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Ridgewater students building a green house

David Stegenga, left, and Chase Tempel, carpentry students at Ridgewater College in Willmar, set one of the house trusses in place as they work Dec. 10 in single digit temperatures. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

Drive along Lakeland Drive Northeast and take a glance at the house under construction on Cottonwood Drive in the Trentwood Estates neighborhood.

This home is the wave of the future.

Ten second-year students in the Ridgewater Carpentry Program are working with local architects and a training grant from the Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace to build a highly energy efficient home -- as green as they can make it.

"Building homes for our carpentry department isn't anything new," said Mike Boehme, Ridgewater's dean of instruction in the technical programs. "But this house is new."

Green Lyfe LLC is the firm responsible for the design of the home. Green Lyfe is a joint effort of Genesis Architects and Cities Edge Architects of Willmar.

Those involved in the program hope to earn a platinum rating in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building rating system. Platinum is the highest rank available.

Energy efficient

Architects Phil Anderson, Julie Alsum, and Jeff Nagel outlined some of the home's energy-saving features a week ago.

The house will have solar panels to heat the residential hot water and assist in heating the basement floor. The ventilation system includes an air-to-air heat exchanger.

The house will have 4-foot overhangs, wider than usual, to offer additional shade from the summer sun.

The yard will be irrigated with rainwater collected in a big yellow tank in the basement. One toilet will flush using graywater from other household uses.

Light fixtures will use compact fluorescent or light-emitting diode light bulbs. Solatube skylights will bring extra daylight into main floor living spaces.

Interior finishes will be recycled or renewable products where possible. The first level of the home will be wheelchair accessible, too.

When the home is done, the college will hold open houses for contractors and for the public, Boehme said.

The house will contain materials that have been manufactured in this region. The goal is to keep the house affordable and energy-efficient, Nagel said.

"We've got a lot of Minnesota products," Alsum said.

The designers estimated the finished house may cost about $10,000 more than a similar traditional home, but the savings in energy costs will be significant.

"The two big selling points are going to be the design and the energy costs," Anderson said.

At the job site this week, students were closing in the roof before leaving for holiday break on Friday. Trusses were lifted into place a week ago.

Ridgewater instructor Chris Beckman said he believes the carpentry class has come close to qualifying for a LEED certification in the past. "We've tried to stay on that cutting edge," he said, so students are ready for jobs when they graduate.

Platinum-rated homes are rare in Minnesota, and this may be the first one outside the metropolitan area, Beckman said.

"In the next 10 years, everybody will be building to this standard," he added. "This is the future here."

While the materials are different, "a lot of the same techniques transfer right over," Beckman said.

The students were bundled against the cold, and their faces were bright pink as they worked on the roof this week.

The students said it was harder to work in the below zero cold this week. It's tough on their equipment and on their fingers and toes. They appreciated their chances to warm up a little in the basement, which is already enclosed.

"This is real world," Beckman said. "In this day and age, we don't shut down for the winter, usually."

Construction goes slower than it would otherwise, because it's a teaching situation, Beckman said. All of the students need to work on all aspects of the project and that wouldn't necessarily happen at a professional jobsite.

Students in the second year of the Electrician Program will work on the house's wiring when needed.

The West Central Builders Association has participated in several informational meetings about the materials in the house.

"Most members realize this is how things are going to have to be done," Beckman said.

The students said they feel their experience on the house will help them when they are out looking for jobs. "It's all about experience," one said.

They like the house and the chance to learn about some of the newer materials. "It's pretty sweet," Chase Tempel, 20, of Aberdeen, S.D., said about the house. "It's different from what I'm used to," he said, but the work makes them more aware of what can be done to improve efficiency.

The roof is presenting some challenges, the students said. It needs to accommodate solar panels and its pitches and angles are unusual.

"It'll be a very nice home," Beckman said. It will be so efficient, he added, that the owners will "heat it with a candle and cool it with an ice cube."

Resources on the Web:

United States Green Building Council --

Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace --

Ridgewater College --

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340