Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Simpson’s Solar Abode


This month, the GRoW team made an enthralling visit to the Simpson Family Residence’s (SFR) awe-inspiring super-insulated passive and active solar home.

There are several houses with a similar passive solar design within the Amherst Area, but none like the SFR’s 240 square feet of South-South-East (SSE) window glass that almost encircles their entire home.


Walter Simpson, a former University Energy Officer (UEO) at UB for 26 years and was also director of the UB Green Office, termed his unique designs and formulations of his solar home as “accidental.” However, these flukes has mostly worked out splendidly for Walter and his family, such as the importance of the SSE’s direction towards the “solar south” at 30 degrees east which they so had “happened to walk into” one of the only correctly positioned home.

“They (the homes in the SFR’s neighborhood) are all kind of more or less alike and so they all have these window walls (the SSEs) but they’re facing every direction,” said Walter. “They weren’t designed for solar gain. They were mostly designed for looks and then in the second place, they were designed for energy waist. Because when they weren’t facing south, they were just really big energy losers. And so, there were maybe only three houses that had them facing in the right direction.”

Buffalo may not be renowned for solar homes, especially for its dark, gloomy, and frigid winter conditions. Thus, the SFR’s home may have had plenty pose the question of how heating takes place during the winter months -and perhaps even about cooling during the summer. Nevertheless, the SFR has managed to think of these complex but vital essentials of a livable home through harsh conditions and prove any doubters wrong.


The winter months typically provide very little for the Simpson family to fret about. Boasting at an approximately 40 percent “Solar Fraction” performance –based on Simpson’s website, – due to the sun, and how the house is super-insulated and very low heating load, it transmits enough for heating requirements. The housing’s heating system – also known as the Super-Insulated Retrofit – was inspired by the Super-Insulation Retrofit book.

Furthermore, the heat goes around but through the outside of the home during the summer, which prevents the indoors from becoming too hot. Moreover, keeping it cool inside of the family home does not require strenuous work, as awning, ceiling and portable fans, cross ventilation, and open windows does most parts of the job. In fact, an air conditioner has also been made available in the SFR but with the rich sources of efficient cooling available all around, it is occasionally needed. Also, the GRoW members that were present in part of the SFR visit, acknowledged how the drop of temperatures and nice cooling their basement were.

Additionally, the SFR home is well equipped with a reliable solar hot water system that greatly minimizes the natural gas water heating load. Downstairs of the Simpson’s family basement, it doesn’t only contain a second storage of some food and a pool table but also an integral piece of the solar home puzzle. Simpson had implemented insulating blankets on natural gas water heaters. He admits that these tanks could only generate about a quarter of hot water from the tank, which is on the top and also the part acquired when in need of hot water. Surprisingly, that amount of hot water is enough for the entire household. This was another “accidental” success to Simpson’s array of stupendous ideas, designs and formulas.

Next to the vital source of hot water to the SFR, Simpson has almost half of his water heating room filled with model trains and scenic landscapes. Besides his expertise in energy conservation and sustainability – to name some of his vast knowledge and intelligence – he has a passion and love for trains. However, he openly shares the room with his children, but humorously concedes how they never really shared similar enthusiasm for trains like him.


Simpson did describe of how tough and time-consuming it was to build an adept solar home, where he remembers a few decades ago, when he would work on his home while his wife, Nan, and the children eagerly wait to hear from him. He also acknowledges the years of support from Nan and also jokingly mentioned of how glad his late mother-in-law didn’t get a “heart-attack” for his strong dedication and quite eccentric – but successful – methods towards redeveloping his home.

Residing in the SFR’s solar home is Walter, himself, along with his wife, Nan, and also their son and daughter – Jay and Sky, respectively. Also, not forgetting the adorable Zorro, their loyal Labrador, and two lovely cats that make the SFR even more special.



Find out more about the Simpsons at Energy Really Matters.


An Eye Opening Experience

The Spring 2015 COM466 class.

The Spring 2015 COM466 class.

Hi, my name is Jenna Harsanyi and I was a student this past spring 2015 semester in COM 466. Thankfully, with the help and persistence of Dr. Lance Rintamaki and Dr. Debra Kolodczak in the Communications Department at The University at Buffalo, we were able to have a class completely focused on the marketing of GRoW Buffalo-an ultra efficient solar home. Personally, I saw this class as a great learning experience and success. I felt that it better prepared me for my possible marketing jobs in the future. I also really loved working towards the goal of winning the 2015 Solar Decathlon Competition, and not just working towards the goal of a grade like every other class. This class opened my eyes to many different opportunities to get involved this upcoming summer and fall with GRoW Buffalo!

Below you can see what the other students in the class had to say about their personal experiences!

Stephanie Acquario: I have been meeting regularly with a recently put together Communications Group for the GRoW Team. We’ve found somebody to revamp our website, and have set up tours and educational programs with kids to learn more about solar power and the GRoW Home.

Kristin Beaudoin: This has been a very interesting experience. To say the least, I have been busier this semester than ever before.  I found myself engaging in the GRoW team, attending a couple meetings on south campus, and even extending the project to the PRSSA.  Through compiling facts for social media, I found myself learning a sense of professionalism and aptitude for the PR and Marketing profession.

Stephanie Beauher: When I first signed up for this class, I did not know what to expect…. however this ended up being my favorite class. I was able to have freedom to work on any assignment that would help benefit the GRoW UB team. I found myself interacting with different classmates who wanted to succeed as well. This class allowed me to use my communication skills, such as verbal interaction, text, and email or through other social media platforms.

Yan Ling Olivia Cham: Never would I have imagined signing up for an elevator pitch competition by myself, or designing a poster, or even learning so much about the nuances and technicalities of architecture and solar power through the compilation of the press kit. It has been an eye-opening 4 months and to realize that it has all come to an end and that I am unable to see the project all the way through its final lap in California is somewhat bittersweet.

Ivan Chao: This class has provided me fun and interesting experiences that I would not get in other classes. I was able to work with a small team of students who worked very hard in creating good work. We’ve taken images, edited them, and promoted them using social media, blogs and community events. I’m very impressed that we’ve been so involved despite the size of our team; it takes a lot of time and effort to do the things we do.

Ha Ram Abe Chung: Things that I have worked on in this class have helped cultivate my communication, professionalism and public relations skill as well as helped me to understand how businesses work. The class helped me develop skills that I will need in the near future with initiatives to develop an investment proposal for a new business start-up.

Jessica Lynn Hall: This class has been one of the most interesting that I have taken at UB. I had a lot of excitement joining a class that would be focusing on Communication Graphics, and after hearing about the Grow Home, I was hooked. This opportunity to work on a completion that only comes around once in a lifetime was one that has greatly benefited me. I can only hope that my work benefits the Grow Home in any way.

Cole Nathan Levine: The class was extremely interesting and was very intriguing to me. Besides doing my part I have tried my hardest to help everyone in the class if they ever needed assistance. I helped with the instagram adding photos weekly with excellent captions. Assisting at the GROW table in the union was very fun and I really enjoyed it. Helping with the Facebook page was amazing.

Sharol Shamsor: The reason why I am interested in the Solar Decathlon is the massive interest it brings onto the global stage. There are countries participating all the way from Europe and Asia, which makes me intrigued by how different cultures work towards better energy-saving homes. Coming from Malaysia, I have seen electricity costs rise year after year. For that reason, I aim to actually learn more from the competition, and hopefully be able to inspire the ideology back home. “

John Morano: Our posters were displayed in the student union during UB’s annual Celebration of Student Academic Excellence. It was great to see our work among the top 100 examples of undergraduate work this year…. our work were seen by many, many people here at UB.”

Amanda Mumford: As the Public Relations representative from GRoW Buffalo, the core of what I do on the project is develop an identity and presence within the University and the city at large. I oversee areas of the project that are concerned with media and public engagement. Some of the things I work on in specific include coordinating events, overseeing the upkeep of the website and social media, and working with faculty to strategize communications plans in general. “

Zhi Ting Phua: I really appreciate how I was given the opportunity to work with fellow students from other schools, and to learn new skills such as Photoshop and Lightroom. This class is practical and it was nice to know that every assignment we did was purposeful. I look forward to contribute and learn more from the GRoW team in the Summer!

Andy Rouse: I loved how we had the opportunity to make a real design for something that actually mattered for the University and Buffalo as a whole. I spent a lot of time on the CURCA event and making my poster for the event… In response to the Earth Day lecture, it was refreshing to see just how proactive universities like Buffalo and Penn State are and how they are a driving force for becoming ‘green’. It was also awesome to see the real career potential inside the environmentally friendly industry, not just the science aspect, but the design, communication, and PR aspects as well.”

Allison Sasano: What a privilege it was for our posters to be nominated by Lance for this year’s CURCA event!! It was such a neat experience, and I am happy I had the opportunity to participate. Our team interacted with guests at the event and asked for feedback on our work.”

Carissa Zamerski: All semester long we worked on creating Facebook posts and twitter posts, scheduled out when they were to be posted on hoot suite and kept them organized on an excel spread sheet. Whether the posts were on general team info, information about the house, information about fundraising, or any other fun fact we could come up with to keep out friends and followers interested and talking about the GRoW Home. “

At the end of the semester we were lucky enough to go on a field trip to hear Penn State’s Sustainability’s advocate Mr. Foley speak. It was very interesting hearing him speak about all of the different ways we can contribute to making the earth a better place, and specifically coming up with initiatives in making UB Go Green. An example Mr.Foley gave was making a person feel left out or like they specifically are not doing their part by saying things like “all of your other neighbors have switched to greener energy sources, why haven’t you?” He really gave a new insight into how we should deliver our messages to inspire people to GO Green. I am excited to see what UB will accomplish in the upcoming years.