Engineering Students Create Business to Assess Residential Energy Efficiency

Villanova Chemical Engineering students have created a business called PowerHouse, which focuses on residential energy efficiency. Led by graduate student Sarah Barnett ChE ’09, the business has evolved from a 2008-2009 senior team project under the advisement of Professor Bill Lorenz. Starting in summer 2009, a new crop of seniors began helping with the business for their thesis.

PowerHouse provides services in three areas: a home energy audit, an opportunity assessment, and a project consultation. During the summer, the students concentrated their efforts on performing and expanding energy audits. These audits consist of an infiltration test, IR camera imaging to detect leaks and missing insulation, appliance and electronics assessment, and a carbon-footprint analysis.

In addition, the students are exploring ways to collaborate with peers in the Villanova School of Business so that they can strengthen their business plan, especially in the areas of marketing and finance. Using a social entrepreneurship model, the students plan to charge their clients on a sliding scale: those who are able to pay will pay full price, and that money will be reinvested to do audits for lower income households that may not have the money to pay for an audit but could benefit most from the recommendations.

According to Barnett, the business hopes to move more fully into the area of opportunity assessment, helping homeowners decide about insulation improvements and adding a solar or geothermal heating system. “All of our services are important in today’s world. Anything we can do to help homeowners improve residential energy efficiency will reduce carbon emissions and make a more sustainable world.”

View the energy audit details.

Graduate student Sarah Barnett uses a blower door to measure airtightness.
Graduate student Sarah Barnett uses a blower door to measure airtightness.
Barnett and Margaret Tsudis ChE ’10 install a meter that provides real-time feedback on energy consumption.
Barnett and Margaret Tsudis ChE ’10 install a meter that provides real-time feedback on energy consumption.