Environmental Physics

building physics

“The walls are a foot and a half thick,” said Tristan, holding up the model house he designed with Peter and Easton. “They are made of concrete and insulation. Only the last ½ inch is sheetrock. That gives us an R-value of 20.”

“Our house is 30’ x 50’,” said the team of Kira, Zoey, Matthew and Reagan. “Our calculations show that we need a 50’ x 50’ solar array—on the roof and in the yard—to heat it.”

Sophie, Jacob and Annie thought closely about trees. They’ve planted the south side of their house with oak and maple trees. In the summer, the leaves block the sun. In the winter, when the leaves are down, the house will be warmed by sunshine.

moving towards net zero

collaborative decisions

gaining scientific knowledge to make life decisions

The seniors are describing aspects of their final project in Environmental Physics: designing a passive house. The sustainable construction concept uses the sun's energy and the surrounding climate to provide natural heating and cooling. The students apply the scientific knowledge they’ve learned in the class to calculate aspects including their building material’s R-value and U-factor, its thermal mass and the solar heat gain based on our local latitude and climate zone.

“Every decision we make, from what we wear to the food we eat, has an environmental component," said teacher Jim Panzer. "My goal for the class is to equip students with the scientific environmental understanding required to make informed decisions." 

applying insights to home and school

Students are already using their new knowledge to assess the energy efficiency of their own homes … and of their school.

When asked about John Jay High School, the students agree that some areas are either hot or cold. “Q gets really hot,” was a universal statement. “There should be awnings outside of the hallway windows,” said one student. “What’s the insulation material,” wondered another. Others spoke about adding more solar panels and wind turbines to the campus so the school would consume less gas and oil.

future thinking

“In the future, if I buy land, I will think back to this class and what we learned about how a house should be positioned and its design and the trees surrounding it,” said Sophie. “I will think about my building material’s R-values.”

Kira, Zoey, Matthew and Reagan were also thinking about the years ahead when they put the finishing touches on their house model. Who is looking out the window? Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish environmental activist. “Greta represents the new environmental future,” said the student design team.