Zero-energy, maximum effort
Students test their zero-energy model homes in engineering class

Engineering students tested their understanding of convection, conduction, and radiation in a zero-energy housing challenge. The seniors worked in groups to design and build a house using materials like foam core boards and aluminum foil.  

“It’s cool, and it kind of gives you some real-world insight into how a lot of houses work,” Dylan ’23 said. 

Students pose with their zero net model home

They tested their designs by blasting them with a large light bulb (representing the sun) for 8-10 minutes. They recorded the temperature over that time to see how much the home warmed up. Then, they simulated nighttime conditions with a fan blowing over a bucket of ice at home for seven minutes and recorded that temperature to see how well their designs retained heat.  

“My group decided to go pretty simplistic, but we went really thick with the walls. The thicker the wall, the more heat it will trap and a huge window on the side to absorb a bunch of heat,” Colin ’23 explained.  

“I’m majoring in architecture in college, so this is fun because it kind of mixes architecture and engineering a little bit. How well can you design a house? For me, I want it to look good. At the same time, I want it to perform well,” Dylan added.  

Upper School Science Teacher Matt Johnson said to limit our collective carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels, contractors are attempting to incorporate more ways of using more green sources of energy and be more efficient with the energy our houses get. 

Student and teacher examine data

“The fact each group's end result varies comes from the creative aspects of the course and allows groups, by collaborating with each other, the freedom to make their own decisions,” Johnson said “(It’s) the intersection between rigorous learning and having fun.” 

The classroom competition was then based on which group had the smallest temperature difference between the end of the daytime and end of the nighttime. 

Students test their zero-energy model homes in engineering class

“It was a lot of fun. There was more to it than I thought. It wasn’t just putting up four walls and a roof,” Colin said. “You really had to think about it and plan the dimensions. Getting all the pieces to fit together was difficult but the end result was definitely worth it. It’s something to be proud of.” 

Students pose with their zero net model home

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