The University of Arizona

A Living Laboratory for Sustainability

By Alan Fischer, February 24, 2010

A livable laboratory for developing and testing new sustainability technologies and techniques could become a learning opportunity for UA students.

Karri Hobaica
Karri Hobaica

A livable laboratory for developing and testing new sustainability technologies and techniques could become a learning opportunity for University of Arizona students.

The proposed Desert Living House project would be home to a small number of students and could possibly result in a new sustainability course at UA, said Kevin Bonine, adjunct assistant professor in ecology and environmental biology and adjunct assistant professor in the school of natural resources and the environment.

"We have these fantastic things like the solar house that went to Washington, D.C. Those kinds of innovative technologies would be great to showcase for the campus community and the city at large," Bonine said. "This could be a visible demonstration site for both technology and lifestyle approaches."

Bonine and Karri Hobaica, a UA senior in ecology and evolutionary biology who took Bonine's conservation biology class last semester, have teamed up to try and make Desert Living House a reality.

"This is a way to reach out to the larger University community to give a larger number of students the opportunity to learn how to live sustainably," said Hobaica, who is earning three independent study credits this semester for working on the project.

"Beginning with initial construction and continuing throughout the entirety of the project, the goal will be to teach and demonstrate sustainable living and to test the feasibility and field-worthiness of new technologies that make sustainable living possible," she said.

"We envision having a house for four to six students at UA," she said. "While it's a place to live, it's going to require some sacrifices of not using a ton of water and things like that. The people living there will be in charge of upkeep, not developing and installing new technologies.

While UA has implemented environmentally friendly "green" buildings and retrofit existing ones, the Desert Living House would be a test bed where new ideas are tried out and modified to maximize sustainability benefits, Bonine said.

Plans call for the structure to be small – about 1,000 square feet – so that updates and revisions can easily be made to the sustainable technologies that will be implemented, he said.

Although the Desert Living House project is in its early stages, with Hobaica currently the only student participant, Bonine believes it could quickly develop into a new UA course on sustainability.

"I think that is one new approach, it could readily grow into a semester offering, be it with the students actually living in the house, or based around learning about the technology in the house. I envision the people living in the house hosting seminars or a speaker series each month, geared toward sustainable courses," Bonine said. "I think it would be a fantastic recruiting tool to get students to come here."

"It would be a good class," Hobaica said. "It would really give students a chance to learn with hands-on experience."

Hobaica and Bonine are currently seeking feedback on the project from various groups on campus as well as looking for additional student involvement. They plan to seek funding from agencies like the Department of Energy.

"This project has the potential to involve so many different departments at the university and the city of Tucson, to be a really good learning experience outside the classroom, and be applicable in a regular person's life," Hobaica said. "In addition to having one sustainable house, it will make it so these factors can be applied to a normal house in Tucson.

"I think there is a really good chance this will happen," Hobaica said of Desert Living House. "We've had more support than I thought it would so it may progress faster than planned."