Home Button

Home ButtonInformation about the current year's house project, including pictures.Information about the Building Trades Class. Including class application information and class handouts.Information about all of the past Student-built Houses.Includes items related to the class, including links and additional construction information.

Home Page > Eco-house

Related Items: Eco-house Project


The 1999-2000 Student-built Eco-house, a project of the Cedar Rapids Community Schools and the Cedar Rapids Area Association of REALTORS®

The 1999-2000 student-built house was labeled the "eco-house" because it was built with the environment in mind. A specially formed committee considered various technologies and materials, selecting -when possible- those that are resource efficient. Evaluating building materials and techniques for resource efficiency is complex, but generally the committee considered the following as they made their selections:


Products and building techniques that make efficient use of natural resources


Products and building techniques that reduce home energy use


Products that demonstrate recyclability and/or renewability

The construction of the 1999-2000 eco-house was among the steps taken by the Cedar Rapids Community Schools and the Cedar Rapids Area Association of REALTORS® to integrate environmental concerns and resource efficiency into its Building Trades Program.

View a PDF file of the Eco-house Curriculum

Eco-features of the 1999-2000 Eco-house


The environmentally-friendly decking material has the following features:


Ten year warranty against warp, split, rot or splinter




Never needs painting or sealing and is virtually maintenance free


ADA approved (slip-resistant surface)


Contains recycled wood and plastic


Choosing a resource-efficient carpet is especially important, given the huge amount of carpeting used in the United States, and its relatively short expected useful lifetime. More than 1.8 million tons of rugs and carpets are sent to landfills each year.

The high density, recycled-content carpet in the eco-house is made with PET plastic from discarded soft-drink bottles. This saves resources and diverts millions of plastic containers from our landfills.

The flooring in the entryway and bathrooms is Iowa-made ceramic tile. Ceramic was selected for its durability. Because the product is made in Iowa, transportation energy costs were reduced.


To reduce the amount of cement in the eco-house foundation, fly ash – a by-product of coal combustion – was substituted for approximately 10% of the cement. Fly ash actually adds strength and durability to concrete and can be added in even greater percentages.

By substituting coal fly ash for cement, the eco house design committee reduced the amount of energy consumed and converted a waste product into a building product!


Framing in walls, roofs, and floors accounts for about 70% of the 13,000 board feet of lumber used in an average new home. Anything we can do to reduce the amount of lumber used will help save our forests.

Among the ways the eco- house preserved our forest reserves:

Use of engineered wood. Engineered lumber products, such as the I-joist, turn small pieces of wood—sometimes from faster growing tree species formerly considered undesirable—into strong, dependable framing members. Engineered lumber products offer consistent performance, predictable quality, superior structural integrity, and reduced construction waste.

Use of an advanced framing system, sometimes called “optimum value engineering or OVE,” increases the distance between studs and uses two stud corners. Instead of 16 inch on center, eco-house framing is 24 inches on-center. Increasing the on-center distance of framing members reduces wood use 17-30% without jeopardizing structural strength, and allows for additional insulation.

Additionally, exterior walls are framed with 2 x 6 lumber to increase wall insulation to over R-19.


As the engine that drives the home comfort systems, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are critically important from an environmental point of view. These systems directly consume the home’s largest amount of energy.

That’s why the eco-house contains an energy efficient furnace, air conditioner, and hot water heater. The heating and air conditioning units have automatic set-back controls, saving even more on monthly utility bills.


Ideally, a house plan will take characteristics of the lot into consideration. But the plan for the eco-house as well as the lot were pre-selected, precluding this discussion.

Luckily, the plan and lot were oriented north and south, allowing for considerable passive solar.

In addition, the open floor plan takes advantage of increased day-lighting and greater thermal comfort.

The basic idea of passive solar is to allow daylight, heat and airflow into a house only when beneficial. Most passive solar designs can be achieved with no additional cost, as was the case with the eco-house.


Indoor air quality is also important to a home’s occupants. The eco-house contains a heat air exchanger, which draws fresh air into the house while expelling stale air. This also prevents the house from being “too tight”, a common problem in new construction.

But, the heat air exchanger does even more. It captures the heat from the stale air and transfers it to the fresh, cold air as it enters the house as well as controls moisture levels in the house.

Additionally, the eco-house is pre-plumbed and wired for a whole house vacuum system. This keeps more dirt out of the house as well as being quieter.

All of this translates into better in-door air quality for the home’s occupants.


The house contains extra insulation. Recycled-content fiber glass batts were used in the walls, while blown-in rock wool, a product that also contains recycled material, was used in the attic space.


Xeriscaping or low maintenance landscaping is part of the overall design of the eco-house. The design, created by the Kirkwood Community College Horticulture Department, replaces a portion of the ever-thirsty traditional turf with plants, shrubs, and trees as well as a pathway and patio.

It’s a common sense approach, which reduces time spent watering, fertilizing, and mowing.


In several areas of the house, compact fluorescent lights are used. These newly designed fixtures are roughly four times more efficient than incandescents.


Conventional latex paints contain petroleum-based solvents known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are ingredients in paint that evaporate during the application and drying process, and are responsible for most of the odor associated with painting.

Paint used in the eco-house is formulated without VOCs, providing healthier indoor air quality.


The mud room, with its doorway to the garage, contains a custom-designed recycling center. And garbage haulers serving Hiawatha offer curbside collection of paper, tin cans, and plastic. Recycling is easier than ever!

By the way, during construction of the eco-house, students separated recyclable scrap to reduce landfill waste. The Bluestem Solid Waste Agency assisted in the recycling effort.


Homeowners look for durable, attractive roofs that are also affordable. They also want a roof that resists fire, hail, and wind damage. After considering several options the committee selected an asphalt roof with a 40-year warranty.

The recycled content of traditional shingles such as these is often overlooked. The organic, felt base incorporates recycled paper and recycled waste slag.


The eco house committee was very much aware that exterior finishes are the most visible aspect of a home. Homeowners want a finish that is attractive and requires little maintenance.

Aluminum siding was selected for the eco house for several reasons:


Aluminum siding is durable


Aluminum siding has recycled content (maybe your old pop cans!)


Aluminum siding can be recycled


Aluminum siding requires little maintenance, and


Aluminum siding is aesthetic

While metal requires a great deal of energy to manufacture, its durability and recyclability reduce the total energy involved in producing several generations of products.


Windows provide a home with style, views, and daylight. They can also contribute to home heat loss. To overcome this, the design committee selected energy efficient windows – double-pane, argon-filled windows with low-emissivity (low-E) films that reflect heat into or away from the structure. Though more expensive initially, their lifetime cost is lower. The energy and maintenance savings translate into both cost and resource savings over the life of the house.

 Eco-house sponsors include:
Bluestem Solid Waste Agency
East Central Iowa Council of Governments
Iowa Department of Natural Resources

David Smith, Instructor
Building Trades * 2205 Forest Drive SE * Cedar Rapids IA 52403
FAX 319 398-2016 * Phone 319 431-0674

Comments/Questions, dsmith@cr.k12.ia.us

© 1998/2013, Cedar Rapids Community Schools
Last updated, 11/21/2012