Science Center courtyard, along North Quad (Science Center entrance, in front of Burton, Barrows), in front of North/Langston, in front of Stevenson, anywhere inside or around the gym, at the Athletic fields and stadiums, and outside of Peters and King. Installation of additional recycling containers  should be accompanied by signage about what can and cannot be recycled, specifically that #1 and 2 can be recycled (plastic bottles) and that DeCafe containers, dirty cardboard, styrofoam and Saran wrap cannot be recycled. The addition of recycling containers would add maintenance costs and would add work for the janitorial staff.  Signage would be a much smaller cost: designing the signs, printing and laminating them, attaching them.  If students design and attach the signs, the only cost is the printing. I'm not sure of our current volume of recycling versus waste, but assuming that the total amount of products consume did not change dramatically, I would assume that it would be fairly simple to collect data on the trends in recycling and waste volume over time as recycling containers were added.  Most facilities pay tipping fees for waste disposal at the landfill, so if nothing else, we could track the weight of waste and the expected savings in tipping fees as the weight of waste decreases. -Kate Zipin

Solar PV: While Oberlin is well-know for the solar PV installation at the AJLC, it is about time we created some more renewable generation on campus. PV panels are best suited flat roofs where they can be easily maintained and adjusted to the appropriate tilt. Using a relatively high estimated cost of parts and labor of $8 per watt, a 5 kW system could be installed for $40,000. Since the current average market price for panels alone is  $4.31 per watt, it is unlikely for a system to cost more than $8/watt. Based on the energy production of the Lewis Center array, a 5kW system in NE Ohio is likely to generate roughly 5,000 kWh per year. This is worth about $422 at Oberlin electric rates. Over the 25-year lifespan of the project--provided energy prices do not rise--it would generate ~$10,550 in revenue. The inverters would probably have to be replaced at least once over the life of the system, costing roughly $5000. Thus, the total cost would be ~$45,000 and the total benefits would be ~$10,550. In simple terms, this means solar electricity would cost 4 times as much as we currently pay. However, CO2 savings from the project would be in the range of ~140 tons. Net metering would, of course, be fairly simple to set up. -Tim Ballard

Bike Shelters: Many Oberlin students have bikes on campus. Encouraging the use of bikes is important in Oberlin's path to sustainability. While the college discourages bringing personal motor vehicles to campus, little effort is seen to promote green transportation, such as bikes. My project idea is for the college to work with the Bike Co-op in Keep to construct bike shelters. Weather conditions such as heavy rain or snow can ruin bikes. Even at a simpler level, students might be discouraged to use their bikes if the bike seats are wet and uncomfortable. After talking to students with or without bikes, I realize that many students express concern about their investment in bikes, if the bikes are not sheltered in severe weather conditions. This presents a disincentive for the purchase and use of bikes on campus. Although I do not know the cost of constructing roofs over bike racks, I know that the bike co-op has looked into building bike shelters last year. An environmental student has done a study on the feasibility, but I do not know the details. In addition, it would be hard to quantify the benefits in monetary terms. But perhaps, we can check with the Security Office on the number of registered bikes on campus after shelters are introduced. One thing to note is that the benefit of bike shelters is higher if we count in positive externalities. If fewer students bring their own cars to the campus, they will save money on gas and emit less air pollution. Less gas also means less generation of electricity using coal, so environmental impacts at the power plants and at the coal mining sites will be reduced. Therefore, this project may sound more feasible if externalities are internalized. -Ei-Phyo Han