The main campus is heated by steam that is produced by natural gas fired boilers and piped to buildings through utility tunnels. Each building receives steam at a temperature of nearly 300 degrees Fahrenheit and at a regulated pressure of about 60 PSI (pounds per square inch). The plant literally recycles steam -- using 85 to 88 percent of the steam energy that is normally lost as "waste heat".
Steam that has been used (condensed in the system) is circulated as condensate back to the boiler room at the Physical Plant and still contains some heating energy (about 180 - 190 degrees F.). The condensate is converted to steam and brought back up to about 400 degrees F. before being released back into the steam "recycling" system thereby achieving a high level of energy conservation. The steam heating system has other economical advantages. In milder weather, the water temperatures can be lowered to correspond with the weather conditions.
The Weede Building has an independent boiler system in the basement mechanical room, while both the McPherson Building and Timmons Chapel are equipped with electric heating and cooling systems.
The heating system is controlled by a computerized energy management system. A computer terminal, located at the Physical Plant, monitors information from thermostats in individual buildings and controls valves that regulate the flow of steam and heat. It also analyzes flue emissions to key the boilers at peak efficiency.
The plant keeps 40,000 gallons of fuel oil in underground tanks for use if the natural gas supply is curtailed. This reserve would heat the university for four to six days in weather below 30 degrees F. and longer in milder weather.
STEAM TUNNEL DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
Steam is distributed through a system of tunnels beneath the campus. Pipes in the tunnels transport steam throughout the main campus. Temperature of the pipes run as high as 300 degrees F. and therefore present a danger to anyone who is not trained to work in these tunnels.
The Physical Plant has a policy of never allowing a worker to negotiate a steam tunnel alone. Only experienced workers may service a steam tunnel. They must know where the exits are, where the access doors are, and have keys to get through these passages. Anyone not familiar with the tunnels runs the risk of being trapped in a dead-end or a passage blocked by a locked door. A person trapped in the tunnel faces serious consequences if a steam pipe ruptures and releases high-pressure steam.
Because of building security, the Physical Plant must lock access doors between the buildings and the tunnels to prevent unauthorized access. This creates a dangerous situation for anyone without keys. The Physical Plant therefore prohibits unauthorized persons in the tunnels.