Energy Audit and Retrofit

Barbara Whitten, Colorado College. This project was developed with my colleagues Mark Morgenstern (Director of Quantitative Learning Center) and Sally Meyer (Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science).
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Initial Publication Date: March 15, 2013


I use this Energy Audit and Retrofit service learning project in my intermediate level physics and environmental science classes to teach students about some of the basics of energy transfer, as well as some practical skills in installing weather-stripping, insulation, and more.

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Learning Goals

Context for Use

I am a proponent of service learning activities in science classes. I believe that it helps students see that their developing scientific skills are useful in solving human problems and gives science students a better understanding of the relationship between science and society. In addition, service learning has the potential to attract a different (and more diverse) group of students into science.

I have done this project in a sophomore level Environmental Science class called Energy: Environmental Theromodynamics and Energetics. This class is cotaught by a physicist and a chemist, and is required for the Environmental Science major.

I have also used it in a junior level Physics class called Thermal Physics that it part of the regular major sequence.

Description and Teaching Materials

Here is an outline of the project from my syllabus:

We will spend some time this block working on a class project to retrofit a house to be more energy efficient. This lab will teach you some of the basics of energy transfer, as well as some practical skills in installing weather-stripping, insulation, and such. We will also help a homeowner save money on energy bills, be more comfortable, and live more sustainably. Here is an outline of the project.

1. Understanding heat transfer (Wednesday, November 26, morning)
Lecture/demo on conduction, convection, radiation
Problem set 3, on heat transfer

2. Practice on a model house (Wednesday, November 26, afternoon)
Generate a list of possible changes to make it more efficient
Try each alternative and compare energy, emissions, and costs.
Which changes will save the most energy?
Which change has quickest payback?

3. First visit to house (Monday, December 1, afternoon)
Organize ourselves
What measurements do we need to make?
What equipment do we need to bring?
Divide into groups to do various things.
Visit the house, meet homeowner, and make necessary measurements.

4. Modeling the house (Wednesday, December 3, afternoon
Repeat possible changes with this house.
Calculate costs, energy saved, payback time
Groups work together to propose appropriate changes

5. Planning our retrofit (Tuesday, December 9 afternoon)
Each group reports on its proposal
We decide as a class what we will do, and what supplies we need

6. Energy retrofit (Friday, December 12, all day)
Purchase necessary materials
Meet at house with tools and materials
Make changes required

7. Third visit to house to repeat blower door test (Monday, December 15 afternoon)

8. Discussion of final report (Tuesday, December 16 afternoon)

9. Final report due Thursday, December 17
Letter to homeowner detailing changes we made and recommending future changes.

Teaching Notes and Tips


References and Resources