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This two-level, 2,800-square foot home is taking shape in the Highview Meadows subdivision. Students from CVTC's Wood Technics program also built the home just west of this structure. Steve Dzubay photos

Colorful lessons

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education River Falls,Wisconsin 54022
River Falls Journal
Colorful lessons
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Ideally, the River Falls Wood Technics class at Chippewa Valley Technical College builds a home every year and sells it to finance the next year's project.


"It will be complete by the first week of May," said CVTC Wood Technics Department Chair and Instructor Joe Cook about the house this year's class constructed.

The effort earned both Green Built and Energy Star certifications.

"You need 60 points to be qualified," Cook said, adding that the CVTC-built home scored more.

The Green Built certification comes through a program sponsored by the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, which focuses on "improving the state's environment, economy and quality of life."

The 13-person class built most of the four-bedroom home at 884 Fairchild Drive with help from licensed professionals for plumbing, electricity, furnace and foundation.

"We do everything a carpenter would do," Cook said.

That included framing, roofing, trim work, cabinet installation, weatherization, building the deck and other tasks.

Besides the regular inspections, Green Built inspectors have also been out twice and are expected once more. A few examples of the things they look for are recyclable materials used and the home's orientation to the sun and north wind.

The class started building the ranch-style home in September. It has: A total of 2,800 finished square feet, a walk-out lower level, a deck, a two-car garage, a 75-foot by 150-foot lot and many environmentally friendly features.

Cook said the home scored points for using cement-board siding since it is not petroleum based like vinyl. The builders recycled all their scrap: Metal, cardboard, plastic and wood.

"You're really trying to watch your waste factor," said the instructor.

The group installed Energy Star-certified light products such as solar-powered walkway lights outside. The furnace operates at 95% or higher efficiency.

The roof bears 40-year shingles as opposed to those that go to the landfill after 20 or 25 years. The home has a radon-gas detection system that alerts the homeowner should any of the naturally occurring and poisonous gas seep in.

Crews used water-based paint for finishing. Flushing the toilet uses less water than normal with a power assist from a 110-volt outlet.

Tough bamboo flooring lasts a long time and saves non-abundant trees. The carpet padding, from local H&F Home Furnishings, is made of recycled materials.

Cook says they'll ask $264,900 for the house.

"To be honest, it should be considerably higher than that."

It will first try marketing the house without an agent but may enlist one's help later. "Green" homes cost a bit more up front, Cook admits, but most experts agree the long-term savings are worth it.

"We're learning a lot," said Cook about the whole certification process.

He says last year's class built the house next door to the current one, at 870 Fairchild Drive. It came close to earning enough green points for official recognition.

"They're graded heavily at the job site," said Cook.

The instructor says it's interesting to see how the students excel in different areas. He says strong visual skills usually help a person going through the program.

All his classes learn together, but in this case they learned about green-building standards in Wisconsin. The entire list of possibilities to meet the requirements runs about 15 pages.

The local team considered many aspects: How they used the lot and the soil on it, insulation and sealing options, the energy value of windows, ductwork location, materials, bath exhaust fans, finishes and many others.

Cook, an instructor for 20 years, said students often comment to him that math has never been so much fun. They're intrigued by applying the principles to a project.

He's seen brothers come through the program and contactors' sons. The students split hours in the program between the classroom and hands-on experience.

This year among other lessons, students learned what it takes to get the state's green thumbs up for residential building.