Written By: Jackson, Jack Conway, WMS Eighth-Grade Student
Eighth-graders at Wellesley Middle School were faced with a challenging project. In an effort to learn more about heat transfer, they were challenged to design and build a house prototype that produced net zero emissions. Students accomplished this task by limiting the power needed for the house and by generating power for the house in unique, sustainable ways.
The first part of the eighth-grade science curriculum at Wellesley Middle School is learning about thermal energy, temperature, and heat transfer. To understand and contemplate these principles, WMS 8th grade teaching staff aimed for a hands-on, real world project of building net-zero homes. A zero net energy building is one that is optimally efficient, and over the course of a year, generates energy onsite, using clean renewable resources, in a quantity equal to or greater than the total amount of energy consumed onsite.
The project officially kicked off with a Zoom presentation given by a LEED certified Boston architect and Wellesley resident. After that, students began with a unit about heat transfer, and they learned much more about conduction, convection, and radiation while considering how it could be used to build an energy-friendly home. Over the next few weeks, students began to sketch and plan how they wanted to design their house. They were given the choice of building anywhere in the Greater Boston Area, so there was lots of research as to where the best place to build was. With some preliminary plans, students had an exceptional opportunity to meet with professional architects who specialized in green building.
After winter break, students began to create their projects in small groups. They were asked to choose between creating a 3-D model, a digital model, or a trifold poster. Part of the assignment was to produce a guide explaining how every piece of their design worked. Many students chose to build 3-D models, however one group made a digital model using tinker cad, which is an online software that allows one to construct realistic structures. A couple of weeks later, the big day came to present their projects. In addition to their peers, students also presented to the original architectural experts as well as some WMS faculty.
It was interesting to see how students used a variety of techniques to achieve the net-zero goal. For example, students used double-paned windows, fiberglass insulation, solar chimneys, Trombe walls, awnings, green roofs, and radiant floors to make their homes more energy-efficient. These features made it so minimal power was needed to heat and cool the home, but when power was needed, they used a variety of renewable sources. Windmills, solar panels, hydropower in rivers, and even wave power could be found in different designs.
These renewable house models were great examples of what houses in Wellesley will need to become in coming years to meet its GHG emissions reduction goals. These goals call for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Buildings in Wellesley produced 63.3% of the town's total emissions in 2020. The majority of these emissions came from the residential sector. Reducing total GHG emissions in Wellesley will require targeted action to reduce emissions from our homes and other buildings.
This was an excellent project for the eighth graders. Students really enjoyed this project and found it fun to be able to apply their science knowledge to a hands-on activity solving a real-world problem. It was a win-win for the students and the teachers.