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Local college students design eco-friendly, affordable house

Several local college students have spent the last couple months giving the term “greenhouse” a whole new meaning.

Students from Syracuse University, the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Onondaga Community College are working together to design an eco-friendly house that would be affordable for the median family income in Syracuse.

The project is part of a national competition sponsored by the United States Department of Energy and the National Association of Home Builders, said Paul Crovella, an instructor in ESF’s department of sustainable construction management and engineering. The group’s final design must be submitted this Sunday by midnight. Some of the group members will then travel to Colorado to present their design to a panel of judges.

Crovella said he came across an announcement from the NAHB about the competition. He reached out to colleagues at SU and OCC to bring students together to form a team.

He said each team participating in the competition has to design a home based on the geographic location of the group and that area’s median income, which is $65,000 in Syracuse.

“To build a home that is so different from what’s usually built today in a more efficient manner and still fit in mortgage requirements has been a challenge,” Crovella said.

Sarnai Davaadagva, a senior environmental science major at ESF, said in an email that building the house under budget has been challenging. He added that integrating eco-friendly design principles into the design given the limited budget was difficult.

Ultimately, the house the students design should be a net-zero building, which means that it should produce as much energy as it uses, Crovella said.

Students have also contended with the new challenge of staying in contact with people other than just designers during the competition, he said.

“Unlike other projects they’ve worked on, every student has been in contact with different contractors,” Crovella said. “It’s been a very realistic experience for them as far as getting hard numbers and has been an eye-opener to understand the drivers that go into the project.”

He added that students no longer have to worry about designing a landscape or a set of windows for a home, but now have to consider how much it would cost to install those features.

In addition, the weather in Syracuse has posed a unique challenge for the students.

Mike Walczyk, a junior construction management major at ESF, said the group has had to consider the effect the cold could have on their design.

“We have to design a house that’s suitable for this climate,” Walczyk said. “It’s much more difficult than designing for a warm climate.”

Despite the new challenges the students have had to deal with as a part of the competition, it will be useful in the future.

Walczyk said the competition is a great way to learn about eco-friendly building methods and gaining the ability to educate others about those methods.

Crovella added that designing energy-efficient buildings could be pivotal in improving the environment in the future.

He said the construction industry has made eco-friendly changes more slowly than other industries, like the transportation industry with cars and other methods of transportation.

Since cars only last 10–15 years while buildings can last several decades, Crovella said making them more energy-efficient will be a productive step, something this competition is helping to do.

“The decisions we make today won’t just have an immediate effect on the environment, but will have a lasting effect,” he said. “It will have an impact for the next 100 years and into the future.”

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