Sustainability Demonstration House Project
Advisors: Jay Meldrum, Dr. David Shonnard
Table of Contents
Ch 1. Sustainability Demonstration House CURB Data Team
Ch 2. Sustainability Demonstration House Team
The goal of the Sustainability Demonstration House (SDH) project is to retrofit the former president’s residence, built in 1953, titled the Kettle-Gundlach Building, into a sustainability demonstration house. The SDH will serve as a resource for the community to learn from, and experience energy efficient, low carbon living. The house is located on Woodland Drive, next door to the Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship, very close to the East McNair Residence Hall.
One of the biggest motivating factors for this project is the electricity rate in the area. The rates in Houghton and the surrounding area are 63% higher than the national average . Reducing electricity use is not only environmentally friendly, but is an easy way to save money. From a broader perspective, it is easy to ignore the environmental impact of modern day conveniences, like waste removal, instant electricity and gas, and clean water. Unfortunately, many of these conveniences depend on the availability of limited resources. Electricity is still largely generated by coal-burning, which has an adverse impact on Earth’s atmosphere. Waste taken from your home is ultimately sent to a landfill. Sustainability, in short, is understanding the impact of human actions on the environment to preserve resources and ensure healthy living communities for future generations. The SDH project was created to educate both the Michigan Tech and Keweenaw communities on sustainable living and demonstrate its impact on the local environment. This provides experiences that people can view firsthand and apply to their own lifestyle. Students will be able to put their own ideas into action and directly see the benefits and challenges this lifestyle brings, while also positively impacting the local community.
The mission of the SDH is to provide a real life example of sustainable living in the western UP in order to educate students and the surrounding community about sustainable living practices. This shall be completed through home improvement projects aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of the house as well as implementation of sustainable living practices. All changes to the home will be recorded. The effects will be made public through the use of open houses occurring at least once a semester and an SDH blog. Ultimately, the SDH team looks to raise awareness and promote feasible actions individuals can take to build a healthier, more sustainable future.
It is the team’s hope that the public and well-documented nature of the SDH will make implementing sustainable living practices more accessible to the general public and encourage students and the surrounding community to implement them in their own homes.
The SDH is being reworked from what was previously known as the Kettle Gundlach House, a Michigan Tech owned building. The university allowed the Alternative Energy Enterprise to gain control over the house and transform it into a Sustainability Demonstration House. The SDH has a deep history that started with the people who built it in 1953: the Gundlach family. Herman Gundlach Sr. was the founder of the very popular Keweenaw construction company, Herman Gundlach Inc, and was especially well known in the Houghton area. His son, Herman Jr. went to Houghton High School and then went on to play football at Harvard. Herman Jr. then served in World War II. After returning from war and working within the family business for years, he took over as the new president of Herman Gundlach Inc. Years later, after owning the company for some time, Herman Jr. built what is now known as the Kettle Gundlach house. This is the house in which multiple Michigan Tech presidents have lived. At this time, many renovations were done to the house. The renovations were intended to make the house better for entertaining guests. It was designed in a way to allow large crowds to occupy the house all at once. This building then became known as the Kettle Gundlach University Residence in 2004, open to the public and various university groups. It was typically used for university-related social gatherings with large groups of people.
The Kettle Gundlach house is a good choice for the SDH project for several reasons. Much like other older homes in the area, it lacks efficient insulation, appliances, furnace, and other features common in modern homes. This lack of modern efficiency is seen as an opportunity for the team. This will allow the team to create a baseline reference as well as a model procedure for increasing sustainability that is applicable to a majority of the houses in the community. The Kettle Gundlach house is also highly visible due to its history as well as its location. This will help to serve the public outreach aspect of this project. With the location of the building, many students and community members will be able to view it.
Ch 1. Sustainability Demonstration House CURB Data Team
In Houghton, MI, the average residential electricity rate is 19.36¢/kWh. That is over 60% higher than the national average of 11.88¢/kWh. Reducing electrical usage not would not only save money but would reduce the impact on the grid and therefore reduce the needed fossil fuels for producing electricity.
The CURB unit is a device that reads the electrical information going through a circuit breaker. This allows for individual tracking of electrical usage in areas of a house. It comes with a built in data processing and display service allowing easy viewing of past or current electrical usage.
Analysing this data and identifying the major influences on the electrical usage could be used to increase the efficiency of the house. By removing the major outliers, or operating them during peak solar panel energy production or when power from the grid is the cheapest.
The installed CURB unit started gathering electrical usage data on January 13th, 2020. Since then hourly electrical usage has been recorded for each fuse of the circuit breaker, which have been associated with sockets and or appliances. The production from the house solar panels were also connected allowing easy viewing of their production cycles. This data was received from the CURB company in the form of a data spreadsheet. Initially not all of the data was in order, making our first step to either reorganize the misplaced data rows or create a placeholder day for consistency for which there were only a couple. The data was also labeled by a different time zone than that of the location of the house. The initial GMT was converted to EST to allow better understanding of the hourly data. This became especially useful when comparing the expected solar panel operating times to the recorded hourly production. After the data was reorganized the team started work on analysis.
To begin with the analysis a look over of the data was done to see what data was collected and how it was categorized. Numerous categories were labeled with their own individual columns. Each one represents a connection from the circuit breaker and either the sockets and or appliances directly connected to it. The connections and therefore categories were deduced by the MTU Alternative Energy Enterprise CURB team, which operated during the previous spring semester, as well as an electrician for the connections that could not be deduced under normal circumstances. One category was unable to be clearly identified and was therefore labeled as other.
One of the only easy ways to analyse the data was through graphs. A few were made to see how consumption changed over time, shown in Figure 1. The data ranges from January 13th to November 5th. This gave close to a year's worth of data to analyse. Large dips can be seen starting around day one-hundred fifty and ending around day two-hundred thirty. This timeframe is roughly equivalent to when the MTU campus was shut down due to COVID-19 in April. This was also around spring break of which many people left campus for either vacation or home. After the campus was shut down most students who were away from campus stayed where they were. This would have led to fewer people at the residence, therefore fewer individuals consuming electricity. This time frame led into late July at which time some of the residents would arrive for the fall semester.
Figure 1. Daily Energy Consumption
While the WattHours noticeably decreased during that time period when viewed as cumulative power consumption, the decrease in energy usage is harder to see, shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2. Cumulative Energy Consumption
This graph represents almost a year's worth of energy consumption. Reaching around five and a half MegaWattHours (MWh) over the course of forty-six weeks or roughly ten months. As the residence is fit for six people, that's a bit under a MWh per person. As November and December are both winter months, the energy consumption from those two months could have reached six MWhs for the whole year. The trend of the graph is fairly consistent with slight increase and decreases in the trendline. Electrical consumption being impacted by the cold season is typical for climates such as Houghton. The residence also sports many windows creating large areas of heat loss throughout the darker parts of the year.
The total energy consumption consumed by each category was put together in a table with the Location & Connection along with the total WattHours consumed, shown in Table 1. This shows the greatest impactors by category of the residences energy usage. The Other (Table 1, Ref. 41) category is the second greatest influence on power consumption to the Boiler (Table 1, Ref. 9 & 10). The boiler is heavily used during the winter months, making up a large portion of its power consumption. Aside from keeping the thermostat at the minimum required temperature to stop pipes from freezing it can't be influenced through active usage that much. Making sure to take shorter and or colder showers can reduce the Water Heaters (Table 1, Ref. 39) power consumption. The table has all referenced categories highlighted, red for high power consumption and green for potential manipulation.
Table 1. Total Energy Consumption By Category
Location & Connection
2nd Floor East Bathroom
Kitchen NE Undercabinet
2nd Floor West Bathroom
Kitchen Outlet S.W.
Aquaponics and Zera Composter and Basement SW Wall
Kitchen W Undercabinet
Basement Bath Fan & Rcpt
Main Floor West Hall Rcpt
Basement Fridge and Rec Room Counter
Master Bedroom East Rcpt
Bedroom 3 Off of Stairs
Bedroom 6 - South Rcpt
Black Box by Sewer Pump
Boiler Rm Elec Panel Rcpt
Rec Room Lights SE
Rec Room Lights South
S.E. Dining Rm Rcpt & Doorbell
Downstairs Baths & Hall
S.E. Kitchen Rcpt & Out Ent Rcpt
SW Bedroom Except Closet
E Hall South Rcpt
Servants Room Rcpt
East Bar Rcpt
Servants Room Toilet Fan
SolarEdge Metering Unit
Hydroponics and Basement W Floor
Kit Rcpt - Snack bar & Iron Board
Kitchen Counter Rcpt
Kitchen Entrance Lights
Many of the power consumers either operate for long periods of time or are not easily restricted to certain time periods. The easily influenceable consumers are Range Cooktop, Oven Top, Oven Bottom, Dryer and Dishwasher (Table 1, Ref. 30, 29, 28, 14, 12 respectively). In order to reduce the electrical impact of these appliances certain times of day can be used to either reduce the cost or the net consumption. Certain times of day would include very late at night or more likely early morning. Drying or washing dishes can be easily scheduled for this time, and those who cook food could store extra for later meals. Alternatively using the same appliances during the peak hours of the solar panels would create a buffer on the grid consumption. As the residence is not paid for any electricity produced beyond consumption, the power is not being utilized to its fullest potential assuming the residence batteries are full at the time of usage.
The Sustainability Demonstration House is connected to a solar array not directly attached to the residence. Using the power produced by the array, the house can reduce its energy costs both when active and while the battery holds a charge. The production per day for January 13th to November 5th, shown in Figure 3, has some discrepancies. The gap of energy production around day one-hundred thirty occurred between May 25th, 2020 and June 5th, 2020. There is additional time starting around day one-hundred forty where production seems to have ceased. As of September 6th, 2020 at 6:00am EST, the solar array has ceased to produce power to the house or the observation tool has failed, that is the case as of November 5th, 2020. Aside from those circumstances all other energy data points are sound.
Figure 3. Daily Energy Production
The daily energy consumption compared to production is shown in Figure 4. During the winter months, not only is energy usage high but energy production is low. While the summer is almost perfectly equal, allowing for near or at net zero. The calculated difference between consumption and production is shown in Figure 5.
Figure 4. Daily Energy Consumption & Production
Figure 5. Daily Energy Consumption Production Difference
The total energy produced is shown in Figure 6. This clearly shows the impact that the solar array has on the energy consumption of the residence. With estimated productions during the downtime in the summer and after day one hundred-forty. The total energy produced could have expected to reach around two-thousand five-hundred. With total energy consumed at five-thousand five-hundred, energy produced is around 40-45% of the total consumed power. Reducing energy usage by around half over the course of the data collection. In actuality only two-thousand one-hundred was produced, this is around 38% of the total energy consumed.
Figure 6. Cumulative Energy Production
Even with the system performing the way it should, the winter months consume too much energy to possibly go net zero with the current setup. Over double the production would be necessary to be net zero throughout the year, however this would create much more power than necessary during the summer months and power would still be consumed during the winter. If allowed to feed the power to the utility and be paid this could make it net zero in cost and in long term energy consumption. The winter production is way too low to be sustainable by itself.
Note that a second battery for the solar array was installed during the spring semester but did not come online until later, and while the exact date is unknown the spike in consistent energy output as of day one-hundred ten shown in Figure 3 would be a sensible result of the battery coming online. Assuming this is to be correct, the second battery roughly doubled the total power supplied by the array by allowing the battery to cover more of the down time in production per day. With additional batteries an increase in efficiency could be expected with diminishing returns as the solar array is still limited during the winter months. The spreadsheet of data includes the graphs and calculations used in the analysis, this can be viewed by using the link to the spreadsheet in the appendix.
The CURB unit allowed for clear analysis of the power consumption of the Sustainability Demonstration House. Using this data it is clear that most of the power goes towards heating over the year. The influenceable portions of the power consumption amount for around 25% of the total. This is a decent chunk and if the usage of this is either optimized for the solar panel power generation or the lower cost of using them during low usage hours, the savings could be notable. Some people are willing to alter their lives around sustainability, this information allows them to take it a step further. Although the altering of one's schedule so precisely seems like a heavy commitment, over time it would become a habit. One probably wouldn't even realize it at some point. The solar array also proved itself in making a noticeable impact on the residences power consumption. Since the SDH does not receive compensation for power to the utility, further expansion of the solar array and battery system would not have much of an impact on the residences efficiency versus the cost.
This entire process has been taking the information and analysing it. The next step would be implementing it and comparing the results of the next year. Finding out if either the net electrical usage has declined or the monthly cost has been reduced. As the residence is occupied with students and not only do they have the responsibilities of school but also of their tenant projects, having them take on a strict schedule could be a negative influence on their academics. Initial volunteers that would show proof of concept with the schedule could then have the others follow suit if successful. At which point the data could start to be analysed in comparison to previously acquired data. The direct solar production data could be enhanced to confirm the conclusions of its impact on the residences net energy consumption and potential performance during winter months with additional batteries.
Ch 2. Sustainability Demonstration House Team
The overall goal of the open houses hosted at and about the Sustainability Demonstration House is to educate the community on sustainable living and to provide an example of how they can adopt sustainable practices within their own home. The SDH team typically hosts one or two open houses each semester as a way to engage the community, but with COVID-19 restrictions this semester an in person open house was not feasible.
Figure 7. Spring 2020 Open House Volunteers
Workshops involving sustainable projects are also usually planned throughout the semester. The goal of the workshops hosted by the SDH is to get the community involved with sustainable projects that are simple and fun to construct. Unfortunately due to social distancing restrictions, workshops could not be held in the usual fashion this semester. Outreach took a different form this semester, with activities to engage the community like a social distanced yoga night on the SDH lawn during Orientation Week. The SDH team also organized a Sustainable Gems Scavenger Hunt in the Keweenaw community, as well as a Sustainable Living Webinar Series.
This past summer, the SDH tenants and enterprise team worked to hold the Keweenaw’s very first waste reduction drive to collect items that people would usually throw away and then recycling or repurposing them instead. Egg cartons were donated to local chicken farmers to be reused and plastic bags were recycled through Walmart’s recycling program. All batteries were properly recycled through Remy battery in Houghton. Foil-lined bar wrappers were sent to Terra Cycle where they will be turned into hard plastics, and plastic bottle caps and rings were sent to Preserve’s Gimme 5 program where they will be turned into kitchenware and toothbrushes. Many different forms of advertising were done for this, including hanging posters, making a TV advertisement, reaching out to different departments and the staff at Michigan Tech, and advertising at open houses. The first waste reduction drive was held on June 27 and was a huge success, with over 150 community members participating. The drive ended up saving over 46,000 items from entering the landfill, and another waste reduction drive is being planned for the spring of 2021.
As a way to continue outreach and education within the community while remaining socially distanced, the SDH tenants held a three-day webinar series over Zoom on sustainable living during the third week in October. The goal of the webinar series was to show community members some simple steps that they can take to reduce their impact on the environment. Three one-hour events were held, and the topics that were focused on were: harnessing solar energy for your home and vehicle, reducing emissions by changing your diet, and striving for a zero-waste lifestyle.
The SDH team also organized a month-long online photo scavenger hunt that highlighted many lesser-known sustainable gems in our own community. For every ten items photographed, each team was entered once into a prize drawing for a chance to win gift baskets with local products. The scavenger hunt took place from September 17 to October 18 and saw great community participation. This event was another effective way to engage with the community while remaining socially distanced during the pandemic.
The overall goal of the SDH is to demonstrate sustainable living for the surrounding community. The students selected to live in the house during the school year are encouraged to work collaboratively with one another to progressively limit their environmental impact. Along with this, the students work on general upkeep of the house. Specifics about these responsibilities are discussed below.
There are currently six students living at the SDH, and these students were hand selected by the current SDH tenants, SDH AEE team, and the selection board. Students were selected based on transcripts, letters of recommendation, responses to several essay questions, interview performance, and group-activity performance. To avoid issues amongst students, and between the University and enterprise, a housing policy similar to that of other Michigan Tech residences is being utilized. Michigan Tech Housing manages the SDH with regards to university policies, and the enterprise manages the SDH with regards to sustainability.
The tenants are all responsible for weekly sustainable chores that ensure that the SDH stays on track with its sustainability goals. Below are the weekly tasks.
To demonstrate sustainability and improve the sustainability of the house, tenants are responsible for working on their own sustainable projects.
There are many project ideas that have not been started due to time constraints and COVID-19 restrictions, including the continuation of in-person open houses and workshops. Other future projects at the house include implementing a moss lawn,, redesigning the heating system for the house, adding a plant wall to the house, installing extremely low flow showers to all the bathrooms, and adding mirrors to the house to reduce the need for lighting. Other future work for the house will include holding the postponed open houses and workshops, as well as a second waste reduction drive next year.