Rebuilding the Future

Students in the Building Construction Technology Program at South Suburban College, South Holland, Ill., teamed with the Chicago South Suburbs chapter of Habitat for Humanity and Dow Building Solutions for an energy-efficient retrofit of a home in the Chicago suburb of Lansing, Ill. Following is the story of one of the students involved in the project.

In January 2002, my wife Sue suffered a heart attack that left her with short-term memory loss. I was working at Inland Steel Co. as a mechanic/welder, and Sue required 24-hour care. I was forced to make a major life-changing decision and retired from Inland Steel with 32 years of service.

My brother-in-law was the building commissioner for Calumet City, Ill., and knowing my plight, he offered me a job as a building inspector on the condition I go to school for training while I was working. I decided to attend South Suburban College because it offered classes taught by code officials and, therefore, I felt it would provide a top-notch education in residential and commercial inspections.

Being new to the field, I wanted to learn about construction and enrolled in building technologies courses. These classes, taught by carpenters, electricians and plumbers, opened my eyes to new ways of building and made it easier to understand how codes and construction work hand-in-hand.

My favorite part of my education has been learning about energy conservation and the building envelope. I was able to learn firsthand by participating in a Habitat for Humanity energy-efficient retrofit with my classmates in South Suburban College’s Building Construction Technology Program. Students complete all of the work on the home, learning about green building on the job. They learn to install high-quality, high-performance building materials according to manufacturers’ instructions, ensuring full energy-efficiency benefits. The program has been training the next generation of building science and technology professionals, using building envelope products from Dow Building Solutions. Dow has partnered with Habitat for Humanity for the past 27 years.

The house I worked on is located on Burnham Avenue in Lansing, Ill., and was uninhabited and tested positive for lead. During the fall of 2011, the first semester of the program, the home was gutted and rebuilt. The second semester curriculum focused on drywall, trim, painting and other tasks to get the home ready for a family to move in. The project was scheduled for completion in May 2012.

Working with representatives from the Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs chapter, our student-composed project team made the home not only livable, but comfortable. Our team remodeled the home to go beyond code and achieve Energy Star certification.

The most interesting part of the project for me was being able to see spray polyurethane foam insulation applied in a retrofit application. This house was cold and noisy, located next to the I-80/94 expressway. Once the home was insulated with the SPF insulation, in combination with extruded polystyrene foam insulation and a foam insulation/sealant, and new windows and doors were installed, the building was warm and quiet. This is the way homes are going to be insulated in the future, and it was amazing to see the transformation.

College in my 50s. I never thought it would apply to me, but here I am preparing for graduation with an associate degree in building construction technology, as well as an associate degree in building code enforcement. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learned in the real world.


Dave Bartock is a student at South Suburban College, preparing for an associate degree in building construction technology and an associate degree in building code enforcement.