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The University Magazine

RITís place in the sun

Considering Rochester’s reputation for cloudy days and long winters, RIT embarked on a somewhat surprising experiment three decades ago.

Energy House, a nine-room, 2,000-square-foot model home, was constructed on campus as a joint project of RIT, Rochester Gas & Electric Corp., and the Rochester Home Builders Association. The structure was designed to rely on the sun for as much as 65 percent of its heating needs – even in winter – thanks to 39 solar panels and a heat pump system.

The project originated with RG&E-funded research by mechanical engineering professor Paul Wojciechowski. Numerous energy-saving features were incorporated, including extra insulation in the basement, walls and roof; energy-conserving adaptations for the fireplace; a ventilation system instead of air conditioning; and minimal windows facing north, east and west. The glass-walled southern exposure bathed the interior with light.

“It was a delightful place to live,” recalls Jasper Shealy, professor emeritus, industrial engineering. Shealy, his wife, their two young children and dog lived in Energy House from 1978 to 1981. “We were the first, last and only family to live there,” says Shealy. “We were very comfortable in the house.”

Shealy says the experience had a direct influence on the home they bought in suburban Rochester in 1981. “We wound up reducing energy consumption by 50 percent due to the lessons learned from Energy House.”

Those improvements included improved insulation, a vapor barrier between the attic and living areas, reducing air infiltration around windows and doors and other relatively simple measures. “You don’t have to do anything exotic to make a significant difference,” Shealy notes.

After the Shealys moved out, Energy House was converted into office space. Ultimately, the structure was torn down to make room for student apartments.