The College of the Atlantic Davis Center for Human Ecology, built to passive house standards, is ...The College of the Atlantic Davis Center for Human Ecology, built to passive house standards, is a highly efficient, environmentally friendly collection of classrooms, offices, and art and science spaces.

One winter afternoon, while demolishing walls coated in mold and mildew in the basement of an 1895 granite building on campus, and yanking out fiberglass batts that rodents had turned into nests, one student at College of the Atlantic turned to David Gibson and said, “I can really see how important this is and how valuable it is that we’re doing this work.”

“We wore full-faced respirators and we were just covered in gross particulates and stuff,” says Gibson, COA director of energy. “That really struck me because it’s certainly not appealing work to do, but it is just so critically important. In addition to significantly reducing our energy use, we’ve been addressing indoor air quality, health and safety issues. Perhaps the most valuable benefit is in putting down vapor barriers and drying out and insulating some of these basements. The cost to build new on our campus is several hundred dollars a square foot, so we easily save half a million or $1 million by creating usable spaces in basements that were wet and moldy and unusable.”

During the last two years, COA, which is also one of the 12 founding ACUPCC signatories, has focused on reducing energy consumption by revamping existing structures. When college administrators purchased 12 additional units of student housing in the community, they borrowed extra funds to make energy improvements right away. “I lined up the insulation contractors, and we put in heat pump water heaters,” Gibson says. “Within six months of the purchase, we had transitioned all 12 of those off of fossil fuels, so they’re no longer burning heating oil or propane. There’s zero carbon footprint associated with the energy use in those buildings, where it would’ve been very high, particularly given how poorly insulated they were.”

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