Energy Education and Demonstration Project

Grant # 96-07
Principal Investigator: Richard A. Patterson
Organization: Indian Creek Nature Center
Technical Area: Energy Efficiency/Information Transfer

Background and Significance:
The Indian Creek Nature Center is a privately funded nongovernmental, environmental organization. It is located five miles east of downtown Cedar Rapids and includes a 210- acre natural area. The organization’s focal point is its headquarters located in a renovated 1932-era dairy barn. The Nature Center was founded in l973. 54,115 people visited in l996.

The purpose of the Center is to foster an appreciation of nature through environmental education and to provide a natural facility for education and non-obtrusive recreation.

Although the Center has been involved in energy education since l977, a dramatic change in its methods took place in l989. During the Maple Syrup Festival, with thousands of people on site, the well went dry. A few days later a city water line was hooked up, but a significant water efficiency project began. We replaced old inefficient toilets with (then) new 1.6 gallon-per-flush models. At the time there was general skepticism about the effectiveness of efficient toilets. We held a press conference from the men’s room, and several newspapers and three television stations showed the world our new toilets. We invited any skeptic to come out and try them. Information about the water cycle, toilets and efficiency was affixed to the inside of toilet stalls. We had a captive audience. Our goal was to convince people that, for both economic and environmental reasons, they should use water more efficiently in their homes.

Prior to this we perceived the building as a shell to house staff, visitors and exhibits. Since l989, we have viewed the building as a series of exhibits of efficient items. Between l989 and l992 we replaced inefficient lighting with modern fluorescent lighting and added occupancy sensors. With the help of IES Utilities we compared electric consumption and were delighted to learn it declined by 42%. Since this conversion we have added extremely efficient windows, insulation, furnaces and various other technologies that are highly efficient.

Project Objectives:
These are working exhibits that visitors see and use. It is our goal to motivate people to replace inefficient items in their homes with those that use less energy and water.

One of our handicaps has been our inability to effectively portray the efficient items that we’re so proud of. We have a tight budget and have been unable to purchase good signs, interactive exhibits, information and other educational items.

Summary of Work:
The project funded, in part, by the Iowa Energy Center addressed our need to better educate visitors and workshop participants. It included three main parts as follows:

1. Development of an energy conservation resource center. We ordered many books, magazines and technical printed material. It is displayed in a beautiful bookcase made of hickory scraps by the Five Rivers Joint Apprenticeship Training Program and was opened for public use in mid l997. It includes materials developed by the Iowa Energy Center, IES, the Nature Center and a number of other organizations.

2. We announced two energy education workshops for teachers. One coincided with one of the heaviest April snowstorms in memory. The second was not held due to low interest. However, a highly successful Photovoltaic Installation Workshop was held on September 6 & 7, l997. Participants came from five states and installed a 940-watt pv system that was donated, in part, by Trace Engineering, Square D, the Iowa Renewable Energy Association and the City of Cedar Rapids. In addition, Rich Patterson presented eight efficiency programs to Cedar Rapids service and civic groups.

3. The third portion of the grant was the development of effective exhibits and educational signs and materials to help visitors understand efficient lights, windows, toilets, furnaces and other items. These were mostly crafted by Paula Grady, owner of Encore Design. They include graphic displays on our window quilts interpreting six areas of building efficiency. She also designed printed materials for free distribution to interested people. They are posted in the Nature Center’s sunroom. Ms. Grady also designed interpretive signs that direct the attention of visitors to sensors, lights, light tubes and other items. Howard Shanks and volunteers Joe Parrott and Arnold Bucksbaum devised a photovoltaic interactive exhibit. When children pull a slide, sun pours on a PV panel, gauge operate and a radio plays.

The general theme of exhibits is how to be more efficient without spending money, (for example, turn off unused lights), being efficient without spending much money, (for example, install compact fluorescent bulbs), and going “whole hog” (for example, adding occupancy sensors and good bulbs and ballasts).

Exhibits were opened to the public on October 12, l997.

The grant attracted $19,354.50 in in-kind gifts and was completed $10,000 under budget. The grant also inspired a number of energy efficiency news articles and columns in the Cedar Rapids GAZETTE. Approximately 60,000 people will view the efficiency items in the next year.