Winter 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW3

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Educating Future Energy Users Today


James A. McCarty
Extension Associate
Department of Design and Environmental Analysis
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Ithaca, New York

Joseph Laquatra
Assistant Professor
Department of Design and Environmental Analysis
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Ithaca, New York

Junior and senior high school-age youth in New York State can look forward to participating in a new educational program that combines instruction with hands-on involvement. Building Energy Awareness Models (BEAM) is a pilot program developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension and funded by the New York State Energy Office.

Because many of the houses, apartments, and mobile homes that comprise the existing housing stock are inefficient energy users, it's important for the future that new or renovated housing perform at a higher level of energy efficiency. Availability and cost of fossil fuels, together with the controversial nature of nuclear energy, suggest that future supplies of the energy used by households for heating, cooling, and appliances may become scarce. Added to that potential scarcity are the environmental costs of using such fuels and the unsettled political conditions in the large oil-producing countries in the Mideast. Potential shortages of these conventional types of energy in the foreseeable future aren't unrealistic.

Clearly, the need for educating energy consumers is as important today as it was during the energy shortages of the 1970s. Because adults are the audience for energy conservation educational efforts, the potential effect of such efforts may be limited to only one generation at a time, and then only to the most receptive members of such generations. BEAM was developed to educate future generations of decision makers whose attitudes and habits about residential energy use haven't been formed yet, and to demonstrate the technology and value of solar and other renewable energies as well as energy conservation efforts. Participating youth are learning to identify and evaluate energy-efficient features and energy-efficient design in new and existing housing.

In the pilot counties, 4-H members work under the supervision and leadership of 4-H volunteer leaders to assemble a precut, scale model (1"=1'0") house that has been packaged with all necessary building components in the form of a kit. Through a set of training modules presented before or integrated into the model assembly stage, participants have the opportunity to identify and evaluate the energy-efficient features and design of the model, and by translation, the larger housing stock of which the model is a symbol.

The modules are packaged in a slide/audiotape format, and after the information is presented, participants complete exercises that reinforce the new information. The three modules contain the following:

Design Module

  1. A discussion covering the general energy situation, the importance of conservation and the use of renewable energy resources, energy-efficient siting, architectural design, interior space planning, and careers involved with energy-efficient residential design.
  2. A site orientation assessment applied to the home of each participant, involving the determination of solar noon and solar access, and landscaping advantages and disadvantages.
  3. A space planning assessment applied to the home of each participant, involving floor plan sketching and analyses of room locations and their directional orientations.
  4. A presentation by a guest speaker who's a practicing professional in a housing and energy-related field.

Construction Module

  1. A discussion covering basic principles of energy-efficient residential construction, various strategies for achieving high levels of thermal integrity in houses, basic principles of heat transfer, insulation materials and R-values, air/vapor retarders, fenestration, and careers related to residential construction.
  2. A thermal envelope assessment applied to the home of each participant.
  3. A field trip to a new home construction site, where applications of solar energy use can be demonstrated and important points of the thermal envelope can be examined.
  4. A presentation by a guest speaker who's a practicing professional in the home contracting fields.

Occupancy Module

  1. A discussion covering residential space heating and cooling, actions households can take to reduce energy expenditures, residential lighting, domestic hot water, appliances, behavioral changes that reduce energy consumption, and careers related to efficient occupancy.
  2. An inspection of the home or apartment of each participant to examine existing physical conditions that affect energy efficiency.
  3. A discussion of energy conservation habits related to the direct use of energy in a home and the selection, use, and maintenance of appliances.
  4. A presentation by a guest speaker who's a practicing professional in the field of home energy use.

The certainty of future changes in energy technologies and applications suggests that widespread awareness be cultivated among today's youth. BEAM is one way to educate new generations of energy consumers in the relevance and application of energy conservation principles.