Most of us have been there—had a roommate who eats everything in sight, tries to wiggle out of doing chores, wallows in dirt, and never talks. The new Live Green house on campus is, er, crawling with guys like that. But these aren’t the roomies from hell, they’re from the compost bin.
This past summer an old five-bedroom house on campus was stripped to its bones and remodeled to LEED Gold certification standards. When the five students who applied to live there moved in they found a “vermicomposter” garbage bin, which they promptly filled with red wiggler worms (Eisenia fedita), a variety known for its voracious appetite and rapid reproduction. Since then the students have divined at least four useful things to do with the creatures.
First, of course, the worms have their official job, which is to munch through half-a-pound a day of leafy greens, orange rinds, tea bags, and bread crusts—even junk mail and dryer lint. The worms’ rudimentary digestive systems produce a tray of rich, coffee-colored compost that the students dump in the rain garden, a native plant garden that helps prevent runoff by soaking up water.
Second, the resident biology major, Erica Petrofsky ’09, found that the worms are mighty handy when you need a live specimen for class. At least one wiggler has already been sacrificed to science.
Third, they make not-terribly-demanding pets. “They’re just little guys,” and they share the students’ taste for vegetables, says Ian Jaray ’09, a business and leadership major. The worms are easy to care for, but their instruction manual advises checking for a “moist layer of slime on their bodies” and an “earthy odor” from time to time, both signs of earthworm good health.
Fourth, red wigglers are perfect for fishing bait (unlike night crawlers, the reds can live on the hook for several days and keep right on wiggling, even when submerged), but as two of the student residents are vegans, that’s not discussed.
The “Live Green” house, completed in August, was stripped to its frame and rebuilt using lumber, tiles, paint, and insulation derived from sustainable sources. Solar heating, low-flow shower heads, and Low-E windows were installed.
The house is now a kind-of laboratory for sustainable living. Puget Sound is monitoring how well the materials stand up in a student environment and is asking the occupants to assess their living experience. If all goes well, more of the university’s 92 houses will be renovated to the same standard.
“This is just the beginning,” says Bob Kief, associate vice president for facilities services.
So far the students are enjoying the experience: taking off their shoes at the door, limiting shower times, turning lights off, and chopping up scraps for the worms.
“It certainly has changed the way I look at things,” says Jaray. “It’s not hard to make a substantial impact. I try to promote the idea that anyone can do this stuff.”
Aside from the warm glow that comes with an eco-friendly lifestyle, Jaray says, there is one other bonus to living in the fully modernized house. They are the only students on campus with an automatic dishwasher—an Energy Star-rated appliance, of course. — Shirley Skeel