Energy efficient: Tech students show off life in sustainable house

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette The Sustainability Demonstration House was originally built by the Gundlach family in 1954 and donated to Michigan Technological University in 1992, when it became the president’s residence. It was transferred to the Alternative Energy Enterprise in 2016.

HOUGHTON — Students living in the Michigan Technological University (MTU) Sustainability Demonstration House (SDH) opened their home to the public on Thursday to show everyone the results of two years of work.

The house was originally constructed by the Gundlach family in 1954 and donated to MTU in 1992, at which point it served as the president’s residence for several years. Eventually it was left mostly empty, used to occasionally host small events and receptions. In 2016, control of it was handed over to the Alternative Energy Enterprise (AEE) to become a showcase for sustainability projects developed by the students.

Over the past two years, the house has been fitted with energy-efficient light bulbs, induction burners, water-saving aerators and showerheads, a garden and compost bin, solar panels and more. The solar panels are very visible, to the north of U.S. 41 near the entrance MTU’s campus from the south. They had to be built across U.S. 41 because the plot that the SDH is on is too densely wooded. The panels form an 8.6 kilowatt system with the 400-volt battery in the SDH basement.

“Every month we go out and adjust them based on the season,” Rose Turner said.

Turner is not only president of AEE, a senior in MTU’s environmental engineering program and project manager for the SDH — she’s also a resident there.

For peak efficiency, the SDH solar panels’ angle is adjusted to the sun’s angle, which changes through the year. Not all panels do this, some other panels are designed to be stationary, while more expensive ones are motorized and automated.

The system is connected to an app so residents can see up to the minute information about how much power is being produced by the solar panels, power being drawn from the battery and power being drawn from the grid.

“You really get an idea of how the system is changing minute-by-minute,” said Daniel Faber, AEE member and mechanical engineering major at MTU.

With high-efficiency LED light bulbs installed, the students calculate the house will save about $12,000 over the next ten years, based on current Houghton electricity rates.

The low-flow water fixtures save the house about 300 gallons of water per week, which saves about $200 per year according to AEE.

The inductive burners the residents use to cook are calculated to be about 75% more efficient than gas burners and can boil water faster. They work by magnetically inducting the heat into a pan, which has to be iron, steel or other magnetic material. Having anything else, or nothing at all, on the burner will result in no heat at all, making it safer, too.

“Nothing burns on here,” said MTU environmental engineering student Gwendolyn Nitz.

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