A Visit from the House Energy Doctor

April 14, 2011

The homeowner sits in her livingroom and watches as the team of architecture and landscape architecture students light their smoke sticks. They’ve already finished sealing up her home by taping plastic over the registers, windows and doors.

If you do not see the video below, view it here on YouTube.

Grinning with anticipation, one of the students flips a switch and a giant fan begins to blow air into the house.

A student holds her smoke stick up to the top of the back door and an unmistakable trail of smoke wafts out through a tiny crack in the doorframe. Another student holds her smoke stick in front of an outlet and a steady stream of smoke snakes away.

“Homeowners have no idea how much air conditioning and heat they lose through these invisible leakages,” says Alan Roberts, a practicing architect for more than a dozen years who decided to go back to the UA for his Master’s degree in Design and Energy Conservation. “We come in here with our equipment and we measure all the ways the building loses energy, and then we make recommendations for how to modify the structure to make it energy efficient.”

The House Energy Doctor is the only program of its kind in the world, and it attracts students from every continent. Launched in 1982 by UA Professor Nader Chalfoun, the pioneering program has won awards from the Department of Energy.

“The House Energy Doctor is centered on hands-on learning,” says Chalfoun. “Our students learn how to use 36 different tools and instruments to measure every aspect of energy performance in a building. At the end of the semester, they go out into the community and offer their House Energy Doctor services for free.”

The students measure everything from the reflectivity of the roof to the ways the landscaping effects the temperature of the building. They analyze all their results and then present a “prescription” to the building owner.                       

“People are always amazed at how much money they can save on their energy bills by making a few modifications,” says Chalfoun. “On average, it’s sixty percent!”

The UA’s College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture is leading the country in graduating a new generation of professionals who understand the principles and practices of sustainable design.

“When our students graduate and start designing,” says Chalfoun, “their buildings will never need a visit from the House Energy Doctor.”

Learn more about the House Energy Doctor program at http://hed.arizona.edu/