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USM Applied Energy Program Gets ‘Dream Home’

USM’s applied energy program, which gives students hands-on experience in measuring and testing energy efficiency, has acquired its dream home.  The university-owned building at 19 College Avenue on USM’s Gorham campus was built as a private home in the late 19th century. It features poor insulation, a fieldstone foundation and an old, oil-fired burner.  

“We couldn’t be happier,” said Daniel Martinez, assistant research professor in the USM Department of Environmental Science and manager of the house. “This is the ideal structure in which to conduct research and teach students and community members about residential energy use and how to implement effective weatherization programs and other low-cost energy conservation measures on a typical Maine home.”

While noting that model energy homes are important, Martinez stresses that there has been insufficient focus on houses built before the energy crisis of the 1970s. He adds that most residential-level energy research is conducted in controlled laboratories outside of New England.  “We need the ability to research and teach using an actual, energy inefficient Maine house, rather than a controlled laboratory,” said Martinez. “We need to know what works best here under actual conditions.”   

Martinez and his colleagues in the Department of Environmental Science’s applied energy program are reaching out to private and public organizations to partner in the testing, research, and education of affordable and new energy-saving technologies. Plans for the house include the installation of real-time sensors, probes, and cameras to test and monitor the performance of improvements. All information eventually will be made available through a “Residential Energy House” website. The energy house, said Martinez, is also ideal to monitor and test indoor air quality, which can be affected with the introduction of energy conservation and supplementary heating measures.  

According to recent statistics, nearly 72 percent of Maine homes are reliant on imported oil for heating at a time when the average statewide price of heating oil has increased more than 60 percent since the 2004-2005 heating season. Martinez also notes that cuts in the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) means that Maine’s most vulnerable are facing a difficult year. “This situation highlights the need to reduce energy consumption through low-cost and proven technologies,” he said.   

The program is funded in part by a National Science Foundation grant through the NSF’s “Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.”

For more information, contact Professor Daniel Martinez at 780-5444, dmartinez@usm.maine.edu or Professor Travis Wagner at 228-8450, twagner@usm.maine.edu.