Eighth graders examine alternative energy
Photo by: 
Kate Gienapp

Students in the Gunnison Valley are looking on the bright side of energy alternatives — quite literally.

In recent weeks, Katya Schloesser’s eighth-grade class at Gunnison Middle School has observed the power of the sun — and its potential as an alternative energy source.

The project was inspired by Schloesser, who attended the National Renewable Energy Lab Energy Institute for Teachers in Golden, Colo. this past summer. Following the program, the institute provided funding for equipment which allowed her students to measure how much energy comes from the sun in both the summer and winter months. In an effort to bring work in the classroom to light, Schloesser’s class paid a visit to local builder Steve Schechter’s home last week to see how he harnesses the sun to suit his needs. Schechter lives in what’s referred to as a “zero-net home,” meaning the structure doesn’t rely on energy from the grid. While his home looks like many others on the street, students were quick to point out the solar panels located on Schechter’s roof.

“In my home, I get no energy billat all,” said Schecter. “I produce my own electricity. I don’t have a carbon footprint.” For Schechter, the driving force behind his energy efficient home is climate change. “Everyone needs to start looking at their carbon consumption and start thinking about it because if we don’t it’s not a pretty picture,” explained Schechter.

There are various elements to his home that lessen its effect on the surrounding environment. Schechter began the tour by pointing to the walls in his home, which appear unusually thick.

“That’s part of how I insulate my house,” he explained in reference to his straw-bale build. The thickness of the wall helps to reflect sunlight throughout the room, as well as provide ample insulation for his home.

“This solar home and net-zero energy home takes all the seasons into account,” added Schechter.

One way that Schechter adapts for all seasons in his solar home is by utilizing something as simple as an overhang above his windows on the outside of the house.

Although the idea may seem counterintuitive, the purpose of an overhang is to block the sun, explained eighth grader Laurie Stonecypher.

“So in the wintertime, the sun is at its lowest angle in the sky and it’s under the overhang and then when it’s summertime it actually prevents it from getting too hot,” said Stonecypher.

Stonecypher, along with her fellow classmates, are working toward designing their very own solar powered homes as a part of Schloesser’s earth science class.

“I have windows all along the south side,” said Gavin Hixson of his proposed design, adding that the south-facing windows are crucial to harnessing the sun’s power.

Students must incorporate both active and passive forms of solar energy for the assignment, a distinction that Hixson elaborates upon.

“Active solar is something like solar panels and passive is practically the opposite, using the sun’s energy alone,” stated Hixson.

Although it’s not quite time for students to start the search for their future home, Schechter’s structure shined a light on all the possibilities.

“It was pretty cool how he built it himself and how he didn’t have to pay much in the long-term,” said student Wyatt Howery.


(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or kate@gunnisontimes.com.)