Swedish students working on energy-efficient homes in Rockford

Swedish students Kristopher Pilfalk (left) and Anton Svensson Strid. (Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl)

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

Another group of construction students from De la Gardiagymnasium (school) in Lidköping, Sweden, are spending three weeks working on Swedish-influenced houses with students from Rockford East High School. There are three houses now. The first is basically an American style, the second shows Swedish influence, and the third is close to a Swedish standard house. Several instructors accompanied them to supervise the jobs.

We spoke with students and instructors recently to learn both what they are doing and what their impressions of life in the U.S. are as compared with that in Sweden. One interesting observation was that Swedish and American students felt the others are very nice people. The Swedish students noted that our work days are shorter and lunches longer than in Sweden.

Project coordinator Roger Friberg noted that the students love American fast food, which is not plentiful in Sweden, and that they made a list of places for future students to experience. They were impressed with the size of American portions, especially ribs that are “this long” as compared with portions they are familiar with, which are about one-fourth the size.

Swedish-influenced house. (Photo by Dr. Sonia Vogl)

He observed that garbage is handled differently in Sweden, from the containers used for depositing waste for collection to using it as a fuel for heating. He remembered the time when car use was almost as widespread as it is now in the U.S. The high price of cars, fuel and taxes discourage personal car use. Walking and biking are common modes of transportation. Swedish cars are smaller and more fuel efficient.

On the day we visited, students were busy fitting rain gutters. They noted how thin the aluminum was and that they used hacksaws rather than specially designed Swedish tools to cut them. The house on which they were working that day is the second, or Swedish-influenced, house. The roof is metal, unlike the standard baked overlapping tiles they are familiar with.

Swedish homes are energy efficient with high levels of insulation. Friberg informed us that Swedish insulation is generally produced from volcanic rock, which serves as a sound barrier and fire retardant. The 5-1/2-inch thick batts of insulation used in the house were manufactured in Milton, Ontario, and are rated at R22. The walls are of 2-by-6 construction.

Other products including house wrap and windows are made in the U.S.

Safety precautions are taken seriously. Special day-glow chartreuse fabric is required in their clothing. Long sleeves, gloves and dust respirators are required when working with insulation.

The social aspects of the experience are highly valued. The Swedish students and instructors live in a house provided by the Swedish American Foundation. There, they get to know each other in a less formal setting than school. They have opportunities to interact with Rockford students and had an evening of bowling with them.

The students are pleased that the experience of working here is good for their résumés and will help them obtain good jobs after they graduate. A graduate of the East High School construction program who spent time in Sweden was also pleased that his experience there helped him obtain his present position doing a variety of jobs for the project.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@-essex1.com.

From the Sept. 26-Oct. 2, 2012, issue

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