There are a few key topics on every Chewonki semester student’s mind and one of them is sustainability. And how could it not be? We see the solar panels, we go to the bio-diesel plant, we chop our own wood, and we see how the CEE has been shaped and constructed to work with its environment. Every Thursday morning, instead of heading to the science lab for Natural History, every semester student heads off, during their respective blocks, to the CEE for Sustainability class. And although it’s a shame to miss a Natural History class, learning how we can be a sustainable society is fascinating and relevant.
Last week the sustainability topic was about passive solar heating, so our class divided into groups of three or four and built ourselves quaint little cardboard passive solar houses. Cassie, Katie, and I quickly rummaged through the pile of collapsed cardboard boxes for the best one. We pulled out a small white one that looked like it hadn’t been through too much and got to work. Cassie started cutting numerous windows in what was to be our south-facing wall, and Katie and I insulated. Moments before Tom Twist had informed us that insulation was the key to keeping in the sunlight absorbed through the windows and we thought it was best to honor that idea in the making of our cardboard dream house. We rushed through putting on double thick windows, curtains, a giant sunroof and an awning for cloudy days, to see other groups’ masterpieces. One group had created a solar shower another was completely triangular and another had a window make up an entire wall. By having this hands on experience, everyone was able to thoroughly grasp the concepts behind passive solar and the notion that a house needs to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer and this can be achieved in a house solely by working with the environment being built in.
Wednesday this week Tom and Jason formed a miniature solar housing development of our creations in front of the barn for everyone to see and test the temperatures within with a special laser thermometer devise. Some of the houses clearly worked, quickly reaching the seventies or higher, while Cassie, Katie and my house stayed the solid 43 degrees of the outside. We blame this on the fact that we didn’t have time to actually attach our sunroof/awning, and the house got a little breezy, convecting out any warm air we had managed to draw in through our windows—a large problem but easily fixable.
This project was a great example of the way we get to learn interactively here everyday.
-Erica Lehner, Holderness, NH