A House with Purpose
Introducing the Sustainable Conservation House
Building science educators know the value of training in real-life situations. But that is not always possible. Unfortunately, many students are only taught in a classroom/lab setting. This situation might confuse students as to what might happen in real life.
The idea for the Sustainable Conservation House (SCH) originated with Doug and Tammy Knierim after visiting the Project Living Proof House in Kansas City, Missouri. Project Living Proof is an energy demonstration house that opened in 2011.
The Knierims own DK Construction in Van Buren, Arkansas, as well as Energy Efficiency Design & Development, Incorporated (EEDD). Advocates for energy efficiency training, the Knierims sought a better venue for their employees than sending them to simulated training.
Doug Knierim contacted John Martini, assistant professor in the College of Applied Science and Technology at the University of Arkansas Fort Smith (UAFS). During their conversation, John Martini mentioned a possible location in which to create a living laboratory, saying that he wanted to “teach Arkansas residents how to reduce their energy consumption at home with small, easy changes.” From that point on, plans for the SCH moved quickly toward realization.
John Martini’s students shadowed the DK Construction weatherization crews in the Fort Smith area. This shadowing program allowed college students to enter the job market with additional marketable skills, such as weatherization technician, or perhaps energy auditor. The SCH house would put those skills to practical use in the hands-on classroom.
Tammy Knierim brought EEDD to the project. Following in the path of the Project Living Proof House, EEDD designed, supervised, and took part in the renovation of the SCH. The goal: to provide hands-on training to industry professionals, as well as UAFS students. Input from experienced industry professionals was incorporated into the SCH training, using a combination of classroom and hands-on instruction.
Creativity Built the SCH
UAFS welcomed the opportunity to add this training facility to its list of resources. The campus had a vacant older home that was neglected and falling into disrepair. This home had been built in the early 1900s, using stick-built construction with inadequate insulation, knob-and-tube wiring, and copper and cast-iron plumbing. Subsequent families had added features, such as a family room above the two-car garage. All of these factors made this the perfect home to be converted into a training facility. The local community met with the university and decided that the SCH could be designed, remodeled, and furnished with labor and supplies from both the private and the public sectors. Many local, national, and regional companies, along with private individuals, came together to build this unique facility.
From the street, the SCH looks like a beautifully remodeled home. This is where the similarities end. The house consists of two separate units under one roof. One unit is the “house” and the other unit is the “classroom.” The house is approximately 1,000 square feet. It has the look and feel of a remodeled home, complete with furnishings, artwork, and appliances. The classroom is also approximately 1,000 square feet, and it can easily accommodate 16–20 students.
Starting at the ridgepole, a fire wall was constructed to separate the attic into two sides. In this way, training such as zonal pressure diagnostics can be performed in the house without affecting the classroom.
Behind the Scenes
The house has one bedroom and one bath, a kitchen, and a living room. The impression you get when you walk in the door is What a beautiful home! What you can’t see are the secrets that make it a real-life training model.
Strategically installed throughout the house are electric dampers of various sizes and configurations. These dampers can be manipulated to cause changes that impact the atmospherically vented appliances, creating dozens of different scenarios to challenge the students. The main duct supplies and return can be “damped,” creating different scenarios for duct testing and training. There are dampers in the wall cavities to demonstrate the potential communication between floors. There are dampers installed in the attic. There is a damper installed in the bedroom closet to show potential bypasses in the building envelope. All of the dampers are electrically operated from one location, allowing the instructor to alter the house’s airflow without having to spend time manually operating them.
The house has multiple gas appliances, which are used for training. All appliances, such as the stove and the refrigerator, are functioning. These are examples of less-efficient equipment that the students can test and evaluate.
The house contains two combustion appliance zones (CAZ). Blower door, pressure pan, and Duct Blaster training and testing can be taught here. Because the temperature and airflow in the house can be manipulated by the instructor each student will have different test results.
In some of the walls, the Sheetrock is partially replaced by Lexan, which allows students to look into the wall. These areas demonstrate bypasses, knob- and-tube wiring, and insulation levels. There are stud bays in the attic with samples of various types of insulation, such as fiberglass, open cell, and cellulose. Knee walls in the attic were constructed to showcase numerous examples of installed insulation. There are voids, gaps, and “mistakes” that were made during the installation, which students will find during training, using infrared photography.
The classroom portion of the house is constructed as an example of energy efficiency. It has LED overhead lights, energy-efficient windows, and high levels of insulation. The ductless mini-split system provides controlled heat and A/C. There is also an office and an ADA-approved restroom.
“The upstairs classroom has several different examples of energy-related lab panels and simulators for the students to practice with, to help them become certified energy auditors or solar-system installers, as well as providing experience with the generation of clean energy, green building, and Smart Grid technology,” says John Martini. The basement has a crawl space that can be used for energy auditing and confined-space training.
In the front yard is an array of solar panels, which supply electricity and hot water. In the basement is an assortment of meters and gauges to monitor the activity of these panels. There is also a solar water heater and a geothermal furnace.
A Unique Resource
The faculty, students, professionals, and the community all seem to be onboard for the SCH. Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology, says that “the Sustainable Conservation House at UAFS provides a unique resource to support the business outreach programs of the university. UAFS, through its Center for Business and Professional Development, strives to provide meaningful and timely training to support business and industry in the region.”
In many teaching programs, students are evaluated on their ability to answer a 100-question online test. EEDD doesn’t feel that this is the best approach. EEDD’s students are trained, tested, and evaluated under real conditions. If necessary, extra help or training is provided, because, as we say at EEDD, “Nobody Fails.”
Learn more about EEDD.
The SCH is designed to be updated as often as technology and instructional techniques change. Recently a class on drone licensing was held there. There are future plans to add an electric car-charging station in front of the SCH, powered by the solar panels.
All the hard work, time, and resources that went into this project helped EEDD to advance one of its core values—to teach people how they can reduce their carbon footprint, and to train them in best practices in ways of doing so. From an instructional perspective, this is an amazing place to teach, demonstrate, and challenge the future leaders of our industry. The SCH opened on the campus of UAFS in May 2015. The popularity of the house has grown to the point that visits and trainings must be scheduled in advance.
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