Fall Progress Update – Compost Bin Construction

At about halfway through the semester, the SDH team and residents have made a lot of progress with the house. One major accomplishment for the team so far has been the design and construction of a compost system.

Composting is a great way to recycle food and yard waste and produces a usable, nutrient filled mixture to support a healthy garden. By composting, the team is also able to reduce their carbon and nitrogen footprint. Food waste that goes into a landfill decomposes anaerobically and releases about 3.8 pounds of greenhouse gases per pound of food; composting can reduce this amount significantly.

The system that the team designed consists of three bins, which allows for a greater capacity of waste to be composted. More importantly, this allows for three stages: incoming, working, and completed. New food and yard waste will be added to the first bin until it fills. When it becomes filled, the material will be moved into the second bin so it can continue to decompose. The process of moving it into the next bin helps to aerate the material to help the bacteria decompose the waste. Eventually, it is moved into the final bin where it completes the process and becomes usable for the garden.

The SDH composting system is 2’x6’ total with three 2’x2’ bins. The bins are constructed from wood and small slots are left between each board to provide additional aeration.

Constructing the system took the team about six hours to complete, but they had a lot of fun during the process. Now they can provide a nutrient-rich soil for their garden and divert their food waste from a landfill – it’s estimated that American families produce 20 pounds of food waste per month on average, so this project should make a positive difference!


Summer Update: Lights & Water Improvements

Summer at the SDH has been off to a great start so far!  Rose had the opportunity to visit the house a couple weekends ago and she was able to implement several great changes.  Efficiency United has initiated an energy audit and donated 8 LED bulbs, a couple of low flow aerators for the sinks, and some shower heads. The Efficiency United program is intended to provide assistance and incentives to customers who employ energy efficient measures. Programs offer rebates on natural gas water heaters, clothes washers, pipe wrap, water heaters, furnaces, boilers, and thermostats. Incentives will be provided to the home owner and based on fulfilling energy efficiency standards.  We will report later on our starting “Energy Score” once the audit is completed. On residential bills there is a line item entitled MI Energy Efficiency Charge.  Both your gas supplier and your electricity supplier collect this fee to pay for this program.

These donations were placed where they were most needed in the house.  One of the shower heads on the main floor initially had a flow rate of 8.78 gallons per minute (gpm).  Upon replacement with a low-flow shower head, the flow rate has been reduced to 2.5 gpm.  One of the upstairs shower heads was also replaced to reduce the water consumption.  The other two showers already have low flow rates (1.94 gpm, 2.5 gpm) so these do not need to be replaced.

Replacing the aerators was a bit more challenging.  A lot of the existing aerators were extremely corroded and they broke when pliers were used to remove them.  Rose did manage to get most of them off though.  However, the donated aerators only fit on certain sinks and  therefore, they had to be replaced in specific rooms in the house. The sinks in the two upstairs bathrooms, the kitchen sink, and the laundry room sink all had water spouts onto which the aerators fit properly.  All of these were replaced with 1.5 gpm aerators.  The remaining aerators will be replaced when we receive the correct size.  Additional flow rate tests will be conducted in the fall to verify the flow rates of the new shower heads and aerators.

Finally, the LED light bulbs were installed in the upstairs bathrooms. With the bulb donations we received, 8 incandescent bulbs were replaced, and the bathrooms look great!  However, the results of our lighting survey showed that there are a total 131 light bulbs scattered throughout the house.  Specifically, we need 32 more A19 size LED lights. We will accept lights sent to the following address or money to purchase them. All donations are tax deductible in Michigan.  Actual lights can be sent to our advisor, Jay Meldrum, at MTU/KRC, 23630 Airpark Blvd, Calumet, MI 49930.

That’s all we have for now, but we will be sure to keep you updated as more exciting changes come about throughout the summer.  Hopefully your summer has been a good one so far!

In Summary…

Another school year is over and everyone on the SDH team has successfully made it through another semester.

This year has been an incredibly productive year for the enterprise and especially the SDH team.  A description of some of our projects follows.

  • We created a thermal model to use as a tool to predict how updates to the house will improve the energy efficiency.  This will help us justify improvements to the house before we implement them.
  • Solar sizing and solar location research was conducted – over the summer we plan to install 10 kW of solar panels that will provide electricity to the house.
  • We looked into water usage of the appliances in the house by conducting flow rate testing and found out that most of the sinks, showers, and toilets use a lot of water.  We plan on replacing these faucets with low flow devices next semester.
  • An inventory of the light bulbs was completed.  We will be replacing all of the incandescent bulbs with more efficient LED bulbs and we predict that over $1100 in electricity costs will be saved each year from this change.
  • We determined the energy usage and operation costs of all of the appliances at the house and we will be replacing these with Energy Star certified replacements, which will further help us reduce electricity usage.
  • Blower testing was performed in the house, which showed us the locations of the largest heat leaks.  Windows and the chimneys are the largest sources of heat loss, so we will seal the windows and chimneys more thoroughly and eventually we would like to replace the existing windows.
  • Finally, we have finalized plans for five students to live in the house next year.  They are a great group who are very enthusiastic about sustainable living, so we are excited to see what they are able to contribute to the house next year!

So, as you can see, we’ve made a lot of progress, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.  This summer and fall will be a busy time for the SDH team.  That being said, most of the team is heading in separate directions for the summer, so this will probably be the last time you hear from us until classes start back up in the fall!  When anything exciting happens over the summer in regards to the house, we will try to keep you updated.  Thanks for following along with our progress this year!

Get to Know the Team

We currently have eight students from the enterprise working on the SDH.  We have been working on this project since the Fall 2016 semester and will continue to work on the house for the next several years.  To get to know the team a bit better, the following are short introductions.  While the team spans five different engineering disciplines, we are united in our interest in environmental sustainability and renewable energy.  

Nathan Ackerman

I’m Nathan, I’m a 4th year Mechanical Engineering student and have been in AEE for two years. I am in the enterprise because I am interested in the alternative energy field. I grew up on a small hobby farm and have an interest in living sustainably.  I enjoy exploring the UP in my free time.

David Anna

Hi, I’m David, a third year mechanical engineering student. I am from Ithaca, Michigan in the central Michigan area. I became involved with AEE because I believe that, as a future engineer, becoming involved in alternative energies is the way to create the largest positive impact within the world. Outside of school I enjoy riding my motorcycle, snowboarding, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors in general. After graduating I hope to work within the energy industry continuing my interest within alternative energies.

Mario Graziano

I am a third year civil engineer. I am interested in AEE to help bring some concepts that I learn into the field of civil engineering. Sustainability is not a common practice in civil engineering and I would like to help change that. My current direction in civil engineering is focused on structures. Outside of the enterprise, I am the president of the Men’s Club Soccer Team so that keeps me very busy. I love exploring the Keweenaw, especially in winter.

Drew Hanover

I am a third year mechanical engineering student from Bay City, MI. I have had two years of research experience in HVAC optimization and Model Predictive Control with two publications. I interned at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as a Fluids System Design Engineer. I worked for two summers at General Motors as an intern in Body Engineering and Camaro/Corvette Performance.

Warren Krettek

My name is Warren Krettek and I’m a second year electrical engineer working in my second year at AEE. I’m involved in sustainability because I believe it is one of the most important contributions we can make to modern society and I would like to pursue this as a career after I graduate. On campus I also participate in the Audio Engineering Society which does lots of cool stuff with speakers and sound. In my free time I enjoy running, listening to music, and going to hockey games. So far, AEE has been a great engineering experience for me and is also a ton of fun. I can’t wait for this project to develop and to see what we can offer the community!

Laura Schimmel

Hi there! My name is Laura and I am a third year materials science and engineering student from southeastern Michigan.   This is also my third year being on the enterprise – I have learned so much about different renewable energy technologies and how to live more sustainably.  I hope to pursue a career in the field of alternative energy and sustainability, especially in the developing world.  Outside of AEE, I am a member of SWE and Engineers Without Borders.  In my free time I enjoy exploring the UP, running, climbing and skiing.

Sam Swartzmiller

Hi my name is Sam Swartzmiller and I am from Traverse City, MI. I am a fourth year mechanical engineer and currently the president of Alternative Energy Enterprise. I will be attending grad school here at Tech next year researching wave energy conversion. I came to Michigan Tech with the goal of entering the alternative energy industry upon graduation. I am passionate about promoting and developing renewable energy. When I’m not on campus you can find me at Mont Ripley snowboarding.

Rose Turner

Hi! My name is Rose Turner and I am a third year environmental engineering major from Detroit, MI.  After I graduate, I plan to get a job in the alternative energy field and thought joining the Alternative Energy Enterprise while I’m still in school would be a great start to that.  So far I have had an enriching experience in AEE and am excited to see where the SDH project takes us.  Outside of the enterprise, I am the University Chemistry 1 Supplemental Instruction Leader, a differential equations teaching assistant, a WMTU radio show co-host, and the leader of Soul Core fitness at Michigan Tech.  In my free time I like running, mountain biking, going on adventures, and traveling.  If you see me on campus, please say hi!

Apply to Live in the Sustainable Demonstration House!

We are currently looking for students to live in the Sustainable Demonstration House for the next school year – Fall 2017 through Spring 2018.

We are looking for students who are passionate about sustainability, or are interested in learning more about sustainable living.  You do not need to be involved with the enterprise program to be considered and we are looking for all majors.

Follow this link for the application.

Applications are due Friday, March 31.

Welcome to the Sustainable Demonstration House Blog!

This blog will be a continuously updated aspect of the Michigan Tech’s Alternative Energy Enterprise with which to spread continued interest in sustainable living practices and technologies.

An Introduction:

The Michigan Tech Sustainable demonstration house, also known as the Kettle Gundlach house, was originally built by Herman Gundlach Jr, the president of the Keweenaw Construction Company at the time. In 1979, the Michigan Tech President, Dale F. Stein moved into the house. The house served as Stein’s residence until 1991 at which point many renovations were made to the house. In 2004 this residence became known as the Kettle Gundlach University Residence and has been used for various university related social gatherings.

The Alternative Energy Enterprise has been given jurisdiction over the Kettle Gundlach house in order to create a sustainable demonstration house. Many improvements are currently in the process of being made, such as the installation of high efficiency lighting fixtures and solar panels.  Several other projects are planned, including composting and higher efficiency appliances.  The purpose of these projects is to show how sustainable living could look in everyday life.


We on the Alternative Energy Enterprise Sustainable Demonstration House Team would like to welcome you to this blog! We are excited to keep everyone updated on the progress of the house and how well the improvements and practices are being incorporated into the resident student’s life.

Currently we have some exciting things we have been working on, such as:

  • Cataloging the current light bulbs within the house for use in high efficiency replacements.
  • Baseline readings of the overall energy usage of the house.
  • Solar panel installation planning has been underway and we hope to have them installed by Michigan Tech’s fall semester. So, keep your eyes out for those coming soon to Michigan Tech’s Lot 10!

We look forward to keeping our readers updated on the developments as they are made to the house as well as outreach events. So stay tuned!