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Energy Saving Tips, from Your UIC Smart Grid Interns

Najah AhsanHi, we are the UIC Smart Grid interns and we researched ways to help find you tips and tricks to conserve energy at home while increasing your wallet size! Most of the tips that we liked are from the National Wildlife’s Federation‘s website, but we sprinkled in a few tips of our own.

What Can You Do To Save Energy?

Green Lighting Tips:

  • Turn off the lights that you are not using.
  • Buy compact fluorescent bulbs, which reduce energy use by up to 75 percent. Set a goal of at least replacing the bulbs that are most commonly on in your home.
  • If your older children live with you, put them in charge of the electricity bill. They’ll make sure all the lights are turned off if they are responsible to for paying for the electricity.
  • Do not place lamps near a thermostat. The thermostat senses the heat produced from the lamp which can change how often your furnace or air conditioner will run.
  • Consider safer, more efficient Energy Star torchiere lamps over popular halogen torchiere lamps. The halogen lamps can cause fires, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. While relatively inexpensive to purchase, halogen lamps are expensive to operate.
  • Use dimmers, timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.  


Heating and Cooling Your Home:

  • Change or clean your furnace and air conditioner filters regularly to keep heating and cooling systems running efficiently.
  • Dust can restrict airflow and stress the system. Filters can be washable or disposable. Measure the existing filter to make sure to buy a filter that fits properly. It is best to keep several filters on hand as replacements during the cooling season.
  • Instead of disposing of a dirty furnace or air conditioner filter, you could vacuum it once per month and spray it with Endust or a similar product which restores the dust-catching ability of the filters. You can reuse the filter two or three times this way.
  • Install a programmable thermostat to regulate your heating and cooling when you are not home.
  • Test windows and doors to see if they need new weather-stripping by lighting a candle and moving it around the perimeter of the window or door. If the flame flickers, you need to install new weather-stripping. Don’t put the candle near curtains or blinds though.
  • Get your furnace and air conditioner inspected every few years.
  • Install window film for windows that you don’t open often, or that seem drafty.
  • Plant deciduous trees outside windows on the south side of your house to provide shade in summer and allow sunlight in winter.
  • If you live in a house or apartment with water-heated radiators, put foil-faced insulation board between the radiators and the outside walls, with the foil side facing the room.
  • Avoid water beds which use a lot of energy to heat in the winter. If you have a water bed, insulate around it and cover it with many blankets to keep the heat in.
  • Install ceiling fans to improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems.
  • Add attic insulation to increase the efficiency of both your furnace and air conditioner. A good standard is to reach “R30,” which a contractor should understand.
  • Make sure draperies, furniture or rugs do not block vents. These vents should also be cleaned regularly with a vacuum or a broom.



  • Set your water heater to a lower setting or call a service person to adjust it for you.
  • Put an appropriate insulation blanket around your water heater.
  • Run your dishwasher without the “drying cycle” and just let dishes drip dry.
  • Do full loads when you use clothes washers and dishwashers.
  • To reduce the amount of dishes to wash, label the bottom of cups and mugs with family member’s names.
  • Reduce the amount of towels to wash by labeling towels or hooks.
  • Choose cold or warm cycles over hot cycles because heating the water for laundry consumes 90 percent of the energy of the laundry process.



  • Hang your clothes to dry either on a clothesline or a clothes tree, at least some of the time. In the winter, this is a natural humidifier in a dry room.
  • Reduce ironing time by taking clothes out when they are slightly damp and hanging them up, or right away when the clothes are dry. If you get to the dryer too late, you can put a damp towel inside and run the dryer for a few minutes to get the same effect.
  • Empty the lint trap after each use of the dryer.
  • Dry light and heavy clothing separately for maximum efficiency.
  • To make room for drying clothes, buy an expandable shower curtain rod and put it in the shower. Hang clothes on hangers.
  • Install a dryer vent hood where your dryer discharges to the outside to reduce the amount of heat escaping from this hole.



  • Buy rechargeable batteries and a recharger.
  • Only purchase toys that don’t require batteries.


Refrigerators and Freezers:

  • Keep condenser coils clean on the back of your refrigerator. Gently wipe and vacuum them once a year. Many fridges have a removable panel around the coils. Keep the back of the fridge at least four inches from the wall.
  • Make sure the fridge door gasket seals tight. Test it by putting a piece of paper in a closed door. Pull on the paper and if it comes out too easily, you need to replace your gasket. Test at several places along the door. Another way to test: put a flashlight in your fridge and see if the light leaks out when you close the door.
  • Check the temperature of your fridge and freezer by putting a thermometer in a glass of water. Put the glass of water in the center shelf in the center of the fridge. It should read 38-40 degrees Fahrenheit. The freezer should read 0-5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If you have a large freezer, keep it in the basement or as cool a room as possible.
  • The fuller the freezer, the more energy efficient it is.
  • Let hot food cool down a bit before you put it in the fridge.
  • Install your fridge away from direct sun or your range top or oven.
  • Try not to use a second refrigerator.
  • Make sure your fridge is absolutely level to ensure the door gets closed every time you open it.



  • Use a microwave rather than an oven, range or toaster oven whenever possible.
  • Choose small appliances over big ones, such as a toaster oven, electric teapot, rice cooker, electric frypan or a crockpot.
  • Cover pans when cooking to keep heat in.
  • Turn off the burner or oven before the food is completely cooked.
  • Use a pressure cooker whenever possible.
  • Make more food than you need for one meal and then heat the leftovers in a microwave.
  • Bake with glass or ceramic pans which allow you to set the temperature in the oven by 25 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the recipe calls for.
  • Thaw food on metal such as in a stainless steel pan.
  • Keep the grease plates under your range burners clean to ensure the most heat is being reflected up.
  • Use the appropriate size burner on the range – small for small pots, large for large pots.
  • Don’t worry so much about preheating for most recipes, except fragile pastries or cakes.


Large Purchasing Decisions:

  • Contact your utility company to see if they have a “check meter” which you plug into an appliance and get the exact voltage. This will help you decide whether it is worthwhile to replace an appliance.
  • When shopping for home appliances and electronics, look for the “Energy Star” label. For more information, go to
  • Choose an energy-efficient front-loading washing machine.
  • If buying a new dryer, find one with a moisture sensor that turns off when the clothes are dry.
  • Avoid automatic ice makers which use substantial energy.
  • Side-by-side refrigerator freezers use more energy than a typical model.
  • When buying a new stove, the induction cook tops are the most energy-efficient. These look like a ceramic cooking surface, like a countertop.
  • If available, buy “green power” that comes from non-polluting sources of electricity such as solar cells and windmills. For more information on green power availability, visit
  • Replace very old windows with more energy-efficient ones.
  • Choose a natural gas furnace over an oil furnace, which produces more CO2.
  • Since dark colors absorb heat, choose a light-color roof shingle if you have a choice.
  • You can apply a reflective coating to your existing roof. Two standard roofing coatings are available at your local home improvement store. They have both waterproofing and reflective properties and are marketed primarily for mobile homes and recreational vehicles. One coating is white latex that you can apply over many common roofing materials, such as asphalt and fiberglass shingles, tar paper, and metal. Most manufacturers offer a five-year warranty.


Winter Tips:

  • Put on an air conditioner cover during the winter to reduce drafts.
  • Wear slippers and light sweaters so you can lower the temperature a few degrees.
  • Cover your legs and/or torso with a lap quilt or blanket when sitting still at home.


Summer Tips:

  • Set the air-conditioner thermostat at 78 degrees or higher for the most energy-efficient operation.
  • Install shaded window film to block extra sunlight and reduce air conditioning costs. Some states have tax incentives for you to do this. Some films are permanent so you might not install them if you want to get sun in your home during the winter.
  • Use your microwave or outdoor grill instead of a range or oven to reduce the amount of heat you produce indoors.
  • Use fans to move the air inside your home. This gives the sensation that it is 5 degrees cooler than the actual temperature.
  • Shade windows on the sunny side of your home. Keep drapes closed or add room-darkening shades to block out the heat from the sun.
  • Keep the outside portion of a central air conditioner clear from dried mud, debris and grass clippings. Check after an intense rain. Mud can splatter onto the unit and block the air after it dries.
  • Plant trees or shrubs to shade air-conditioning units but do not block the airflow. A unit operating in the shade uses less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.
  • On hot summer days, avoid opening doors and windows in your home during the afternoon. This allows cool air to escape and hot air to enter the home. Choose activities that are either indoors or outdoors and restrict activities that require many door openings to the mornings.
  • Shift energy-intensive tasks such as laundry and dishwashing to off-peak energy-demand hours to increase electricity reliability during heat waves.
  • Save jobs that produce moisture – such as mopping, laundry and dishwashing – for early morning or nighttime hours. The humidity from these activities can make homes uncomfortable.
  • Make sure the attic is properly ventilated to relieve excess summer heat.
  • Install a radiant barrier on the underside of your roof to reflect heat. A radiant barrier is simply a sheet of aluminum foil with a paper backing.  



  • Turn off or even unplug your televisions when not in use. Televisions draw power constantly for the instant-on functionality.
  • Compost kitchen wastes rather than use your garbage disposal.
  • Recycle aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic, cardboard and newspapers. Using recycled materials in manufacturing consumes less energy than using virgin materials.

UIC won the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award for the 5th time!

pictured from left to right: Vytenis Milunas (UIC Facilities Management) Cindy Klein- Banai, Lisa Sanzenbacher, and Kate Yoshida (Office of Sustaianbility)

Pictured from left to right: Vytenis Milunas (UIC Facilities Management) Cindy Klein-Banai, Lisa Sanzenbacher, and Kate Yoshida (UIC Office of Sustaianbility)

UIC was honored yesterday, November 1, by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and the Office of the Governor among 24 other companies and organizations at the 2016 Illinois Governor’s Sustaianbility Awards! We are among an elite group of committed leaders reducing environmental impact, contributing to the growth of a more sustainable Illinois economy.

So what made us winners this year? Well, as it says in the award booklet, over the past 2 years, University of Illinois at Chicago has continued to make significant and measurable progress in its sustaianbility initiatives through comprehensive planning and engagement, operational improvements, and experiential student learning. As part of these efforts, UIC developed the Sustainability Strategic Thinking Report: “To Green and Beyond – Excellence through Sustaianbility at UIC“. The report presents recommendations for UIC to apply sustaianbility principles and practices across its educational mission.


Jacob Obal - Food recovery networkThe College of Cycling at UIC joined with the Food Recovery Network to deliver unused food from the UIC Dining Services‘ cafeteria to a homeless shelter. The group makes weekly rides to the Pacific Garden Mission to deliver 30 to 80 pounds of food produced by campus kitchens. One month’s donations help serve over 1,550 meals that would have otherwise been disposed in a landfill!



UIC LEED The University of Illinois College of Medicine‘s new Learning Center is housed in an 83-year-old building. UIC’s Office of Capital Programs and UIC’s Facilities Management has retrofitted learning spaces, auditoriums, classrooms and spaces for small group study in order to increase engagement and retention. The anticipated LEED-Gold project included 70% efficient heat recovery system that saves approximately 16,000 therms of natural gas and 31,000 kWh of electricity (a savings of $8,000) each year!


energy-use-chartOther initiatives include UIC’s Utilities department installation of a new boiler that saves over 565,000 therms of natural gas annually. Water losses due to piping leaks have been repaired and the heat exchanger chemistry has been changed to 316 stainless steel where possible, leading to a savings of 2.5 million gallons of water each and every year. The energy savings performance contract with Ameresco is expected to save 19,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually!


Governor's Sustainability AwardUIC also won the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award in 2014, 2011, 2013 (for continuous campus improvements) and in 1995 (when it was called the Illinois Governor’s Pollution Prevention Awards). UIC was also recognized in 2012 and received the highest honor for the Illinois Campus Sustainability Compact award. Click here for more information about previous awards.


Sustaianbility isn’t just about improving our environment. Sustainability is about getting multiple units, departments, and people involved to work towards a common good. So many folks at UIC are to thank for these efforts. THANK YOU, UIC!

UIC Climate Commitments Announcement Party

Tree Planting Provides $121 in Annual Benefits to UIC

Over a dozen students came out to UIC’s west campus on a rainy April Fool’s Day morning, made possible by funding from and the Arbor Day Foundation.  A Northern Hackberry and a Tulip Tree were selected because of their ability to thrive in an urban environment. Both of the trees measured about 3 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH) and are expected to provide $64 in benefits every year. If the trees are adequately cared for, which they will be since UIC is an award winning Tree Campus USA member, they will provide at least $121 in benefits every year!

The Northern Hackberry, (C. occidentalis) which is a Chicago native and is known to be a thriving urban tree, is a low maintenance tree surviving industrial conditions and harsh winters. The Northern Hackberry is also a suitable tree for nesting sites for birds. The Northern Hackberry that was placed on UIC’s campus is roughly 40 feet tall and is known to attract pollinators. It was placed in an area where not many trees are located to increase the biodiversity of the west campus.

The other tree that was placed just around the corner of the UIC co-generation plant was a Tulip tree, (L. tulipifera) which are one of the largest native trees in North America. It can grow up to 60 feet, and grows at a rapid rate. There is only one other Tulip tree at UIC, located on the east side of campus.

The soil where the two trees were located was mostly gravel, so potting soil was added to enrich and enhance the ability of the trees to take root. The two trees are a great addition to the UIC forest of more than 5,300 trees!

The planting of these two trees will provide several important benefits and will help UIC achieve many of our Climate Commitment goals:

UIC Climate Commitment Goal 1: Carbon Neutral Campus.

Trees conserve energy by shading areas which reduces heat that many buildings can absorb, also effectively reducing the heat island effect which is critical in an urban environment. Trees canopies also reduce winds which can help retain heat in buildings. The two trees that were planted at UIC today will each conserve 28 Kilowatt/hours of electricity for cooling and reduce the consumption of oil or natural gas by 13 therms.

One of the most important components of planting trees in urban areas is the amount of carbon they sequester. The two new trees that were planted at UIC today will reduce carbon emission by 103 pounds each. It is important to understand how trees sequester carbon: essentially the roots, trunk, stems, and leaves collect the carbon dioxide and convert it to food for the tree and oxygen for us.

UIC Climate Commitment Goal 3: Net Zero Water Campus.

This Tulip and Hackberry act as storm water reservoirs and can reduce run off. Trees reduce run off by several different means, for example, the leaves, branches, and bark collect the rain reducing run off. The trees root system filters and stores large amount of storm water as well. UIC aims to reduce storm water by 10% by 2020 and 25% by 2030.

UIC Climate Commitment Goal 4: Biodiverse Campus.

Trees selectively absorb pollutants in the air such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide through their leaves effectively improving the air quality on the UIC campus.  These two trees will help increase biodiversity in the campus forestry. A high level of biodiversity is important because a balanced makeup of trees helps lessen susceptibility to insects and diseases that predominantly affect one species or genus. This can help prevent the associated catastrophic loss.  It is the goal of UIC to increase tree biodiversity by planting no more than 5% of the campus tree inventory with trees of the same species and 10% of the same genus. The C. occidentalis and L. tulipifera help us climb higher to that goal.

All data was calculated through the National Tree Benefit Calculator, provided by You can read more about the UIC Climate Commitments here. See what Edder, a former Treetern, had to say about this event.

Be the face of energy conservation at UIC!

Be the face of energy conservation at UIC!

1.  Take a photo of yourself conserving energy at UIC (turning off lights, putting your computer to sleep,
using the revolving doors, etc). Be creative!

2.  Upload your photo to Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag


3.  Upload your photo to the Office of Sustainability’s Facebook page at

4. Make sure to also leave a comment how you saved energy

Interns chat about the UIC Climate Commitments on Social Media


Students of the Sustainability Internship Program go to social media to discuss issues of Climate Change and how UIC can reduce carbon emissions, reduce waste and water use, and how to increase efficiencies in energy and water and biodiversity.

Here is what they said about UIC’s new Climate Commitments:

  • Pavilion needs to start thinking about the materials they use because right now, most of the materials aren’t recyclable.  @Hyakkos1
  • This is the story of deforestation by the Latino Cultural Center. Always tell your story, but never do this. #UIC #biodiverse @KathyM
  • Water is an invaluable resource and is oftentimes taken for granted. The Net Zero Water standard is an idea that aims to relieve households from dependence on city water, which will decrease strain on water treatment facilities. By capturing precipitation and treating wastewater produced on site, occupants of a household will close the loop of their water system, thus leading to water independence. This site sets out to document my process and research as I look further into this exciting topic.#UIC #CarbonNeutral #UIC NetZeroWater#UIC #Biodiverse#GoFlames#UICOS @Bluesky_greentree
  • Drops of water makes the whole ocean, small changes lead to a bigger solution. Save water on campus, turn off of the faucets when not in use because every drop counts. Lets not make our basic necessity a luxury. Let’s say no to wastage. #UIC #NetZeroWater @MansiJ
  • Ice caps are melting, water level is rising, ozone layer getting thinner and we are still here sitting on the couch and blaming other people even after holding a stake in it. We as students can at least aim to have an eco-friendly campus. Reducing carbon emissions and footprints by walking or riding a bicycle wherever possible or driving a low-carbon vehicle can help. Even things as small as printing can help reduce the footprint. Identify your present needs so that we don’t have to pay the cost of exploitation. #UIC #CarbonNeutral @MansiJ
  • UIC should start a Composting Club. We throw away a lot of disposable gloves, and latex is 100% biodegradable. #uic #zerowaste @AgataC
  • Subsidizing the expansion of the Heritage garden can help to expand project outreach through public exposure  @See_Hein
  • Would if, at #UIC, we all rode our bikes to campus instead of drive, sit in traffic and pay for parking? We would #savetime #savemoney and work towards being #UIC #CarbonNeutral !!! 

Feelin’ Good about Hackberries – Tree Campus USA

Edder Antunez - Former Tree campus USA "treetern"

Edder Antunez – Former Tree campus USA “treetern”

What can I say about my relationship with Tree Campus USA? Nothing bad really, only positive and great comments. I never cared too much about trees prior to my internship as a Tree Campus USA intern. Walking down any sidewalk, I saw trees as towering photosynthetic organisms that sequestered carbon from the atmosphere and provided aesthetic value to a community. That’s about it. Ask me to identify a tree, and I’d scoff and respond with a clueless “it’s a tree with funny leaves”.

Tree Campus Ceremony-11

Volunteers help the UIC Grounds crew plant a hackberry tree near the UIC Cogeneration facility on Friday, April 1, 2016.

 Fast forward to the present and I would bust out my “Trees of Illinois” identification book and you’d have to wait as I quickly shuffle through the pages to identify the unknown tree. I can definitely say that my relationship with Tree Campus USA has impacted me greatly in a positive way.

This was evident in our recent planting event where I was genuinely stoked about the addition of a tulip and hackberry tree as a means to increase UIC’s biodiversity. Adding more trees besides the dominating Honey locust and elm trees is a great idea and I’m looking towards next year’s tree planting event.

View the full blog post about the day’s event here.

He won six months of free power!

Grand prize winner Mario Lucero and his family proudly hold up energy-saving light bulbs which helped them save more than 1,000 kWh of energy. His daughter Marlene Meraz insisted their cat, Ohltli, partake in the photoshoot since he “helps them save energy by destroying electronics, so they can’t use them anymore.”

Read more at the Citizen’s Utility Board blogsite, Consumer Watchblog.



Interns talk about how UIC can get to Zero Waste

UIC undergrads in the Sustainability Internship Program (SIP) are faced with a pile of trash at one of their recent classes. These are all items that enter UIC’s materials economy and it is up to the Office of Sustainability to figure out how to discard them – avoiding landfill at all costs. But how do you eliminate ubiquitous items like plastic bags, coffee cups and other single-use items? SIP interns have an idea. See their social media posts on Twitter and Instagram.

Pavilion needs to start thinking about the materials they use because right now, most of the materials aren’t recyclable.  @Hyakkos1

UIC should start a Composting Club. We throw away a lot of disposable gloves, and latex is 100% biodegradable. #uic #zerowaste @AgataC


Where did the trees go?

Green ash tree (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) is the second most popular tree at UIC, comprising of almost 7% of all trees on campus (out of 5,400)

Green ash tree (Fraxinus
pennsylvanica) is the second most popular tree at UIC, comprising of almost 7% of all trees on campus (out of 5,400).

This winter, UIC will be removing several trees around campus. The majority of these trees are ash and the UIC Grounds department has logged their health status and location beginning in September 2015.  Since then, the health of these trees has deteriorated and they must be removed.

A half-inch metallic green pest is making our trees sick. This pest is known as the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennus) and its larvae feed on the inner bark of the tree, slowly killing it from the inside. Read more about this invasive species here

UIC currently removes any ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) showing signs of emerald ash borer infestation, as well as neighboring ash trees. The impact that the borer will likely have on the campus forest serves as evidence of the need for greater campus tree diversity to prevent such a large impact by an insect that affects only one genus of tree.

Carly Rizor, superintendent of the Grounds department at UIC, is committed to preserving and maintaining our campus forest. “UIC will continue to work with professional arborists to ensure our canopy remains diverse yet compatible for our urban environment.”  

UIC takes great pride in our tree inventory, as we are a Tree Campus USA university since 2011. Read more about UIC’s involvement in the Arbor Day Foundations’ Tree Campus USA program, as well as how to join our Tree Care Committee.