By Sarah Knepp, For The Miami Student
To save money and help the environment, four students - three seniors and one 2015 graduate - worked with a local business this summer to design a rainwater collection and reusing system.
The students worked in conjunction with CarStar of Oxford Auto Body, a local all-service auto shop on College Corner Pike that operates 24/7.
This design created a system that reuses rainwater, which is collected from the business' roof and then stored in two large plastic tanks inside the heated basement. These tanks store a combined 600 gallons of water. CarStar then uses the water to wash cars and clean up after repair work.
According to Vincent Hand, a professor in the College of Engineering and Computing, and the adviser for this project, CarStar was chosen because the owner, Mike Libecap, expressed interest in a project like this years ago.
"I have been a member of the City of Oxford Environmental Commission since 2010 and we had a project a few years ago to talk with citizens, developers, businesspeople and city officials about plans for improvement of storm water management," Hand said.
Hand said that Libecap was one of the business owners he talked to during that meeting, and that was where the inspiration for the project was born.
"The idea of using rainwater for washing newly-repaired cars came up during that conversation," he said. "It took several years to get a student team to do the design and implementation."
The project began in September 2014 as part of an engineering design course, according to senior Catherine Puleo. Initially, she was the only student who signed up for this particular project, but after reaching out to the class, other students eventually got involved.
The students, with the help of their professor, got to work immediately. Their goal was to design a rainwater management system that would reduce water consumption through filtration, collection and reuse from the 4,200 square feet of roof at the CarStar facility, Puleo said.
Another important goal of the project had to deal with the financial side of the rainwater collection program.
According to senior Tyler Hammerle, the students needed to help the business save money. Puleo echoed that and said the students created a three-year payback period for CarStar, meaning the benefits of the system will outweigh the investment costs of implementing the system three years after installation.
Once the initial goals for the project were set, the students pursued the design and implementation of it. Hammerle said coming up with a solidified design that everyone - both the students and CarStar - were happy with was a process of trial and error.
"We had proposed a different design [than what was eventually installed] in the winter, and the owner of CarStar was unsure of how much it would be collecting," Hammerle said. "So, we came back with a different design in February or March, and that was the design he liked better and we implemented."
The project was completed in late July, according to Hammerle. He stayed in town over the summer to help with the installation and completion.
So far, the rainwater management system has been successful. Puleo says that the storm water management system provides CarStar with 2,500 gallons of water per inch of rainwater.
The other goal of saving money has also been successful. According to Hammerle, CarStar is projected to save $1,000 on water bills this year alone because the owner no longer has to pay for city water.
The system the students designed has had a positive impact on CarStar, but the work the students have done could impact the community in an even larger way because it promotes sustainability.
"I think this project is a good example of sustainability for the community since it applies to all three principles of sustainability including environmental, economical and social," Puleo said. "It reduces water consumption and also storm water runoff, making local streams and natural water sources cleaner."
Both students said this unconventional classroom project has taught them a lot.
"I gained insight from storm water management principles and practices that have been completed around the world," Puleo said. "I became experienced in project management through interacting with my team and working toward the deliverables so the project would be finished in time and be successful."
Hammerle said he learned a lot, too, but the biggest insight he gained was how to successfully work with a client.
"Communication is key," he said. "You need to keep your client informed on what you're working on so they know what you're doing."