Student Researchers Test Energy Saving Techniques on Campus

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When you head to the roof of a building wearing a harness, you tend to attract attention. Student researchers Justin Cullen and Kiley Wilfong have had a lot of explaining to do.

Their sunshade, suspended from the roof of the Engineering Technology Building by cotton ropes, has sparked quite a few questions. In the Education Building and Hardway Hall, staff members wanted to know why they should only use one certain sink in the women's restroom.

Justin, from Point Pleasant, and Kiley, from Williamstown, both senior Architecture majors, are exploring small changes that can make a big difference in Fairmont State University's campus energy management. As members of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) and Students Taking Action in Nature's Defense (STAND), they are passionate about "green" living.

The pair, who are also members of the Honors Program, traveled to Chicago in the fall of 2007 to attend Greenbuild, the nation's largest sustainable building conference, where they found a lot of inspiration. In response to the trip, they completed a research project that compiled campus energy data in the spring of 2008. This summer they are putting what they learned to the test.

Through the College of Science and Technology's Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), Justin and Kiley received a $3,200 grant to study techniques to make the campus more energy efficient. SURE is part of a NASA supported grant to promote critical thinking and problem solving skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The pair hopes to generate campus interest in fighting solar heat gain and cutting down water consumption.

"The Architecture Department is very interested in design-build projects that will help the campus and the community. It's not just a campus for students and faculty, Fairmont State is part of the community. Saving energy and money is good for everyone," Kiley said. "Most people would do more if they knew what to do. It's a chain of events. When you become informed, you inform other people. Justin's parents and grandparents, they always recycled aluminum cans, but now they do plastics, steel cans, glass and newspapers. One person sharing information with another person helps to spread awareness. In the Honors wing in Bryant Place, we are recycling freaks. If you throw away a plastic bottle there, we jump on you."

Justin added that many student organizations on campus are interested in being more "green."

"Green living is about more than just recycling bins. STAND is trying to make people more aware that there's a lot farther you can go. People just need to be informed," Justin said.

Philip Freeman, Assistant Professor of Architecture, serves as the pair's faculty mentor and meets with them each week.

"It is exciting to see two outstanding students interested in learning more than just theories, and experiencing firsthand the application of sustainable principles," he said. "They are among the most motivated students I have taught."

Justin and Kiley are studying solar heat gain on the south-facing glass facade of the Engineering Technology Building using a 12 foot by 4 foot sunshade they built out of PVC pipe, duct tape and rigid foam insulation. The sunshade covers Room 413, the office of Occupational Safety faculty member Kim Murphy. They have been using Room 414, the office of Electronics Engineering Technology program coordinator Jim Goodwin, as a control room using traditional window blinds. They take temperature readings at set times in both rooms when the sunshade is up to determine which shading technique is more effective. They recorded the temperature with the blind closed and open, which is a more practical application for how blinds are really used.

"Sunlight doesn't hit the glass, it bounces off the shade. Another benefit is that you can see daylight and the view from the window because the shade is really unobtrusive. Ms. Murphy's office has remained a constant 82 degrees with the shade," Kiley said.

Jim Goodwin's office has been considerably warmer, especially with the blind open, and he has been a really good sport about that, they said.

"We don't want to cook Mr. Goodwin," Justin said.

When they raise the sunshade on sunny days, they also raise a few eyebrows; it is unusual to see students on a roof. As part of their project, the pair had to write a safety plan that follows OSHA standards and was approved by Murphy and the Department of Public Safety. When on the roof, Justin wears a safety harness connected to a lifeline since he is the only one to approach the edge, and they do not go up if the roof is wet or if the wind speed is over 12 mph, which is anything over a 3 on the Beaufort wind scale.

The pair has taken temperature readings in other buildings that have a lot of sun exposure to show that solar heat gain is a valid concern campus-wide.

"We hope to not only improve the working and learning conditions on campus, but also save the university money in energy costs," Kiley said. "Many air conditioners are being run year-round on campus, and we hope to show that this does not need to happen."

For their water consumption project, Justin and Kiley installed hot and cold water meters on a sink in the second floor women's restroom in Hardway Hall. For seven days, they monitored how much water is consumed. Then they changed the aerator on the sink from a 2.2 gallon per minute aerator to a 0.5 gallon per minute aerator. The new aerator should increase the water pressure but use one-third less water and will be monitored for another seven days. They conducted the same experiment in third floor women's restroom in the Education Building. They hope to show that by purchasing aerators for each faucet, which is very inexpensive in comparison to purchasing a new faucet, FSU could save many gallons of water and dollars on energy costs. 

"Everyone in Hardway has been really excited and interested in what we're doing. Every day when we come over to check the sink, there are people there outside the restroom door to ask questions," Kiley said.

"At Hardway, we're getting really accurate data. When we first measured, we thought something had gone wrong. We found that 41.3 gallons of hot water had been used and 9.1 gallons of cold water in one day. That's really high. In 49 weeks, that would be 10,900 gallons if the usage remains consistent with data collected so far. We're really looking forward to seeing how the aerator does."

The pair will write a paper in September and make a presentation in April 2010 as part of the Celebration of Scholarship. They hope to present their findings to the administration and maybe Fairmont City Council.

"We've had a lot of fun. The most difficult part was building the shade," Justin said.

Kiley added that "jumping through all the hoops" with safety and working with multiple departments was also a challenge in the beginning but has worked out well.

"Mrs. Kim Murphy, Mr. Jim Goodwin and Dr. Anthony Gilberti have been very helpful. We were allowed to borrow most of our equipment from various departments. The Physical Plant has been really helpful, and we appreciated that they turned over data to us. Kit Conner, Barbara Fallon and Carol Tannous have been very supportive. The different departments on campus focus on different disciplines, but they have crossing interests. It's been neat finding all these people are going to support you," Kiley said.

"It's nice to know we have the support of staff and administration on campus," Justin said.


A view of the sunshade on the side of the Engineering Technology Building.

On the roof of the building, Justin Cullen pulls the sunshade up for the evening.

Kiley Wilfong is shown during the building of the sunshade.