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January 2015

Soaking up the sun: Physicist Alexi Arango's "passivhaus" in Amherst is more than a simple solar home

By Ann Kenda, Mount Holyoke College - January 9, 2015

Assistant Professor of Physics Alexi Arango has been telling students in his Renewable Energy class for years about a little house in Maine that's so energy efficient that it heats itself without a furnace.

Simple Solar Home The home of physics professor Alexi Arango operates entirely by solar power

"I love the reaction," he said of students in the physics and environmental studies course, which is open to all majors. "There's disbelief, and the concept almost seems magical. Then you go through it and talk about the physics, and it's really not some wild idea."

Arango, whose research focuses on highly efficient solar energy systems, now is bringing the course's lessons home, in the true sense of the word. He recently built and moved into a 1,000-square-foot "Passivhaus," or "passive house," in Amherst, which operates entirely by solar power.

Alexi Arango's simple solar home The kitchen in the solar-powered home of Alexi Arango in Amherst

Arango, who writes a blog about the house, uses the real-life example to illustrate physics and environmental science concepts in the classroom. While students are originally "incredulous," most have become enthusiastic about the project.

"It's unconventional to do what I did," Arango acknowledged, but noted that passive houses are almost mainstream in Germany. "Culturally, we may be a little behind the times in how we think about our buildings."

Alexi Arango's simple solar home Alexi Arango sits in the living room of his solar-powered home in Amherst

Reference(s).. www.renewableenergyworld.com

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