Once the design and construction phases of a conventional house are finished, a project is generally considered complete. One of the goals of ecoMOD is not only to fabricate housing units, but also to evaluate the result. This kind of critical feedback loop is unusual in architecture and engineering education (and the professional world for that matter), and is part of what distinguishes this project from many others. Architects, engineers, and the prefabricated housing industry seldom monitor or evaluate their efforts. The ‘evaluating ecoMOD’ process uses emerging strategies and protocols for the analysis of a completed building. Each evaluation process may include analysis of the environmental impact of the systems and materials; energy performance; affordability; human comfort; constructability; and thoughtful placement within a community. Students from various disciplines participate in one of the two overlapping evaluation seminars in the architecture and engineering schools. Each evaluation team formulates hypotheses, determines methodology, and analyzes the relevant data. The evaluation seminars prepare reports, and as more data becomes available in a later phase, those reports are refined. The objectives are to see how well the housing units live up to sustainable aspirations, to allow the team to fine tune the systems so as to optimize their performance, and to provide feedback to the occupants so they can adjust their energy and water consumption habits.
The ecoMOD project was initially organized as a cyclical process of one academic year for design, a summer of construction, and an academic year of evaluation. However, as the realities of budgets, construction schedules and the real estate market have impacted the project, the phases have become more fluid. The design and build phases tend to overlap – which is ideal for the integrated design emphasis of the educational experience. By recognizing when a design needs to change or be simplified, the students benefit from the built-in feedback loop inherent in the project. Less ideally, the build and evaluation phases have begun to overlap, due to construction delays – mostly beyond our control. The evaluation team members are new to the project and bring a fresh eye on the design. While it is helpful for them to interview the design / build team as the project nears completion, it is also difficult for them to assess something that is not yet finished. It has become necessary to treat the evaluation reports as incomplete – with further assessment of many issues pushed into later semesters. This is especially true for the engineering teams who are regularly broken into groups – some of which focus on design issues, and some of which focus exclusively on evaluation (especially the monitoring systems) instead of design. The hope is that as time passes, more useful information will come out of these efforts.