#SquadGoals: Home Energy Squad makes homes energy efficient

Where are you living next year? It’s the question rattling around campus, and while rising sophomores are deciding between Wallace and Kirk, rising juniors and seniors are figuring out whether to live in a dorm or a house. Relevant decision-making factors range from food options, to distance, to price and with no objectively right choice, students have to decide what matters most to them on an individual basis.

Understandably, among a slew of important considerations, energy use differences may not be at the top of students’ pro and con lists. However, off-campus houses typically use more energy per person than on campus dorms. According to Macalester’s Sustainability Manager, Suzanne Hansen, in the most recent Macalester per capita energy use study, “The least efficient dorm was about on par with EcoHouse, our most efficient house.” This is because dorms house more people per square foot than houses, so there is less lighting and heating necessary per person.

This isn’t to say that students shouldn’t go off campus, as there are many non-environmental factors to consider. Also, though it is more energy-intensive, being off campus could be more sustainable in some ways. For example, being off the meal plan enables students to cook the type and quantity of food they want and minimize food waste.

But still, since if you do go off campus, you’ll be paying all of your own utilities, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to reduce your energy consumption, helping both your wallet and the planet? There is!

The Home Energy Squad is a service co-founded by a Mac alum that will visit your off-campus home and implement energy and water-saving tweaks such as LED lights, water-saving showerheads and faucets, weather-stripping for drafty doors and windows, and programmable thermostats. Typically, the service costs $70, but the Home Energy Squad will perform the service for free for a house of college students on normal college student budgets.

Some Mac students have already taken advantage of this service. According to David Munkvold ’17, “They came over and installed 28 LEDs (over 100 dollars worth of lights that will last for a decade and use minimal energy) and two water-saving showerheads, plus a water-saving faucet. They also sealed up our drafty front door and showed me how to use the programmable thermostat to regulate the temperature of my house so that it was colder at night and when everyone was not home. They were in and out in under an hour and all of it was totally free!”

Overall, students who have used the Home Energy Squad report that it was a positive experience. “We definitely would recommend it to all Mac students living off campus; Macalester would do well to promote it more in classes and fliers and such,” Henry Whitehead ’17 said.

You can make an appointment with the Home Energy Squad online, over the phone at 866-222-4595 or through Macalester’s Sustainability Office located in Kagin Commons.
Obviously, these kind of modifications are fairly minor, but the changes can add up. And programmable thermostats are only the first step.

Dr. Stewart Herman, scholar in residence at Concordia Moorhead and husband of a Mac alum, came to speak at Macalester several weeks ago about a project to renovate his 107-year-old home to net zero (producing the same amount or more energy than it uses).

Herman and his wife are accomplishing this goal using a three-pronged strategy. First, they are adding insulation to the house to reduce the energy loss from heat leaking out through the walls. Second, they are building a solar panel array on the roof. They plan to produce solar energy during sunlight hours and feed excess energy produced into the electrical grid. They will then receive energy from the grid at night. This interaction with the grid allows them to get around the main problem of solar energy, which is that there isn’t a good way to store it, yet. Finally, Herman and his wife are using geothermal energy, a type of renewable energy that takes advantage of underground heat, to power their heating system. Though this kind of renovation is beyond college student budgets, it’s good to start somewhere, which is where the Home Energy Squad comes in.

Even if you aren’t living off-campus next year, it’s never too early to start thinking about ways to live more efficiently. After all, post-graduation, it’s off-campus from here on out.