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Students strive for sustainability in first EcoHouse

Low heat, low lights and no TV are hallmarks of how four students live in their home at 821 Comstock Ave.

The amber glow coming from the dichloromethane bottle in the living room barely lights the space enough to read. The bottle is filled with old Christmas lights, dug out from the neighbors’ trash.

It’s one of Gavin Okoniewski’s favorite parts of the house.

“We’ve been trying to do this project basically on no money and very little supplies — things we find in the Dumpsters or what we can find for free on Craigslist,” said Okoniewski, a junior at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

See more SUperlative videos about standout people and places on campus, including some "firsts," "bests" and "favorites."

Okoniewski is one of four students living at the first EcoHouse on campus, located at 821 Comstock Ave. The project began two years ago by Gail Riina, Lutheran minister at Hendricks Chapel. An EcoHouse is a demonstration home and garden used by students looking to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.

The roommates follow a few simple rules: Keep the heat low, turn on lights only at night and don’t get discouraged when the golf balls students hit from Day Hall smash the greenhouse covers.

“As far as our lifestyles go, I don’t generally think we have a different lifestyle than the average college student,” said Brooks Hausser, a senior architecture major at Syracuse University. “What sets us apart is the house.”

The TV doesn’t work, but they don’t need it — TV rots the brain, they say. Only two of the four roommates have beds, and Hausser crafted his from a 200-year-old barn. The others sleep on the floor on old futon mattresses they inherited from former roommates.

The crème de la crème, the backyard, showcases all of the reasons Hausser moved into the house: an organic garden, a greenhouse, a compost bin and a swimming pool, which the students hope will eventually be a fishery, or water garden.

The project set out to give students an opportunity to live sustainably at college, a lifestyle difficult in dormitories, said Okoniewski. As the first and only EcoHouse on campus, the house is getting better with each improvement, Okoniewski said.

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