Where’s the Heating?

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

After getting some concerned e-mails from chilly students, we forwarded this question to Director of Facilities Ralph Thayer, who said that “Dorm heat is usually turned on after fall break or October 15th, which ever comes first… We have turned heat on in September some years, but generally the weather is mild enough into October that temperatures in the building meet our targets: 68-72 degrees.”

Thayer continued, “We use the Open Window Index as indicator of occupant comfort. If a drive-by confirms 30% of the windows open we make the assumption that it’s probably pretty comfortable inside. We also look at outside air temperatures. In the fall when there are wide swings of temperature we set the heat to come on only below 55 degrees. This past week in fact has been the first series of days that outside temperatures have dipped below 55 degrees and stayed there for extended periods.”

For non-dorm buildings, Thayer wrote, the decision is a little bit harder to make, since “once we switch over to heat we can’t switch back on a dime to AC due to the need for the building supply water to cool down to a point where it won’t overload the chillers. The Science Center and a section of Parrish are the only areas which have a four pipe system that enables us to provide either/or on demand… there too October 15th is generally the change over date.”

So the heat is on, but Thayer acknowledged that “we will always have some gremlins at the start up for the heating season.” Thayer encouraged shivering students “to call Carolyn Vance at workbox to let us know if there are problems. Don’t assume the problem is campus wide, [as] it could in fact be localized to your room.”

Got more questions? Our e-mail gremlins will find you the answers—just contact dailygazette [at] swarthmore [dot] edu.


  1. Is this the Daily Gazette equivalent of a bus plunge? It is almost too tiny to read, but I thought the DG was Not a paper encyclopedia. I mean, of course my eyes are bad and all, but still – tiny!

  2. Open Window Index? Sounds neat, but anyone who has spent a night in Willets will know how stuffy and, to be blunt, disgusting, the air can get overnight– which means that an open window isn't much of a choice, regardless of the weather. An open window isn't necessarily an indicator of room temperature comfort.

    Just a thought.

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