A Swedish house in Rockford

April 18, 2012

Forty-six students from Rockford East High School, under the guidance of technology instructors Matt Walling and Robert Garnhart, are building a home in the SwedishAmerican Hospital neighborhood that incorporates Swedish design elements and energy efficiency standards. (Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The cities of Rockford and Lidköping, Sweden, have cooperated on several ventures, one of which is building houses in Rockford’s SwedishAmerican Hospital neighborhood.

The house currently under construction at the intersection of East Adams and North Benton is the third of four planned. The homes are built and offered for sale to employees of SwedishAmerican Hospital. Each house incorporates more Swedish design elements and energy efficiency standards than the previous.

Forty-six students from Rockford East High School, under the guidance of technology instructors Matt Walling and Robert Garnhart, are building the home. They have selected construction as the major focus of their high school studies. For their first two years, they learn how to use all of the tools they will use in a project. For their second two years, they spend two hours a day putting that practical knowledge to work. The program offers viable career options for their lives, as well as a sense of immediate accomplishment. Students also attend two hours of conventional classes.

High levels of insulation are incorporated into the home. Exterior walls are 8 inches thick with two layers of rockwool insulation. The walls are roughly equivalent to R-30. The house has no basement, as the Swedes no longer feel they serve a useful purpose. Instead, the foundation footings are 24 inches deep with 6 inches of foam insulation extending beyond the building for higher energy efficiency. The foundation insulation is roughly equivalent to R-24 and is designed to serve as a form for the concrete. It is sliced and glued together to function as one continuous unit.

Instructor Matt Walling worked directly with staff from Sweden in designing the house. It is heated with a high-efficiency gas boiler. In-floor radiant heating flows through freeze-proof pex tubing. Large expanses of triple-pane windows, filled with argon, allow daylighting throughout.

No thermal breaks exist in the walls, as the wiring is not run through the 6-inch studs. Instead, 2-by-2s are directly attached over the visqueen on the house interior, and wiring is run between the wood strips and allow for the placement of the outlets to maximize performance of the insulation and minimize air leaks through the walls.

Rockford’s new energy code, which calls for wall insulation equivalent to R-19 in new homes, is a substantial improvement over the past, when only attic insulation was mandated. The new code will raise the initial price of a new home, but those costs should be recaptured by a 30 percent reduction in energy costs. It is a major improvement, but only half the level of insulation achieved in a Swedish home.

Highly-insulated homes had gained some market acceptance back in the late 1970s, but the collapse of energy prices in the 1980s dramatically slowed the energy efficiency movement in the United States. While we slowed down, both Germany and Sweden continued to upgrade home efficiency standards and are widely recognized for their success.

It was rewarding to see the students busily engaged in implementing the skills essential for an energy-efficient future. SwedishAmerican Hospital, East High School and instructors deserve credit for creating this future-oriented program.

Homes will be sold to SwedishAmerican Hospital employees to develop a sense of neighborhood pride and ownership in the community.

From the April 18-24, 2012, issue

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