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Student Patrols Labs for Safety, Savings

Every Friday afternoon this semester NC State senior Caleb Melvin has walked the halls of some of the most research-intensive buildings on campus looking for opportunities to improve safety and save energy.

As many buildings are being vacated for the weekend, Melvin, an intern with Energy Management and Environmental Health and Safety combs through labs looking for open fume hoods, which are among the university’s single biggest source of energy loss each year.

By providing a physical barrier between researchers and hazards, a fume hood keeps students and researchers safe during experiments. Energy loss occurs if the user neglects to close the fume hood’s glass barrier, called a sash, allowing indoor air to be constantly circulated out of the lab and pushed out of the building. This energy loss costs the university up to $6,000 annually per fume hood.

“Some of the labs appear to be unused so when those fume hoods are closed, that’s a lot of energy savings,” said Melvin, whose internship is part of an external learning experience to complete his environmental science degree.

When he finds an open fume hood that’s not in use, he leaves a card reminding the lab user of the importance of shutting the sash. He also monitors fume hoods in use looking for any sash that’s open more than 18 inches, which is beyond recommended safety and energy saving levels.

The message appears to be gaining traction in some buildings.

“At the beginning I found probably three in every 10 fume hoods open, and now it’s a lot less,” Melvin said. “There used to be many open above 18 inches but now they’re at six inches or lower so that’s also much better.”

Melvin’s Friday lab walk-throughs are also an opportunity to shut off lights in unoccupied rooms and to identify consistently unused fume hoods that could be closed temporarily for greater energy savings. He also does fume-hood testing to ensure that fume hood air velocity is optimal. If it’s too high, energy is wasted, and if it’s too low, the hood isn’t providing enough protection for lab users.

“I love NC State and being able to make a difference on campus like this is great,” he said.

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