Hiram College

Camouflaged amidst a row of houses along the quiet Dean Street just behind Gerstacker Hall at Hiram College, rests what appears to be an ordinary house.  A stone beaten path accented with towering maples lines the front of the house.  From the street, nothing distinguishes this house from the rest.  At least, not yet.

Starting this year, the TREE House (that stands for Teaching, Research, and Environmental Engagement) at 11745 Dean St. will begin to be transformed from an ordinary house into a buzzing hub of activity for the Environmental Studies department. A generous gift to Environmental Studies will make possible a renovation project which will include professor’s offices, classrooms, student workspace, and a place for public demonstration and workshops. But this is no ordinary residence-to-academic building transition. The aim is to incorporate sustainability principles into the house’s structure, energy and water systems, landscaping, social and educational uses, to name a few ways. Like most renovation projects, the major limiting factor is money. And we see this as a good thing.

The Environmental Studies department and students will use this process to create a model for the average American household on an average budget. That is what sets this project apart from others.

Our goal is not merely to show the world that sustainable change is possible, but rather that changes at the household level are economically and socially feasible—and necessary for the betterment of the world’s ecosystems.

What is also exciting about this project is that much of the research, decision-making, and implementation of sustainability-oriented changes will be carried out by students—in classes, independent research projects, and by Hiram’s new SEED (Sustainability, Environment, and Engaged Design) Scholars (I’m one of them). Our goal this year is to document and explain what we did with this house so we can help area residents figure out how to do the same.

Our challenge is to turn our house into a sustainable living environment with moderate financial means. We also challenge you in this process to use our model as a way to re-examine (and perhaps re-invent?) your lifestyle and how you might live comfortably while also accommodating the needs of the world around you. Humanity’s environmental impact can only be regulated through people’s actions.  Our project will be part of making a difference.

We hope to see you along the way!