James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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Sustainability…Coming to a Home Near You!

By Amanda Rivera
Posted: February 20, 2008

From your car to your home-JMU graduate Zach Fettig is bringing the concept of sustainability to everyday life.  "Going through ISAT you run across all these technologies and a lot of real-world type analysis and I started asking questions, like why isn't this proliferating a little bit more?" he says.  Graduating from the ISAT program with a concentration in Biotechnology and Environmental Science in December 2006, Zach began honing in on business principles, eventually starting his own company, Shenandoah Sustainable Technologies.  With help from investors and bankers and the procurement of a personal risk loan, Zach began work for the construction of the first of, hopefully, many completely self-sufficient, off-grid sustainable houses.  While this was not a completely original idea, the ISAT graduate says that his product will offer something unique to the market.  Discussing existing sustainable house models, he says "Builders mainly play around with ‘green washing’ some features, but so far, completely sustainable experimental homes aren't something that a normal American can afford or look at and see themselves in.  I've put together a unique package of sustainable technologies that will make the homes cost-competitive and livable, a house with a normal floor plan [and be] something that the average home-buyer would want to live in." 

Just outside Harrisonburg, Zach is using local contractors to build a two-story, approximately 3000 square foot house.  Within a month, electricity and plumbing will be completed.  Serving as the developer, Zach is responsible for finding the compromise between sustainability and livability.  By designing the layout of the house to face north-south exactly, the south end will expose argon-filled glass windows.  Zach explains, "Passive solar is what it's called and basically the sun heats up the tile that you put inside the window and when the temperature drops at night, when the sun goes down, the tiles that are holding the heat release it into the house, so it keeps the temperature more constant."  The house has a uniquely designed suite of technologies for independent power, heating, cooling, water and waste treatment, a “‘Freedom House,’ some call it,” says Zach, "No utility bills is the goal."

To supplement energy and electricity, the "green" developer will employ the use of solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells.  Following suit, the water supply will be a custom-designed rainwater catchment system.  "All the rain that collects on your roof goes through your gutters and into a cistern and that's treated and used for your drinking water.  All effluent coming out of the house will be treated by an evaporative transfer treatment system, be put through a greenhouse, and specially designed circulating media beds to filter out the impurities," says Zach.   

Keeping ties with his alma mater, Zach has arranged with JMU to have four ISAT students move into the house in the fall as a research endeavor.  While the students will serve as guinea pigs to the model's ease of use, Zach explains that, like with any house, they will need to keep conservation in mind.  "They will have to make some concerted efforts…It's not anything that's going to be drastic and that's part of the attraction of my business model," says the JMU graduate.  Zach hopes that this arrangement will pave the way for future joint ventures with JMU.  "Basically, Freedom House will serve not only students going to live there and study, which is a great resource for me and JMU; but as these technologies that I'm using get better and change, it will serve as a platform for JMU if [for instance], they get a grant for field testing of a new type of solar panel; this will be a living laboratory where they can implement it," he says.

While Zach can accredit some of his ingenuity to good genes (his father is an aerospace engineer), he does acknowledge JMU with providing a considerable push in the right direction.  Discussing his plans for the sustainable house, Zach says, "Right off the bat, I had an advantage with this idea because ISAT is oriented towards real-world problem-solving.  All the classes directly correlated to what I'm doing now.  I basically just learned by doing…and the roots [for that] were obviously placed in ISAT."  A basis for what will hopefully grow into a lucrative product, Zach says, "Soon on I plan on expanding pretty rapidly.  I'm basically running with a high demand market…because it's the right time and people are looking for it."