What to know about winter break

The holiday season has many traditions. Since 2009, one at Iowa State is the winter break partial closure. Leaders approved a partial closure of campus again this year, with reduced services during the week of Dec. 23-27.

The closure promotes a healthy work/life balance and conserves energy with lowered thermostats in buildings that may close or have reduced hours.

Employees who use leave during this stretch, which includes two university holidays and a pair of weekends on Dec. 21-22 and Dec. 28-29, will enjoy a significant break. Using three days of paid leave -- Dec. 23, 26, 27 -- creates a nine-day winter break. Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 30-31, are regular work days and Jan. 1 is a university holiday.

What to know

Offices aren't required to close, and employees do not have to take time off. Workers who choose not to work during the partial closure can use vacation time or take unpaid leave. Employees who take unpaid leave will be paid for the two university holidays. 

University leaders determine workforce needs in the units they oversee and approve office closures or reductions in operating hours. Units or individual employees responsible for essential or ongoing work may be required to continue regular schedules. Examples of critical functions include public safety, snow removal and utility maintenance, as well as some research and customer service jobs. In units closed during the partial closure, supervisors may establish alternative work locations or projects for employees who elect to work. 

Supervisors in closed units should establish how to handle incoming phone and email messages. For example, messages could be routed to a single email and voicemail account checked by a designated employee. Communicate holiday hours on department websites and in personal voicemail and email messages. 

Public safety and facilities planning and management (FPM) will have staff on duty during the partial closure, but won't be able to monitor the whole campus all the time. If outside temperatures fall below zero, unit staff should plan to periodically check their buildings. Trouble calls should go to 294-5100 (FPM) during business hours and 294-4428 (public safety) after hours.

"Checking your buildings when minimally occupied always is advised, especially during inclement weather," said Brian Housholder, facilities maintenance and operations assistant director for FPM. "FPM relies on local reporting to inform us of trouble."

Chipping in

A year ago, an 11-day partial closure generated daily savings of $3,060 in electricity and $7,495 in steam costs, said FPM utilities services director Jeff Witt. The total savings was a little more than $116,000.

Forty-one buildings were closed for a portion of winter break a year ago, 23 of which turned temperatures back to 65 degrees, Housholder said. So far this year, closing requests were submitted for 40 buildings.

Energy savings is a significant benefit of the partial closure.  The amount of savings is dictated, in part, by measures taken by employees before they leave for break. Here is a checklist that will help that effort:

  • Shut down all computers, printers and other accessories. If possible, plug computers and printers into a power strip and then shut off the power strip. 
  • Leave your office computer on if you need remote access from home, but turn off the monitor, printer, speakers and any other connected devices. A computer's sleep mode uses less energy than full power, but shutting it off completely protects data. A machine may be left on during break if it's providing access to a critical application. 
  • Turn off and unplug copiers and small appliances such as space heaters, coffee pots, microwaves, desk lamps or radios. 
  • Unplug chargers for electronic devices. 
  • Make sure faucets in restrooms and break rooms are turned off and not dripping. If you notice a dripping faucet, contact the FPM service center at 294-5100. 
  • If you can manually adjust the thermostat in your office, turn it down to 65 degrees. 
  • Shut down unnecessary climate-controlled plant growth chambers. 
  • Close fume hood sashes completely, if possible. Otherwise, open them minimally. 
  • Shut down cooling water systems to eliminate potential flooding issues. 
  • Turn off office lights and public lighting, such as hallways, restrooms and conference rooms.
  • Check windows to make sure they're tightly closed. Closed windows help prevent pipes from freezing.