Written by Luna Lu and Sharon Cheng, Grade 8 WMS Students
House Unplugged is a project done annually in all WMS 8th grade science classes. Students like us work in small groups to design a model of an energy-efficient house. In the end, a miniature model is built using household materials like cardboard, felt, plastic containers, and newspaper. Although some information is covered in class, most work is done independently inside the groups. We conducted our own research by making use of online resources and taking detailed notes. The project this year was just a little under four weeks, but in that time, nearly all groups produced satisfactory results.
Why are we doing this?
House Unplugged is partly an effort to deepen students’ understanding of heat transfer, which we had been studying prior to the project. But mostly, it is an effort to teach students about the importance of sustainability. As many may know, climate change is becoming a more concerning issue every year. The world has warmed as much as 1.8 ˚F in just the last century. Climate change will lead to inhumane temperatures if not acted upon, besides rising sea levels, unpredictable weather, and loss of biodiversity. The most pressing causes that we generally think of are the rapid industrialization of our times, energy use, and transportation. However, home building, one of the biggest contributors to climate change, goes unnoticed by the public.
Currently, building houses counts for 40% of global CO2 emissions, and it’s only going up from there. Building materials alone contribute 13% to the roster. Since 1941, about 37.12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide have been emitted every year, an unhealthy amount if we were to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Subsequently, by using sustainable building materials, we can save up to 4.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, the amount of CO2 that one billion people produce per year. If we can save that much the goal of this project is to build a model of a house that uses those sustainable materials.
Our Process Through the HU Project
The first step to any sort of project is always research. During this time, we took large amounts of notes to brainstorm the features we wanted to include in our home, such as solar panels, radiant heating, etc. It was during this time that we discovered features like solar trackers, heat pumps, energy recovery ventilators, and many more that we weren’t aware of prior to House Unplugged. After finalizing our features, multiple sketches were made from different perspectives to show the full potential of the house. Since this project is likely students’ first time being introduced to sustainable building, we were lucky enough to have experts in the field come in to discuss our decisions and give feedback on ways to improve.
These experts were architects, carpenters, and even teachers who came and spent multiple days with us. Through our conversations, we started thinking about more specific aspects like the material of the walls and what kinds of insulation works best. We looked into different alternatives to the mechanics we wanted to include previously. By talking with an expert, we discovered that, alongside the solar panels which we were planning to install on the roof, we could also include solar trackers/trees, providing us with the most amount of energy possible. Our experts also talked to us about how the different mechanics in our house can work together to be more efficient and effective. For example, one important aspect of an energy-efficient house is for it to be airtight in order to preserve the temperature inside the house. However, if this was to happen, we also had to make sure that fresh air had a chance to enter the house by using an ERV (energy recovery ventilator) that could bring fresh air into the house and remove stale air within the house.
The building process of the house was a time-consuming portion of this project taking us about a week to complete. Materials were brought in mostly by the students and only some were provided by the teachers, they varied from cardboard, to plastic containers, straws, and newspapers. Most groups, including our own, started with a shoe box and modified it to our needs. We had the freedom to build however we wanted and had the responsibility of deciding how we were going to incorporate all the aspects of our original plan into our model. We cut out squares in our box to form windows and glued them on newspaper to represent cellulose insulation within our walls. Our model was placed on a flat piece of cardboard and everything was positioned strategically according to our research like placing deciduous trees on the south-facing side of our house to block sunlight.
The last aspect of the House Unplugged project was for all the students to summarize all that we learned and present our final design to judges, some of whom were adults from WMS and others who were experts from the community. . Each group worked to put together a slideshow to showcase their understanding of this project. We were asked to explain the different aspects of our models, how they function, and how they benefit an energy-efficient house.
Throughout the project, students like us not only developed team working skills but also learned about aspects of energy-efficient homes, a subtle but impactful way to combat climate change. Many students went home to explain the concepts to their family, and it’s safe to say that this project was a great success. We can’t wait to see what students will do with this project next year.
Architecture 2030. “Why the Building Sector? – Architecture 2030.” Architecture 2030, . Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
Tiseo, Ian. “Annual CO2 Emissions Worldwide 1940-2021.” Statista, 6 Feb. 2023, . Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.