• Buildings have a major environmental
impact. The built environment is the
largest single area of energy
consumption in the U.S.
• There are many ways to make homes
and other buildings more energy
Shelter efficient, and ecologically sustainable.
• Houses are systems, and are part
of the larger ecological systems
DwelLing Within the Forces of Nature • There are interesting and useful
parallels between buildings and
building systems, and animal
structures and natural systems.
The Sustainable Shelter exhibit explores biodiversity,
human and animal architecture, ecosystems, and energy
and water conservation—all from the perspective of
Functions and Diversity of Shelters
Visitors enter a small house. From inside the house, they
look out a window to see/hear the forces of nature—rain,
wind, snow, cold, heat, light and darkness.
Outside the house, visitors explore the amazing diversity of
human and animal shelters. Images, specimens and small
dioramas of hives, rodent burrows and nests are compared
with a variety of human homes from palaces to houseboats
to reveal common functions, materials and designs.
In this area visitors interact with three multimedia programs to explore the interface of
homes and the earth's energy flow and carbon cycle.
The Carbon Cycle Cartoon is a humorous animation that introduces visitors to how
the flow of carbon results in shifts in the CO2 in the atmosphere and changes in climate.
In the Home Energy Game, visitors make a se-
ries of choices about simple daily activities that
trace energy back to its ultimate source, the sun.
They discover that sourcing energy closer to the
sun lowers its impacts on the rest of nature.
Visitors interact with Energy Flow Projections
to discover that they are embedded in natural
systems and that these systems are complex
The Carbon Cycle Cartoon
Sustainability Research Video
A mini-theater shows a series of short videos that follow the steps University researchers
take as they study energy use and nutrient flow in family households. The scientists are
using ecological research methods to study how ordinary people live. The findings, some-
times surprising, can help us make informed decisions about how to live more sustainably.
Visitors at a mini-theater select from a
menu of short programs.
Life Cycles of Building Materials
All the materials used to build a house come from the earth, and eventually are returned to
the earth. A large wall graphic illustrates this life cycle of a house. Visitors then explore in
detail three key building materials—wood, steel and concrete. The path of each
material is traced from its origin in the earth to its use in homes. Visitors handle the
materials and learn that every material comes with a history of embodied energy and
other environmental impacts.
Wall of Walls
Have you ever wondered what’s inside your walls? Here’s the place to find out. Visitors
compare the complex internal structure of eight different wall systems. The layers are
peeled away so visitors can see each material and how it is assembled. Labels describe
the functions of each layer, allowing visitors to compare one system to another.
Two complete wall sections including windows and roofs are presented next to each other.
One section shows the conventional construction of a typical existing home (built on
average in 1970), compared with a section of a home using high performance
construction techniques and materials. The internal structure of the walls, windows and
roof are revealed.
Animals at Home
Many animals such as swallows and pigeons, use human
homes for shelter. Animal nests are displayed along with a
variety of human-built birdhouses and nest boxes.
Water in Homes
How much water is used in homes makes a big
difference to the environment. It takes a lot of en-
ergy to treat the water that comes into a house,
and to treat the water and wastes leaving a
house. A large wall graphic uses dramatic illus-
trations to compare a typical household water
system to water systems that are much more
sustainable. Visitors discover ways to make their
own home's water system more efficient.
Energy in Homes
In the Systems Section, visitors see how energy production has far-reaching impacts on
the earth's ecosystems. In this area, a large wall graphic uses cartoon illustrations to com-
pare the energy systems of a typical house to a variety of alternative systems that meet
our energy more efficiently. Techniques for using renewable sources, passive solar energy
and passive ventilation are presented. Visitors learn that well designed homes can capture
and store most of the energy needed to meet our needs.
Colonies, Hives, Mounds and Burrows
Honeybee hive and termite mound.
Ants, bees, termites and other social insects have found ways to maintain stable environ- Can we learn from these masters of
ments inside their nests without the use of fossil fuels. Are there things we can learn from animal architecture?
these seemingly mindless minions? Termites build large mounds with elaborate sys-
tems of tunnels. The colony's nest chamber is maintained at optimal conditions while
the heat and humidity of the external environment varies greatly. The exhibition in-
cludes an actual metal cast of an underground ant colony, a seven-foot high termite
mound, and a diorama of the subterranean burrows of a ground squirrel.
Model Homes Over Time
Visitors compare typical single-family homes at three points in time, 1800s, 1950, and
2010. Each model shows the changing styles of architecture and the changing size of
homes. Above each house is a cloud banner representing the relative size of its
carbon emissions. Labels compare the area of each house, its construction materials,
heating source, water source, waste disposal, energy and water use, and other related
data. Visitors are attracted to study the house models, and discover how dramatically
our energy, water and material use has increased over time.
Energy and Water Interactives
The Lighting Test Table allows visitors to compare the light quality of different
types of light bulbs and see which ones use the least power. Window Heat Gain
compares various windows designed to filter out infrared light to reduce the need
for summer air conditioning. In the Permeable Pavement comparison, visitors see
how water runs off typical pavement causing flooding and spreading pollutants. On
the permeable pavement side, water percolates through to the soil below, where it
is filtered, absorbed by tree roots or recharges ground water. The Green Roof
Model shows how a living roof can filter water and help keep your home cooler in
the summer and warmer in the winter. The Electrochromic Window display
demonstrates a new technology that can change a window from clear to dark,
greatly reducing unwanted heat gain.
Build Your Own Sustainable Home
Using some simple rules for making buildings more sustainable, visitors construct their
own model home. They orient the windows to make use of passive solar heating. Build
two stories instead of one to minimize the house’s footprint. Use super-insulated walls
and roof to reduce winter heat loss or summer heat gain. Plant trees to provide summer
shade and others to shield from winter winds. Visitors can work in groups to discuss the
best options. In this fun activity, visitors apply information gained from the rest of the
exhibition. (May need staff supervision.) An accompanying wall banner presents four
sustainable home case studies.
Build-a-Community Table Artist Vaughn Bell has created a living
On a low table with a painted landscape top, children use simple wooden toys to build a terrarium inside a glass house. Two visitors
community including, houses, farms, schools, roads, railroads, and boats. Special blocks at a time can peek their heads inside
of power plants and water treatment plants relate to the surrounding exhibits. After Living Mini-Biosphere to get a new
building their community, older children can be asked to consider how they might change perspective of nature in a microcosm.
the system to make it more energy efficient, reduce water use and preserve more natural
habitat. (May need staff supervision.)
Don Luce, 612-624-1342,
Education Activities email@example.com
The exhibition includes a number of hands-on activities and materials to be used by
interpretive staff. Building Homes for Wildlife explores what makes a good birdhouse
by researching the special requirements of each species. Visitors then try to match the
The exhibit is funded by a grant from the
birdhouse to the animal. Animal
United States Department of Energy,
Structures-House Structures and was developed by the Center for
asks questions about the functions Sustainable Building Research, and
of various parts of both homes and the Bell Museum of Natural History,
animals. How are bones like University of Minnesota.
building studs, shells like roofs and
fiberglass insulations like down and
Bell Museum of Natural History
fur? Other activities and materials 10 Church St. SE Minneapolis, MN 55455
explore the diversity of human and
animal homes and the life cycle of