UNITY, Maine — Unity College students like living in the Cottages, six apartment-style campus dormitories that provide them independence, along with a kitchenette.
But with the high cost to heat the inefficient, 40-year-old buildings — which burn an estimated 250 gallons of oil per student resident each winter — they’re much less popular among college officials.
This year, as soon as students vacate the premises in a couple of weeks after finals are finished, the school will raze two of the Cottages and replace them by September with a super-efficient 10-person apartment-style residence hall known as TerraHaus.
The groundbreaking structure is believed to be the first Passive House-certified student college residence built in the United States, said Doug Fox, director of the college’s Center for Sustainability and Global Change.
“Our buildings and grounds teach,” he said Thursday. “We believe that our students learn as much from what we do as what we say, and we want students to experience living sustainably while they’re here, as part of a model for their lives.”
Thanks to superinsulation, superior air sealing and solar orientation, the oil usage per student living there will plummet to just 8 gallons per winter.
That’s good news for the environment as well as college coffers, according to Fox.
“The TerraHaus is a way to walk the talk,” he said.
Ultimately, all six Cottages will be torn down and replaced with SonnenHaus Village: three 2,000-square-foot Passive House structures that will be built by Belfast-based GO Logic and have landscape design by Ann Kearsley of Portland.
Fox figures the building will end up costing about $450,000, more than an equally efficient building would cost private homeowners, because the college will have to comply with Americans With Disabilities Act guidelines and also install a sprinkler system.
Toward this goal, Unity College has received a $389,000 grant from the Delaware-based Kendeda Fund and $25,000 from Bangor Savings Bank.
While in some ways, TerraHaus will be cutting-edge, it intentionally won’t look that way, Fox said.
“It will look like it fits into the New England landscape,” he said.
Alan Gibson, the principal and co-owner of GO Logic, which built Maine’s first Passive House-certified home in Maine — called the GO Home — said it has been an interesting challenge to design the larger, slightly more complex TerraHaus.
Unlike the GO Home, the TerraHaus will use a heat pump that can provide both heating in the winter and cooling in the summer.
“It should work nicely for the Unity Passive House,” he said.
Hot water will be provided through a “very large” thermal system, and special passive solar windows will be imported from Germany — although most of the materials will be sourced locally, according to Gibson.
“There’s been a lot of energy put into it, to make sure this building, and the two others planned like it, will create a little sustainability village,” he said. “We hope they get funding for the next two.”
Fox hopes so, too, and said the project also has been popular with students. He has been teaching a course about the house, and two of the 10 students who will move in at the beginning of the next school year have been in that class.
“They will be able to blog about living in the house for a full year, and they’ll lead tours through it,” he said. “A big part of the passive house’s whole function, both internally to the campus and to the Greater community, is the educational function of the building.”