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At Concordia, students live in 'realistic lab' aiming to save energy

Anna Dovre, from left, Ben Stubbs and Samantha Ferguson work by natural light in the EcoHouse dining room Monday, April 10, 2017, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 8
Samantha Ferguson shows the device that uploads the EcoHouse’s electric consumption to a monitoring web site Monday, April 10, 2017, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 8
A worm is seen in the basement composting bin of the Concordia College EcoHouse. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 8
The EcoHouse maintains a lending library of green-minded books. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor4 / 8
Katie Black, front, and Anna Dovre make dinner by window light in the Concordia College EcoHouse on Monday, April 10, 2017, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor5 / 8
Katie Black and Ben Stubbs add food scraps and egg carton to the EcoHouse’s basement composting worm bin Monday, April 10, 2017, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor6 / 8
Samantha Ferguson looks at energy consumption of the Concordia College EcoHouse on Monday, April 10, 2017, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor7 / 8
Ben Stubbs, from right, dumps worm castings in a little free garden in front of the EcoHouse as Anna Dovre stirs them in and Samantha Ferguson decorates the garden Monday, April 10, 2017, in Moorhead. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor8 / 8

MOORHEAD — Samantha Ferguson adjusts the view on her laptop screen, and she sees an EKG in the graph before her.

"What is that?" she asks about the rhythmic spikes in the energy heartbeat of the house.

As the furnace and refrigerator cycle on and off throughout the day, the power use is logged and charted. Every watt consumed by the EcoHouse she lives in is uploaded to the web.

This is part of Concordia College's portfolio of sustainability initiatives, which also includes eco reps in the residence halls and the college's commitment this month to become carbon neutral at an, as yet, unset date.

Ferguson, along with other seniors Katie Black, Anna Dovre and Ben Stubbs, all wrote proposals to live in the EcoHouse at 618 6th St. S. in Moorhead.

The EcoHouse, in its fifth year of operation, is home to different students each year. Some student proposals have materialized as an outdoor rain barrel, LED lighting and a year-round composting worm bed in the basement.

But mostly, the residents try to minimize their environmental impact in a 1950's-era house with no solar panels, no special insulation, not even new windows.

"It's very much a realistic lab," says Samantha Westrate, the sustainability coordinator for Concordia College. "It's not a sustainable house as is. The windows are drafty. It's very much 'How do you do the best with what you have?'," Westrate says.

In this regard, it's like every other home.

"As we become more energy conscious, it's not always about spending more. It's 'What are my options?'," she says.

In the EcoHouse, the option include using natural light as much as possible, wearing sweaters indoors in the winter and even adding bricks to the tanks of already highly efficient toilets. Westrate says the students are "very intentional there."

Black says that she has made an effort to take shorter showers. Dovre says she reuses bread bags and they all try to limit their car use.

"We've learned how to make small changes and lasting ones," Dovre says.

There are lessons for the average homeowner, but few surprises. "It's things your parents always told you," Westrate says.

Many of the projects the students take on are educating their peers and the larger public. In honor of Saturday's Earth Day, there will be an opportunity to meet the students during an open house on Monday, April 24, from 4-6 p.m.

Energy saving tips can be found at energy.gov.

Michael Vosburg

Mike has worked as The Forum's photo editor for 14 years. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to letters@forumcomm.com

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