Living in a lab:coming to a home near you

Group hopes to have two Ghetto houses off Kingston energy grid by 2011

Jane Brennan, project co-ordinator of the living labs initiatives in the student Ghetto.
Jane Brennan, project co-ordinator of the living labs initiatives in the student Ghetto.
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If all goes according to the Living Energy Lab’s plan, two student houses could be off Kingston’s conventional energy grid by 2011.

“[Our] big goal would be to get these houses off the grid as much as possible,” said Jane Brennan, Sci ’08, and project co-ordinator. “We estimate about five years, but that is dependent on time
and funding.”

The Living Energy Lab, a project focusing on assessing energy conservation and renewable energy technologies used in homes, plans to take two similar student houses and turn them into living laboratories. These laboratories will provide the project team with data about energy conservation and retrofits done to the houses, all while students live in them. Brennan added that the project is unique, especially in an undergraduate environment. “We haven’t found a similar project at any other
sustainable-oriented university,” she said. “All of the current retrofitting projects are not happening to reexisting homes being taken off the grid—the government isn’t looking into retrofitting old, but instead
building new homes off the grid.” The project has also introduced five design projects into curriculum courses in the Faculty of Applied Science. “What we are really stressing with these students is that the
research and development that they do is going to be directly applied,” she said. Since February and May of 2005, the homes have been outfitted with load monitoring systems, part of the project’s characterization stage.

These load monitoring systems not only measure the amount of energy used in general, but also measure on a circuit-by-circuit basis. “What we are using this for is to gather a year of baseline data. We haven’t made any retrofits to the homes yet,” she said. The compiled data will be used to understand the homes, she said. The two houses, both owned by Queen’s Student Housing, are located in the Ghetto and are both older brick homes.As well as monitoring load consumption, the team will pay for an energy audit. Once the audit is complete, the project will enter its implementation
stage, she said. One house will reflect low-interest and low-income levels, while the other will incorporate large-scale upgrades, including modifications such as new insulation and new appliances.
Brennan said the winters in Kingston could prove to be difficult for the project. “I don’t think it is feasible to get them [entirely] off the grid, especially in Kingston with the wind and cold,” she said, adding that they’re trying to minimize the homes’ reliance on the grid as much as possible.

She said the project’s funding, which is currently coming from a variety of sources including the University, is the project’s biggest obstacle.

“This is an expensive project— retrofits cost money,” she said. “The funding is the limiting factor right now.” Brennan said another project goal is to report the findings in an academic sense as well as
information the community can use.

“We want to provide information about alternatives for people, in terms of money and pay-back periods.” The project will also help industry interaction for students, she said.

“We would really like to offer opportunities for students to work with like-minded professionals on sustainability-oriented projects,” she said. Brennan said she was happy with how the project was being
received by the University and community. “I think it is going really well, it has been really well received with all of our outreach events,” she said. “Between students, alumni and frosh, it has been rewarding to be recognized … [We’re] getting our name out there and getting more students and alumni interested in us.”

Those interested in helping with the project can contact livelab@engsoc.queensu.ca.

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