An Interview with Peter Nichol

Peter Nichol teaches Environmental Science at Concord Carlisle High School, and he is more than a little bit pleased that the community approved construction of a new high school. “I can’t whip off the numbers, but the existing school is so poor around its use of energy,” he said recently. “Energy efficiency was not on anyone’s radar when they built this school with a ‘California design’ here in New England. The sprawling design with no insulation and single pane windows means lots of heat is lost, and cold air needs to be continually reheated when kids travel between buildings to change classes.” 

Peter is looking forward to being able to compare the energy use in the new building to the current situation. “We’ll use the Environmental Science class this year to document the problems of this old building, and will compare the carbon footprint of the old high school with the new. This way, the kids are part of a multi-year research project.” He hopes the construction process doesn’t move so quickly that the current building is demolished before they have a chance to fully document it. The class will also look at how the old building’s components are recycled. In addition, Peter is also interested in how the landscaping of the new high school is planned; “Let’s use Henry David Thoreau’s journals to select native plants for the grounds of the new school,” he enthused.

 

Peter’s interest in conservation, energy efficiency and green living goes beyond his professional life. This past summer, Peter and his family moved into the new Concord Riverwalk development in West Concord, a small collection of homes built to high efficiency standards and embodying some new assumptions about “living well.” When asked what it’s like to live at Riverwalk, Peter had a lot to say. 

 

“It was fascinating to move in mid-construction and watch the community take place. Meeting new neighbors has been great; everyone has an interest and desire to live more sustainably. I enjoy the prospect of sharing resources with the other families in the association, sharing responsibility for grounds upkeep, having a common tool shed and community garden. It’s different from the way we were living.”

Peter loves the walk to the river, and is glad his family downsized to a smaller home, even with three young children. They put a clothesline in the basement and arranged the space in the house comfortably so that it works well for his family.

Like a good scientist, Peter is curious and gathering data about his new living situation. “It’s interesting to look at the water temperature on different days, from the solar thermal system,” he said. “I’m learning how the heat recovery ventilation system works, since the house is air tight, and the system turns it over four times a day. I’m very curious to see what the utility and heating bills will look like in a year. The online energy monitoring system is great; it’s fascinating to see how much energy you’re using for appliances and so on, it gives me a platform to think about how to improve it.”

Even though Peter is already well-versed in these issues, his curiosity directs his attention to what he can still learn. What a great attitude! We can all learn from this. What information can you gather about your home that will help you improve your energy efficiency? What can you share with us that will inspire new thinking? We’d love to hear from you.

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