Students create proposal to reduce Montgomery House energy consumption

The five students’ proposal is estimated to reduce energy use by 71.5% and save about $2,000 a year.

by Charlotte Sadelain | 2/24/23 5:00am

Photo Courtesy of the Montgomery Fellows Program

A team of five students — Adelina Sederman ’23, Harrison Munden ’23, Kaulana Kanno ’23, Sophie Edelman ’22 and Nate Roe ’23 — are conducting a project to reduce the energy consumption of Montgomery House, a residence overlooking Occom Pond occupied by visiting Montgomery Fellows. 

The project is part of the framework of ENGS 89, “Engineering Design Methodology and Project Initiation” and ENGS 90, “Engineering Design Methodology and Project Completion,” a two-course sequence in which senior engineering students work with a sponsor and professional consultants to execute a project proposal, Sederman said. 

The sponsors that the team is working with are Montgomery Fellows Program administrators, program director Steve Swayne and assistant director Ellen Henderson, Sederman added.

“The Montgomery Fellows Program was established to benefit students, particularly undergraduates, so it made sense to have undergraduates working on a project that would help to make the house more energy efficient, as opposed to going to external contractors to do that,” Swayne said.

The team spent the fall term determining the house’s current baseline energy consumption, according to Edelman. She added that the process entailed looking through electricity and fuel oil billing records, installing an electricity monitoring system and conducting an energy audit at the house. The energy audit included determining how much air was leaking in and out of the house and conducting thermal imaging to identify what parts of the wall were colder — and thus in need of more insulation — Edelman said.

The house’s energy consumption per square foot is higher than most dorms on campus, even though dorms are more densely occupied and would thus be expected to use more energy, also according to Edelman.

In the winter term, the team began to identify technically feasible, cost-effective solutions that would reduce energy consumption. Roe said that identifying potential solutions requires “balancing” the availability of manpower and resources, ensuring the residence experience is not disrupted and abiding by historic preservation guidelines. 

Sederman said that the team has identified six main solutions: making changes to the electrical wiring, addressing air leaks, switching incandescent lighting to LED bulbs, putting in additional insulation in the basement, changing the air conditioning to a heat pump and switching from an oil steam boiler to a condensing propane boiler. She added that implementing these changes is estimated to result in a 71.5% reduction of energy use and save the house about $2,000 a year. 

At the end of the term, the team will present their proposal to ENGS 90 professor Solomon Diamond and their sponsors from the Montgomery Fellows Program.

“As soon as this class ends in the winter, our hands are off the project,” Sederman said. “We’re basically planting the seed and we're leaving it up to the sponsors to water that seed … so we are relying on our calculations and our research to really convince them to want to do this work.”

Swayne said that there is no concrete timeline for the implementation of the proposal and emphasized the need to maintain the liveability of the house for the Fellows residing there, which may lengthen the process.

Edelman also said that their work could have an impact on the broader Dartmouth community.

“These auxiliary buildings on campus … consume about a sixth of the college’s electricity,” Sederman said. “They might all be really individually small, but they still are a big part of the energy picture on campus, so hopefully we can start some progress towards fixing them up and making them more sustainable.”

According to sustainability director Rosie Kerr, the Sustainability Office has been working with the group to advise and liaise with their sponsors. She also highlighted the proposal’s relevance to energy equity by addressing how existing housing stock can be improved. 

“Figuring out not just how to build high performance buildings when you’re building a new building, but also how to make current existing buildings that people live in more energy efficient over time, is actually a critical function as we work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Kerr said.

In partnership with the Montgomery Fellows Program, the group will contribute to additional efforts to publicize their work, such as creating an educational display — which will be shown in the Irving Institute for Energy and Society, Munden said. 

“The display’s goal is to educate students and professors on Dartmouth’s campus about building efficiency and how important it is to decrease the impacts of climate change over time,” Munden said.