A pressure house is a full-scale building that is constructed to determine how to reduce the amount of energy required to light it, run appliances, heat and cool the inside air, and keep the cold, outside air and wet weather from coming through the roof, walls or foundation.
Funded with grants from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and taught by veteran teachers Mike Drew and Fred Johnson, high-school students in the construction trades at CV-TEC in Plattsburgh have been building their own pressure house. Aptly called The Pressure House project, the students have recently installed doors and windows and are beginning to add sheetrock and electricity. Their teachers estimate that they are currently, “seventy percent finished.”
As I walked through the organized construction site toward an emerging, two-story house with arched windows, Drew, who teaches Construction Trades, explained, “The students learn a variety of construction techniques. When they are finished with their program they will be able to work on any age home. Here, we have begun to work on how to install energy efficient wiring, heating, air conditioning, plumbing, and appliances. After that, and along the way, I teach the students how to do blower-door tests to identify air leak- age and correct home-related heat loss.”
Between October 2011 and summer 2014, NYSERDA awarded CV-TEC, the only high-school recipient, three separate grants total- ing $172,000. The initial grant provided for the construction of the Pressure House. The second provided energy-related instructional training equipment (including a blower door to test a building for air tightness, a thermal imaging unit, a solar-and-wind-energy train- ing system, and a solar panel system). The third provided funds for licensed subcontractors to install the roof and do other projects that, due to liability and safety concerns, high-school students could not do.
Johnson, who teaches Electrical Design, Installation and Alternative Energy, instructs the students not only on how to wire a home, but also how to integrate solar and wind into traditional energy sources. By aligning the ENERGY STAR curriculum to the existing one, Johnson is able to prepare students to incorporate energy efficiency into any home. “We have to focus on finishing the house first,” said Johnson as we walked past a bank of newly unwrapped solar panels. “Then we can work on a solar initiative, among other things.”
Using hands-on training activities and interactive learning strategies, Drew and Johnson use their extensive experience in construction and teaching, and the ENERGY STAR curriculum, to instruct students on energy-efficient building techniques. Students use state-of-the- art industry equipment and materials in a controlled environment to learn how various types of insulation work, state-of-the-art heating and hot water systems, a variety of lighting installations, and how to recognize opportunities, during the construction process, to perform pressure tests to determine air leakage. In addition, this year, the students also worked on a Habitat for Humanity house.
“Drew doesn’t let you touch a hand or power tool until he knows you’re trained on it, and he insists that you follow safety procedures,” said senior Keegan Kwetcian, who also answers to “Wolfman”. After adjusting his safety goggles and hard hat, he said, “You have to show him you know how use a tool safely before he will let you work.”
“The program is a lot more than what I thought it would be,” added Andrew Arless, a junior, as he checked the seal on a newly installed window. “We get to work at an actual construction site for two years. I like working with students from other schools.” Asked what he found particularly challenging, Arless responded, “Putting in a door is hard. You have to make sure it is framed correctly and level.
The arch windows were a hassle, but they look good now.” Walking through the work site, the diligence and professionalism of the students was obvious.
Entering CV-TEC offices, I was greeted by Michele Friedman, Director of Career and Technical Education. “We are thrilled to be a part of NYSERDA,” she emphasized. “It is a perfect opportunity to enhance our curriculum and align it with ENERGY STAR guide- lines. The Pressure House project allows us to partner with clean, alternative energy processes (wind, solar), and puts our students at the forefront of learning state-of-the-art construction practices using energy-efficient techniques. It doesn’t get any more ‘hands- on’. Moving forward, the Pressure House can become a facility to help further educate local contractors to be ENERGY STAR certified. We can provide a work force trained in energy efficiency and renewable energy, increase economic opportunities and provide cost savings for North Country residents and help sustain our planet.”