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ConVal High School freshman learn how to conduct an energy audit at Harris Center in Hancock, NH

By Jeremy Wilson and Margaret Baker

1. Shalie Alfonso and Emma Simila of Peterborough conduct an energy audit at the Harris Center.

1. Shalie Alfonso and Emma Simila of Peterborough conduct an energy audit at the Harris Center.

Hancock’s Harris Center for Conservation Education remodeled their building in 2003 to very high green building standards. Most of us would assume that even close scrutiny of the building’s energy efficiency today wouldn’t turn up much that needs attention. A group of freshmen from ConVal High School proved that assumption wrong when they conducted an energy audit of the building in the fall and winter.

The Harris Center has collaborated with ConVal School District classroom teachers to provide a wide range of environmental programming for more than four decades. Elementary students explore the environment around their schools, sixth-graders learn about climate and agriculture, eighth-graders study forest ecology, and sophomores do an invasive plant survey. As part of this continuum of programs, freshmen learn about what is involved in a building energy audit as an applied component of the high school science curriculum’s focus on energy transfer. Last year, ConVal freshmen studied the nooks and crannies of an empty farmhouse. This year, they turned their focus to the Harris Center itself.

Janet Altobello, Harris Center teacher-naturalist worked with Ted Stiles, a Harris Center adjunct teacher and an energy auditor with Yankee Thermal, and ConVal earth science classroom teachers, such as Dana Wood, to teach the students about a building energy audit and then apply what they learned to the real-life situation at the Harris Center. Students made observations with their eyes and hands, and also with tools, such as thermal imaging cameras and air pressure gauges, as they evaluated the building’s design and performance.

Through the course of the audit, students visited and made observations at six stations located throughout the building. These stations included typical high-problem areas such as the basement and attic, an outside reconnaissance, and some that examined some of the “greener” features of the building. Ted Stiles showed them how to use a blower door test to determine how airtight a building is and expose where the worst leaks occur. Janet taught them how to test the interior temperature of single-, double-, and triple-pane windows. In other areas, they applied their math skills to determine how much water the Center’s composting toilets save, or calculate how much forest area is required to sustainably grow the amount of wood used to heat the building in the new pellet boiler. They found it was nearly 20 acres.

Ultimately, the work of the Harris Center and local teachers is to provide lessons that connect curriculum concepts to students’ everyday life. “We’re trying to do things with the kids where they can say, ‘I can do this at my house, or I know how to make my house more energy-efficient,’ “ says Altobello. Using the Harris Center building as a teaching tool allows this to happen.

And though the Harris Center was only renovated 11 years ago, students were finding areas that could be tightened up — the result of oversights during the design and construction, problems caused during post-renovation repairs, and general settling of the building. The energy audit classes will continue this spring, so the Center doesn’t have the final results and recommendations of the audit yet, but they’re eager to apply what the students learned to advance the Center’s sustainability. Stay tuned!

To learn more, contact the Harris Center at (603) 525-3394.

Jeremy Wilson is the Executive Director and Margaret Baker is the Communications Specialist for the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, NH.


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