Written by Sustainability Engineer, Maeve Carlson
Sometimes it feels like the technical world is divided into those that thrive with the theoretical parts of design and those who just want to go out and build the dang thing. The “hands on” learners who want to cut it, drill it, attach it, trouble shoot it, re-cut it, re-attach it, and figure things out as they come up versus the “classroom” learners who would prefer to spend their time thinking through everything on paper before it ever comes into existence. As a recent graduate of the University of Maine, I have learned that within my field of civil engineering you’ll definitely work with people who are on both sides of that divide. Part of me has always sort of wondered which type of technical brain I have & I recently got the opportunity to test it out…
I was pulled into a project here on Hurricane that already had a problem and solution pretty well defined. The problem was that the garden greenhouse was hot. With unreliable windows, and more importantly no air-flow, on sunny days the cracked thermometer would reach triple digits and the space would transition from a toasty incubator of baby plants to a sauna that the garden team affectionately termed “Texas”. The solution was simple- install a fan. What type of fan do you ask? Obviously a converted radiator cooling fan snagged from the inside of some vehicle that probably wasn’t going to miss it. So to reiterate: the project was to install a car fan into the greenhouse somewhere so it would get the air moving and maybe help with the whole Texas situation. My role was basically anything required to make that dream into a reality.
I started by asking a bunch of questions (which is totally on-brand for me). Some were big picture “what’s your vision” type of things for the garden team. Others I could answer myself with a measuring tape or quick Google search. As the design progressed, still others were for our facilities team about how to use a table saw or where I could find stuff in our shop. Finally the “classroom” portion was done & it was time for the “hands on”.
I’d say the instillation went pretty smoothly considering my complete lack of experience in essentially everything I was doing. I had LOTS of help, and managed to move the solar panel and associated charge controller, inverter, and battery, cut out and frame up a window in the greenhouse wall, mount the fan and the new electrical panel, and get all the wiring set up.
It should be noted that I have an entire semester’s worth of information somewhere in my brain from an “Electronics Design” course that I took a year ago. You would think that would be enough to wire a simple fan up to a solar panel, but there was something about the soft buzz of a live battery that had me double checking all my actions with our unofficial electrician/facilities manager, Silas. With his radio assurance that it was (probably) hooked up correctly, it was finally time for the moment of truth: flipping the toggle switch and turning on the fan
The first time I turned it on, it blew a fuse and nothing happened (honestly, that is also pretty on-brand for me). Later that day I acquired a bigger fuse and snuck up the hill into the garden after dinner. No one was around when I switched it out and flipped the switch for the second time, but I definitely did a pretty embarrassing celebratory dance when I was greeted with a blast of cool air rushing in through my fan.
I don’t know if it was the start-finish ownership of the project or the hours of cutting and sanding down the edges of the plastic greenhouse wall, but at this point I am pretty emotionally invested in that silly fan… Maybe it is just because it was the first of what I hope to be many projects with Hurricane Island that combined my “classroom” background with a “hands-on” approach. Whatever it was, I’m grateful for the opportunity, because it turns out that when it comes to the theoretical vs. applied debate: I like them both.