A new energy-saving campaign is targeting scientific researchers on campus. By one simple action — closing laboratory fume hoods — they can save an astounding amount of electricity, and contribute to UBC’s ambitious sustainability goals.

“We use it for chemicals, not for tissue culture; anything that lets off hazardous fumes, like formaldehyde or other toxic substances.”

Megan Filiatrault, a Technician at the Hieter Lab in the Michael Smith Laboratories, is standing in front of a fume hood, a big rectangular cupboard with a sliding glass front. When she lifts the front, the gentle hum of the hood’s fan becomes a steady roar.

“The primary use of the fume hood is to protect you — and all the people in the lab — when you’re doing an experiment. You put your arms in, do what you need to do with pipettes or whatever. Then you’re supposed to close it, though some people do forget.”

In February, Campus Sustainability is partnering with BC Hydro and FortisBC in Shut the Sash, an energy-saving competition focusing on fume hoods. Laboratories consume ten times as much energy as other types of buildings on campus, from offices and classrooms to dorms, largely because of fume hoods. For health and safety reasons, the hoods only use outside air, so vast quantities of electricity are needed to run fans to move the air through the buildings and then to heat or cool it, depending on the time of year. A single fume hood can use more than three times the energy of an entire household.

UBC has about one thousand fume hoods, in a wide variety of research labs across campus. Shut the Sash will concentrate on the two hundred or so Variable Air Volume (VAV) fume hoods, which like the ones in Filiatrault’s labs have sliding fronts that control the air flow.

Research labs in three buildings — Michael Smith Laboratories, Chemistry Building (D and E Block) and Biological Sciences Building (West and South wings) — will be able to participate in the competition. Researchers — including technicians, grad students, post-doc fellows, research assistants and undergrad students — will form teams and compete in weekly challenges against other teams within the same building. Spot checks on fume hoods will determine the prize winners.

“It’s important for everyone at UBC to have a way to contribute to reaching the ambitious climate change goals the university has set,” says Anke Sieb, Coordinator, Reporting and Research, at Campus Sustainability. “Researchers make up a big group on campus, and this is an easy and effective way for them to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s exciting to find a way to get them involved.”

In the run-up to the competition, Sieb has been going into labs and giving presentations on how to save energy with fume hoods. “People are busy with their research, that’s what they want to focus on, we understand they don’t want to be distracted. So we’re trying to communicate that they don’t have to do anything extra to make the labs more sustainable. The response rate has been good; researchers are amazed to learn how much energy their labs consume, and recognize that a simple action can make a big difference.”

“The rest of campus finds it hard to understand what we do, what our work flow is like,” adds Filiatrault. “Researchers want to make a difference too, but they often don’t know where to start. I really like that Campus Sustainability came to us and asked us how we worked, so we could establish the best way to save energy.”

Filiatrault acknowledges that people find that even simple changes are hard to implement. “This is a good campaign because it’s easy to do, it’s a good way to gain momentum. A lot of things are just habits, it’s a matter of getting people to change their techniques, break that habit.

“When using a fume hood, it’s just a matter of remembering to close it when you’re experiment is done. There are many labs that always close their hoods at night, but there are still a lot that don’t, or that leave them open all day without thinking. It’s really just that ten extra seconds at the end of your experiment.”

Visit Shut the Sash to find out more about the competition or to sign up for competition updates.